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AP Interview: Fassbender sizzles in 'Jane Eyre'

At the moment, there's just no stopping Michael Fassbender.
/ Source: The Associated Press

At the moment, there's just no stopping Michael Fassbender.

The "X-Men: First Class" and "Inglourious Basterds" star has just stepped off the plane from the Venice Film Festival, where he's promoting two films, not one. Those would be "Shame," director Steve McQueen's hugely anticipated follow to "Hunger" — another virtuoso Fassbender project — and Steven Soderbergh's "A Dangerous Method," in which Fassbender stars as Carl Jung alongside Viggo Mortensen and Keira Knightley.

Oh, and he's had a busy summer in the Scottish highlands filming Ridley Scott's science fiction epic "Prometheus."

Now the German-born Irish actor is back in London for his latest film "Jane Eyre," where his brooding and doleful Mr. Rochester runs smack into Mia Wasikowska's timid but fiercely feministic Jane.

"I started reading, I was like 'God for me he comes across as very bipolar,'" Fassbender told The Associated Press. "He can be so distant, and sort of closed off and isolated really, even in a room full of people, and then he could be so connected and so sort of emotionally excitable, I thought that was something that could be played with."

Set in Yorkshire, England, in the early 19th century, Charlotte Bronte's classic tale of the young governess who falls hopelessly in love with her employer has been told countless times. In addition to scores of TV, radio and stage adaptations, there have been least 17 movies, with the first full-length feature film dating back to 1914.

Until now, the most famous "Jane Eyre" was the 1943 film starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, but American director Cary Fukunaga's latest version may challenge that status. Fukunaga's film opened in the U.S. in March to widespread critical acclaim and is now enjoying another round of positive reviews from British critics.

Fassbender gives the credit to Fukunaga, whose last film "Sin Nombre" about Central American immigrants trying to reach the U.S won the 2009 directing and cinematography awards at the Sundance Film Festival.

"Cary is someone that is really talented in terms of telling a story visually first and foremost," he said. "His framing is exceptional."

The starkness of the Yorkshire Moors and the ostentatious yet austere setting of Thornfield Hall are beautifully portrayed, but Fassbender says Wasikowska's performance is what makes this version stand out.

"I do think that this is her film and she's so exceptional in it, so young but so mature in her choices," he says of his 22-year-old co-star.

Fukunaga says he chose the "Alice in Wonderland" star after being "blown away" by her performance on the television show "In Treatment."

"I never had either of them read or either one of them in the same room before I cast them. I just sort of, on blind faith, went with it," he told the AP.

Despite Jane's hands-off manner toward her employer, Fassbender and Wasikowska sizzle on the screen, and Rochester's brooding and explosive character gets an extra touch of humanity from Fassbender.

"I really wanted to show how this sort of abrupt and harsh exterior is really hiding somebody who needs some help," he said. "I really wanted to show how important Jane was to him and how much he actually needs her more than she needs him."

Fukunaga's "Jane Eyre" turns the book on its head, opening with an adult Jane running away from Thornfield having already discovered the dark secret of the man she loves instead of Jane's painful childhood at the orphanage.

"I don't think that we were trying to do anything different just for the sake of doing it different," says Wasikowska. "It starts in a different place, and for people who don't know the story or are not familiar with the book it, definitely opens with a mystery."

"You have to kind of piece it together, which I think is really great," she added.

"Jane Eyre" opens Friday in the U.K.