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the star market

The Star Market: Does Michael Fassbender Have the X Factor to Become a Superstar?

Ask your mom who Michael Fassbender is and she might not be able to identify the 34-year-old up-and-comer by name, even if she happened to check out his last movie, Jane Eyre. Mention Fassbender to anyone working in Hollywood, though, and they'll all know exactly who he is, because they've either tried to get him in their next movie or their interns can't stop salivating over the man. Few actors come more buzzed about in town than Fassbender, even though his most high-profile role ever β€” a young Magneto in the prequel X-Men: First Class β€” only hits theaters today. Is this a case of industry hype getting too far ahead of itself, or is Fassbender on his way to the A-list? To find out, we asked industry insiders our simple question: If Michael Fassbender were a stock, would you buy, sell, or hold?

Stock History: Born in Germany but mostly raised in Ireland, Fassbender has a European background and facility with accents that is perhaps put to its best use yet in X-Men, where he speaks four languages. When he went into acting in his twenties, Fassbender booked mostly television roles (including a supporting part in Band of Brothers and a role on the British series Hex), though occasionally, he was thisclose to hitting the big time: Before he had any onscreen credits whatsoever, he managed to impress Michael Bay in auditions and nearly won Ben Affleck's part in Pearl Harbor.

Still, it wasn't until he hit his thirties that Fassbender truly came into his marketable masculinity and serious-actor bona fides. In 2008, he whittled his body down to nothing to play IRA prisoner Bobby Sands in Hunger, and followed it with two very different roles the next year: a sexy interloper in Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank, and Archie Hicox in Inglourious Basterds, who stars in his own little mini-movie halfway through the film. And with that, Fassbender shot up to the top of every casting director's wish list. He still had to get a couple of underperforming action movies out of his system, including Centurion and the Josh Brolin bomb Jonah Hex, but after booking X-Men, Fassbender picked up several auteur projects, including David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, Steven Soderbergh's Haywire, and Ridley Scott's currently shooting Alien semi-prequel Prometheus.

Peers: His closest peers are Ryan Gosling (30), Tom Hardy (33), and Joel Edgerton (36). On the more established, older end, he could draw parts from Christian Bale (37), and on the younger end, Armie Hammer boasts similar square-jawed appeal (24).

Market Value: Evolving. Fassbender was lucky enough to appear in two blockbusters, 300 and Basterds, and the latter even gave him a centerpiece supporting role. Jane Eyre, though, was Fassbender's first starring gig to coincide with his current wave of hype, and it did quite well in limited release, grossing over $10 million. Still, nothing has truly been sold on his name yet.

What Hollywood Thinks: "The guy is completely on fire," raves one top agent. "He's on every list, and he's only going to get hotter since he's the male lead of Prometheus. He was fantastic in Hunger and unbelievable in Andrea Arnold's movie — he's a big reason it won the Jury Prize at Cannes and the BAFTA for Best Picture — but no one saw those movies here. He was in Jonah Hex, which was a catastrophe, but no one blames him for Brolin kicking off the original directors."

Says another talent agent, "He makes commercial choices but he has the pedigree of an 'actor's actor.' He's the heir apparent to Daniel Day-Lewis. I couldn't be prouder to be the same [species] as that guy, let alone work in the same profession. He's represented by someone I consider a real rival [CAA's Michael Cooper, agent to stars like Charlie Hunnam, Henry Cavill and Josh Brolin], but I am thrilled for him and root for him."

One high-powered publicist is just as enamored. "I would literally pay money to represent him," she says. "When someone has that much talent, you can pick and choose. The day he stops being a good actor, and taking cool, interesting roles, that will change, of course, but for now, he is so brilliant."

The Analysis: Suffice it to say, then, Fassbender has a lot of industry support. The question is whether the public at large will swoon for him, too, but we think the odds are in his favor. Though many in town hope Fassbender will fill Day-Lewis's cobbled shoes as a dramatic actor in challenging movies (he just reunited with his Hunger director Steve McQueen for the sex drama Shame, for example), he's perfectly happy to do giant blockbusters, too: X-Men is his first comic-book movie, but it's not for lack of trying, since he was also one of the finalists for the title role in Green Lantern. (And Fassbender may have ended up with the better role in the better movie, in this case.)

It's possible that Fassbender's new representatives have gotten a little overeager — after all, his deal for Prometheus was almost scuttled when they demanded a giant payday for him, despite the fact that Fassbender still isn't a big name. But it's more likely that Ridley Scott's movie lucked out by booking him before he blows up. By this time next year, he'll have appeared in a slew of potentially terrific movies with nary a paycheck role among them. And perhaps owing to Fassbender's diverse background, his castability is through the roof, meaning he could play almost anything Hollywood throws at him: a quiet drama, an action movie lead ... hell, even a rom-com.

"Could he screw it up?" asks the publicist. "Sure, if he pulls a Chris Brown, beats up a girl. Or if he becomes a huge diva." But she thinks that Fassbender has the goods to survive imminent fame.

"This is a case of talent outweighing 'the Machine,'" she says. "There are people like Daniel Day-Lewis who are so ridiculously talented, they can choose to do what they want next. Press is about two things, really: getting the next, best job, and delivering to the studio [on your current one]. But at the end of the day, it's only about what your next project is, about how to set about accomplishing the next best thing. I've had intellectual clients who want to be seen as 'sexy' so they can get their next part [in a romance] so we'll put them in a sexy photo shoot to make that happen. But I am basically saying that this guy doesn't need to hire me, even though like I said, I would pay to have him as a client. I mean, Hunger? He depleted himself of everything for that role. So I am going to say it. He falls into the category of, 'I am in awe of you because you're such a great actor.'"

The Bottom Line: Whatever Fassbender is doing, it's working. Your moms are about to come around.

Buy/Sell/Hold: Very strong buy.

Photo: Patrick McMullan