NEW YORK — Of his current role in “The Light Between Oceans,” Michael Fassbender said that “from the moment I read the first few pages of the script, the material really emotionally affected me. I thought it was such an original story — an old-fashioned-type story — and I found that very refreshing. So much of what you see today is derivative of things we’ve seen and read and watched on-screen before.”
The film, opening Friday, is based on M.L. Stedman’s novel about a lighthouse keeper and his wife living on a remote island off the coast of Western Australia in the years just after World War I. After several miscarriages, the couple rescue a baby girl from a rowboat that lands on their shore — accompanied by a dead man assumed to be the child’s father. Things get very complicated several years later, when the couple discover the identity and the back story of their adopted daughter’s true parents.”
In the film, Fassbender and Alicia Vikander portray the couple, with Rachel Weisz starring as the birth mother of the little girl.
In a recent interview, Fassbender (“Steve Jobs,” “X-Men: Apocalypse”) noted that he “thought the characters were very human — just the way they tried to navigate their lives and do the best they could. I found it really heart-rending. I had never read something like this ever before.”
Joining Fassbender was Vikander, who admitted she did “bawl her head off” when she first read the screenplay — and cried a lot on several subsequent readings as well.
“But I was especially very emotional when I read the script the first time. Then after that, I went back and read the book.” Vikander, an Oscar winner earlier this year for “The Danish Girl,” was impressed with how director and screenwriter Derek Cianfrance dealt with the “very large, human issues that the story presents. We have a big dilemma here, and it’s heart-wrenching, mainly because it’s set in a very intimate approach to storytelling. There are very few characters here on-screen, and that makes it all the more intimate and relatable for the audience, I think.
“As we see here, good people sometimes don’t make the right decisions. And, in addition, it’s about something we can all relate to, which is parenting and what comes with that responsibility. It’s a story about love and forgiveness and about healing and emotional survival.”
While they work hard to maintain their privacy, Fassbender and Vikander finally have admitted they are a couple in real life — having fallen in love while filming “The Light Between Oceans.”
Clearly their personal relationship helped greatly in conveying the chemistry of their on-screen married couple. While both actors admitted they had an instant connection, Vikander also credited Cianfrance’s approach to filming and how he would have the actors “do a lot of improvisation before we would actually get into specific scenes” with helping to build on their natural rapport.
“Because of the way filming is done today with digital, that improvising into a scene makes it all seem so natural and right, once the camera is turned on.”
At the end of the day, Fassbender loved playing Tom, calling him “such a good person. He’s the kind of character one would just aspire to be in real life as well. From the first reading of the script, I really warmed to him and felt he was a real hero — my sort of idea of what a hero would be.
“I had to do him justice — and M.L. Stedman justice, because she created him.” Fassbender’s point focused on how his character initially was so reluctant to take that baby girl and pretend his wife had given birth to her on their remote island. With no other people around, it obviously was easy to pull off that ruse.
Beyond that, Fassbender was fascinated with the key plot points surrounding Rachel Weisz’s character and her husband in the film, a German native much hated by the residents of the small Australian village where they live. It is the community’s strong anti-German feelings in that post-war time that forced the father, Frank (played by Leon Ford), to flee with his baby daughter in that small boat.
“The idea of how a mob can sort of attack an outsider made me think about issues facing us in our world today — for real. The idea of migration and immigrants is all around us today.
“In this story, the character of Frank Roennfeldt and what happens to him is absolutely tragic, and we’re well aware that this sort of thing happens today — a hundred years after when this story is being set.
“This film is all about so many issues, but one key one is how people try so desperately to have babies and start a family. These are real, human struggles. A lot of time, with the films we see now, they can be very disposable topics. This seemed like a really worthy one.”