Fame Versus Stardom: The Distinction

Every one in a while there are those stars who come along that become reference points. Their names become developmental milestones by which other performers are measured. Hollywood used to have a few select icons – like Bette Davis or Montgomery Clift. As the decades wore on in the 20th century, Tinseltown produced more stars but lesser legends. For example, Madonna is a milestone motif because Lady Gaga has been referred to as the heir to the Queen of Pop.Clint Eastwood was used to herald the arrival of Hugh Jackman and Meryl Streep is the American standard that U.S. actors are to aspire towards. In Britain the Queen grants titles like Dame and Sir to thespians whose names are synonymous with the craft of acting – Sir Anthony Hopkins and Dame Judi Dench.

An actor is a compass. Each role begins as a blank slate. They bring a part of themselves to a character but its the role they play. Unfortunately many stars only really play themselves regardless of the role. The whole point of an actor as a profession is to act. But often we don’t get that. When Paul Newman and Marlon Brando died they left a legacy of performances that have made their names immortal. But maybe they are back. Bradley Cooper’s baby blues hint at another Paul Newman while Michael Fassbender seems to be Brando reincarnated.

I’m really glad Michael Fassbender is famous. Hugh Jackman has always warmed and touched my heart by his acting and what appears to be a nice personality. But Michael Fassbender the actor has deeply touched my soul. The way I reacted to the young Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, or Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice, or any number of films with Sir Laurence Olivier, happened when I found Fassy. My response to Fassy was visceral and happened by accident when I accidentally discovered him not once but twice. First in Fish Tank and then in X-Men: First Class, then later in Jane Eyre. He had what Meryl Streep has and he is the only one of the few who do have this gift.

Even when he isn’t speaking he is acting. It’s in the subtle movements, the look in his eyes, the way he melts into a character. Streep has this ability. She can do accents, change appearances, and even speak a foreign language like a native. No wonder she still gets roles. Michael Fassbender the man remains a mystery because his characters become him.

So why does he reach me when no other actor since Streep cannot? Because he is what acting is about. We think he is truly that person he plays. You can’t tell he is acting. Just like great plastic surgery – only he knows who he is. Streep is famous but she pursued a craft and got famous for it. Most Hollywood stars were people who wanted the attention that fame brought and got into acting. These people don’t seem to have much craft.

On some level there are people who were born to be exceptional. You couldn’t imagine them being anything else. Meryl Streep not acting would be blasphemous. We need to see it. Fate allowed it. Same too with Fassy. Steve McQueen and Hunger changed his life. Maybe the world was ready to see this kind of gift again. We had lost Brando in 2004, Streep is female, Olivier long gone, and reality TV was taking over. But the void left by Brando was filled by the person who is now compared to him – Michael Fassbender.

There is a respect for someone who takes it seriously like any true professional. Fassbender lost half his body weight to convince us he was Bobby Sands. That’s dedication. Would most actors do that? No, they’d want a body double or CGI to do it for them. Gwyneth Paltrow gained weight for Country Strong despite being a fitness devotee. Those are the moments when the genuine article emerges in contrast to the fake and artificial. It’s as if we have been on a diet of fast food entertainment and when we see a Streep or a Fassbender we have an organic feast in front of us. And we can’t go back. I can’t watch bubble gum crap TV or movies anymore now that I have seen Fish Tank and Hunger. Finding Fassbender the actor makes me wonder if America seems to think that the best acting talent on display possible is Glee. For those who have never seen Streep or Fassy, they are anemic in their choices. They haven’t found the sweet spot.

Like I’ve said before, Fassy takes me to where he is. I’m in the story with him. No doubt I’m merged with the acting and the scene. When you feel what the character feels you are thick in the plot.

Someone said that my tumblr made them love him more for how he has touched me. Yes, he sure has and I’ve never met the guy. But I feel like some thespian spring has returned and actors like Brando are back. Once in a lifetime we find them if we are lucky. Then we follow their careers if we want to watch quality.

So … to answer someone’s question – why does Fassy touch my soul? I’ll explain in connection to my other favorite actor for years Hugh Jackman.

With Hugh Jackman he brings warmth to the screen. He is a real movie star and his eyes have always seemed kind to me. Peaceful even. In interviews he is well spoken and personable. His talent as a triple threat (actor, singer, dancer) and devotion to his wife and family is just lovely. On screen and off screen Hugh Jackman is like a positive vibe who makes you melt when you see how much in love he is with his equally lovely wife Deb and their kids. Jackman’s enduring marriage reminds me of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward’s 50 year union. So yes, Hugh Jackman still warms my heart for being a professional and being a kind human being for his charitable works.

Then there is Michael Fassbender. It’s something else with him. Je ne sais quoi – I don’t know what it is. When I see Fassy’s eyes its like they express a complexity. They smile, but I can’t pinpoint a single word to describe it. Cliché I know but they are as deep as the ocean, as wide as the sea. Michael Fassbender’s eyes are like are an arctic ocean ice blue hue that resonates with me. It took Fassy a while to get noticed. There was a slow burn to his ascent. Too much too soon too fast seems to be bad for those who want staying power. And like Jackman, Fassy can sing. He is an artist.

Fassy touches me for inciting a compassion for Magneto that I did not have before in previous X-Men films. Fassy touches me because he seems to draw attention to his work and isn’t in a fame chaser. Fassy seems real in some way. Like if he weren’t famous you could imagine talking to him. He is the guy at the pub or the one you see on the train on your morning commute or the man who works at the bank. Despite being exceptionally handsome he feels accessible in a distinct way. He connects so well one could imagine him your life.

Update: Michael Fassbender was named GQ Breakout star of the Year 2011

Photo courtesy of Harrods Magazine


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