Michael Fassbender: VR will change the whole medium of film

The star of "Assassin's Creed" talks about how virtual reality can make film a more interactive experience.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
4 min read

Michael Fassbender is stoked about virtual reality.

That's no surprise, given that he stars in "Assassin's Creed," a film about reliving the memories of your parkour-loving ancestor through a machine called the Animus. It's like VR , but taken to an insane nth degree.

(The filmmakers also worked on an Assassin's Creed virtual reality experience.)


Aguilar (Michael Fassbender) lets his sword do his talking.

Twentieth Century Fox

Fassbender, who may be best-known as Magneto in the X-Men franchise but who has also portrayed Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, has his work cut out for him in bringing to life the popular video game franchise. Even in the world of gaming, Assassin's Creed boasts some heady -- and often convoluted -- source material.

There's the whole thing about tapping into your DNA to relive the life of one of your ancestors (don't ask); an age-old war between the secretive Assassin and Templar factions (seriously, don't ask); and the intertwining of modern times with a slice of history (which is cool, but still confusing).

In the film version of Assassin's Creed, Fassbender plays Cal Lynch and his ancestor Aguilar, who takes audiences to colorful and picturesque Spain during the Spanish Inquisition.

Fassbender, director Justin Kurzel and co-star Marion Cotillard (the three also worked together on 2015's "Macbeth") spoke at a media roundtable in New York on Monday. The following is an edited transcript of their comments.

On virtual reality

Kurzel: I'm fascinated by point of view. Virtual reality will evolve into something extraordinary.

It's interesting if you're in control of that point of view, how that narrative interplays with you.

Fassbender: It's great. It's going to change the whole medium of film. In five years time, it'll be a different experience going to the cinema. It'll be a hybrid between a game and a viewing experience. You will be interactive. It will be more about entering a universe than following a plot line.

You'll still need actors.

Kurzel: Whether you can create 2,000, 3,000 possibilities of a narrative within a VR experience can be interesting.

Fassbender: You have the freedom to either engage or sit back and just be a voyeur. I think the options will be up to the participant, which is cool.

On making a video game based on a film

Kurzel: The level of discussion and debate that we were constantly having about the game and the ideas in it, it's incredible material to base an origin story on.

How can you take out what's underneath the game, the many books, the [game] bible and incredible amount of research, and the fact that it exists within a real world and that it's plausible -- how do you take it and put it in a singular narrative story?

I guess I was a bit of a snob about these kinds of video game films -- I hadn't seen many. To be able to work on something like this and love it and put a lot of effort into it like my other films was a real joy.

On CGI versus real-world sets

Kurzel: The thing I've noticed with a lot of CGI at the moment is every company uses the same doors and windows and smoke patterns.

We wanted this to be a marking of time. It's about making that extra effort to make things feel unique. A lot of that is shooting for real.

On those stunts

Fassbender: We wanted to do as much of it as possible. We're shooting in real locations with real people. It wasn't going to be in a studio with a green screen. We're doing it for real in old-school fashion, therefore we needed to do as much as we could.

We did lose quite a few stunt people along the way -- not fatally, thankfully.

On bringing a video game franchise to life

Fassbender: I never really played the video game.

In the game, the character sits in the Animus chair and bang, it's all about the regression. We had to introduce Cal and a correlation between him and Aguilar.

But we were wondering how to make it more interactive. One idea was a liquid womb-type scenario. But Justin and the art department came up with this Animus arm.


Marion Cotillard plays a high-ranking official within the mysterious group of Templars. She puts Fassbender's character into the Animus.

Twentieth Century Fox

On how Cal and Aguilar are -- and aren't -- alike

Fassbender: Well, they look similar.

Aguilar's a spaghetti western, [Clint] Eastwood character in the past. He's clear about his motivations.

Cal is the opposite. He's a lone wolf who doesn't believe in sacrificing himself. It's only through the Animus and seeing the world through Aguilar's eyes that he realizes he does belong to something.

He's a classic hero.

On building a better female character

Cotillard: She [Sofia, the doctor character who puts Cal into the Animus] is the real powerful and smart person here. The one who doesn't need to steal anything is her.

Fassbender: When we were developing this, we really wanted to have female characters in the movie where their objective did not depend on male characters. They are their own persons and have their own goals independent of the men around them.

Arianne Labed's character [Maria] is a mentor to Aguilar. Usually it would be the other way around.