Buried near the end of a lengthy Michael Fassbender profile in the November issue of GQ, writer Zach Baron gets the Oscar-buzzed actor to explain why he has no plans to do the campaign circuit this season for his supporting role as the vicious slave owner in 12 Years A Slave.
“I’m going to be busy working. I just don’t really have time. (Campaigning is) just not going to happen, because I’ll be in New Zealand. I’ll be on the other side of the world. You know, I get it. Everybody’s got to do their job. So you try and help and facilitate as best you can. But I won’t put myself through that kind of situation again. It’s just a grind. And I’m not a politician. I’m an actor,” Fassbender said of the whole Oscar process, which seems to grow every year and includes numerous Q&As, luncheons, meet-and-greets, private screenings, film festival tributes, presenting at endless awards shows, well-timed talk show appearances, etc etc. Many artists who suddenly find themselves the object of an all-out Oscar campaign find this part of the job even more grueling than making the actual film. And by the time the Oscars roll around they are spent.
Campaign or no campaign, in Fassbender’s case it may not matter. He’s very likely going to get nominated — and could win — for Best Supporting Actor and I think that’s a scenario whether he lifts a finger or not in doing the usual rounds. The film and the role are so strong it’s hard to imagine the actors branch ignoring him. Now after the nominations it could change, especially in a tight, competitive race where every vote counts.
Fassbender was on the circuit for 2011’s controversial art film Shame, which like 12 Years was directed by Steve McQueen. He won Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival and was considered a near-certainty to land an Oscar nod for the film as well, but the movie — and Fassbender’s performance — was snubbed by the Academy. Apparently he doesn’t want to repeat the experience. Fassbender was in Telluride and Toronto when 12 Years premiered but he hasn’t been around much since while much of the cast and McQueen are doing nightly Q&As and seem to be everywhere for the film which opens on Friday.
This all reminds me of the situation Sony faced in trying to get director David Fincher out there for The Social Network three years ago. It appeared that film was by far the front-runner, sweeping every critics award and Golden Globe in sight. But Fincher, working in Sweden on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, had already soured on the process when his previous film, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, was an early front-runner that was derailed by Slumdog Millionaire. He made the rounds then but seemed fairly disheartened by the whole process. When it came time to tout his directorial achievement on Social Network he was pretty much MIA, with his work schedule being a convenient excuse. At the time I didn’t think it would matter, even after it became apparent The King’s Speech would win Best Picture and director Tom Hooper took the DGA Award. Based on conversations I think the final vote for director was razor-thin. The difference in this case could have been due to Hooper’s tireless campaigning. He was everywhere while Fincher was invisible. In an extremely close race shaking hands with voters can matter. Other examples include Joaquin Phoenix, who rarely does interviews and never campaigns for awards. It didn’t stop him from a nomination for The Master last season though in the end he lost to Daniel Day Lewis. Meryl Streep has also been shy in campaigning for most of her 17 nominations. But when 2011’s The Iron Lady came around master campaigner Harvey Weinstein got her out of the house and more visible than I had ever seen her during Oscar season. After not winning an Oscar in 29 years, she finally nabbed her third statuette. Sometimes it just has to appear that you want it.
But in the end will Fassbender’s visibility even be an issue if the performance is so powerful it just can’t be ignored? Oddly, publicity from Fassbender’s declaration that he won’t be campaigning could actually be a plus. Voters might respect the “purity” of it all. And let’s not forget the anti-campaign stance Mo’Nique took for 2009’s Precious. She openly questioned the value of campaigning for awards and, for the most part, refused to play that game. Yes, that’s Academy Award winner Mo’Nique.