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Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender, who’s poised to become a major star in 2011 with his role as Magneto in X-Men: First Class, is busily spreading word on the forthcoming prequel.

The new X-Men is Brit-heavy with a cast that includes James McAvoy as Charles Xavier — and its director Matthew Vaughn is also British.

X-Men marks a move into the big leagues for Fassbender, who’s appeared in several studio films including Inglourious Basterds. But he really impressed critics with strong performances in art house films such as Hunger and Fish Tank.

The actor will be getting a big paycheck for his X-Men role. The franchise has earned more than $1.5 billion. But Fassbender doesn’t see himself as selling out because he has respect for the prequel. He says, “You have to like the product but then I have to make sure that I’m getting paid too because they’re making a film that costs a lot of money so you want a percentage of whatever that is because you’re a contributing factor. They’re going to make a lot of money on it, that’s what they hope — and that’s what you hope.”

Many fans are dismayed that familiar franchise characters including Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine will not be appearing in the prequel.

Fassbender acknowledges that the new film is different from what’s come before; he says in the prequel the characters are all trying to find themselves. It’s a story that goes back to the origins.

The film is set in the 1960s and Fassbender likes the historical resonances. As he told me there are a lot of parallels to the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. at the time. He sees Charles Xavier and Magneto as figures who have shared aims but embrace different strategies,  just as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King did.

Apart from his efforts in X-Men: First Class, Fassbender will first be seen as Edward Rochester in a forthcoming adaptation of Jane Eyre. A starring role in the new Steven Soderbergh action-thriller Haywire will follow.

If all goes according to plan by the end of 2011, Michael Fassbender may have worldwide recognition as an A-list Hollywood star.

When commenting on his promising career trajectory, Fassbender just says, “It’s nuts. I mean it really is nuts.”

Tom Brook‘s reports on cinema can be seen every Tuesday and Thursday morning on BBC America.

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By Tom Brook