Michael Fassbender may play a mutant in X-Men: First Class, but we here at Anglophenia know it’s the Irish in him that’s winning over moviegoers. He is just the latest in a long line of irresistible Irishmen to light up the big screen.
Technically, Fassbender is German on his father’s side while Irish on his mother’s. Though born in Germany, he was raised in Killarney, near the Emerald Isle’s western coast.
For the past decade, while mostly based in London, Fassbender has been building an impressive and wide-ranging resume, with prominent roles in Irish and British films such as Hunger and Fish Tank, in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, and in the latest screen version of Jane Eyre.
Fassbender also offered praiseworthy turns on TV in HBO’s Band of Brothers, BBC America’s Hex, and the Channel 4 mini-series, The Devil’s Whore. With his casting in X-Men, which grossed nearly $60 million in the U.S. on its opening weekend, Hollywood was buying shares in Fassbender’s fast-rising stock.
It’s a type of stock studio bosses already knew they liked. Hunksome Irishmen have been visiting their luck on Hollywood films going back to the days when movies were in black and white. In Hollywood’s Golden Age, there was George Brent, a dark-haired charmer who, before making his way to Los Angeles, had earned a tiny niche in history by serving as a courier for Irish rebel leader Michael Collins. In Hollywood during the 1930s and ‘40s, Brent was the go-to leading man at Warner Bros. to play opposite the studio’s femme fatales, including Bette Davis in Dark Victory.
In 1962, Irish-born Peter O’Toole became a huge star when he galloped across the desert in Lawrence of Arabia. Equally at home in drama and comedy, he scored in the next several decades in such films as How to Steal a Million, The Lion in Winter, Goodbye, Mr. Chips and My Favorite Year. He was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2003 after racking up seven Oscar nominations–but never winning–for Best Actor. (He added an eighth nomination for Venus in 2007.)
In more recent decades, Irishmen who’ve become big marquee names include Liam Neeson (Unknown), Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects and HBO’s In Treatment) and, of course, 007 himself, Pierce Brosnan. All have traded on their considerable looks and suave charm, not to mention lilting native brogues.
With the new millennium, a fresh crop of dashing Irishmen has stolen moviegoers’ hearts: Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
Farrell is the biggest star of the three (including on tabloid covers), though in recent years he has pulled back from making such stultifying big budget bombs as Alexander and Miami Vice to give soulful performances in terrific smaller films, including Ondine and In Bruges.
Murphy, he of the otherworldly blue eyes, seems to have settled into a career in which he nabs leads in arty films (28 Days Later and Sunshine) and supporting roles (often as villains) in pricey Hollywood fare (Batman Begins and Inception).
And Rhys Meyers, after a promising start in Velvet Goldmine, Bend it Like Beckham and Match Point, has gained modest fame after regularly switching wives on the small screen as Henry VIII on The Tudors.
Who’s your favorite Irish leading man?
Michael Fassbender in Jane Eyre:
Lawrence of Arabia trailer:
Peter O’Toole in My Favorite Year:
Liam Neeson in a kilt in Rob Roy:
Pierce Brosnan spoofing James Bond with the Muppets:
Colin Farrell in trailer for In Bruges:
Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Match Point: