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Inside Michael Fassbender’s Fish Tank

Inside Michael Fassbender’s Fish Tank (photo)

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Proving to be one of the hottest properties on the world cinema stage, German-born Irish actor Michael Fassbender has quickly filled an impressive résumé of challenging and artistic work. In 2009 alone, he endured a severe crash diet (yet devoured critical praise and awards) as IRA prisoner on strike Bobby Sands in director Steve McQueen’s “Hunger,” faced down Nazis as the first known undercover film critic in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” and collaborated with Gallic auteur François Ozon in the Edwardian epic “Angel.” Not too shabby for one of the greased-up Spartans from “300,” eh?

In “Red Road” director Andrea Arnold’s magnificent second feature “Fish Tank,” Fassbender again gives a crackling performance in an uneasy role. Young newcomer Katie Jarvis stars as Mia, a feisty 15-year-old who lives with her promiscuous mother and cruel little sister in a British housing project. When her mum brings home handsome new boyfriend Connor (Fassbender), Mia undergoes a sexual awakening, if in part because this much older man is a positive influence who encourages her secret passion for hip-hop dancing. Temptation lingers between Mia and Connor, but “Fish Tank” is not a story of a calculated predator (such as in “An Education”), nor are its lower-class heartbreaks insincere (ahem, “Precious”), which makes it the first early contender for 2010 year-end polls. I met up with Fassbender at the Soho Grand Hotel lounge in lower Manhattan, where we discussed happy accidents, filming uncomfortable scenes, and the joys of both champagne and cooking.

The relationship between Connor and Mia got me wondering, have you ever had a May-December fling?

What do you mean, have I had sex with a minor? [laughs]

No, no, I just mean with someone much older or younger, but definitely of legal consent.

I’ve had a few of those, for sure. But that’s love, isn’t it? It doesn’t make sense, but you’re just following blindly. Nothing that would compare with what Connor is doing in “Fish Tank,” no.

01132010_FishTank2.jpgI read that you weren’t allowed to look at the script before you agreed to take the role. What inspired your leap of faith with Andrea Arnold?

It was on the basis of seeing “Red Road.” What always interested me about Andrea was the ambiguity she has in her characters. You’re not being spoon-fed as an audience — like, here’s your bad guy and your good guy. They do good and bad things, and that goes for Connor, for sure. He brings a lot of nourishment into Mia’s life. He’s the only one who gives her some belief in herself, actually tells her to follow her dreams, that she has talent and should follow it. That’s something she’s not getting from anyone else — certainly not her mother.

Unfortunately, he crosses the line later on in the film, breaches her trust and takes advantage of her. Connor’s not this pedophile, he’s just a regular, ordinary guy. I think it was important for Andrea to portray him that way, because then you have the possibility of doing something like that. We have it in us to do these things — then it’s a little more uncomfortable for an audience. They leave the theater scratching their heads for a while, which is what you want.

[Fassbender is handed a glass of champagne.]

I like how you roll, a little bubbly in the afternoon.

Thanks. My mum told me that one glass of champagne apparently increases brain activity. I don’t know what happens after two. [laughs]

The film and performances are so naturalistic, making the slow-burning sexual tension between Connor and Mia all the more palpable. Was it ever uncomfortable to film some of those scenes with Katie Jarvis, especially since she isn’t a trained actor?

It was weird for me, absolutely. It was up to me, I think, to make sure that she was as relaxed as she could be. I did that by making an ass of myself, telling jokes, trying to keep the atmosphere as light as possible. That’s all you can really do. To her credit, we just got on with it. You try to get it right so you don’t have to do too many takes. She’s got a real natural gift, as you can see in the film, bringing real honesty to her acting. She’s like a laser beam, just straight through to the truth, no frills or flower added. It’s very raw and pure. All I could do was try to keep up, you know? [laughs] She did feel a bit vulnerable, which is good because it adds to the scene, but you try to be as funny as one can.

01132010_FassbenderFishTank2.jpgHow would you describe Andrea Arnold’s working style compared to some of the other filmmakers you’ve recently collaborated with, like McQueen, Tarantino and Ozon?

Hmm. It’s hard because they’re all very individual, strong personalities. Andrea likes to create some form of chaos. Not that it’s chaos on set, but she likes to find the mistakes during the day, the things that are unexpected. She’s very interested in capturing, like you said earlier, real moments. So in terms of, like, doing a scene in the kitchen, when I meet Mia for the first time, we’ll do it scripted. Then she’ll go, “Okay, now do the scene, and say whatever you want,” and we’ll do it without any dialogue. She’s got a real feel for the moment-to-moment life of a scene. She’s also very good at creating an intimate, safe environment where you can really feel free to explore and create. I really didn’t know what was going to turn out, what I was doing with Connor. I guess she works well in that way, destabilizing the situation and seeing what happens.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.