The murderous treachery of Macbeth would today be diagnosed as the result of post-traumatic stress disorder, Michael Fassbender told the press at the Cannes film festival.
The actor, who plays Shakespeare’s tragic warrior in a new film adaptation by Australian film-maker Justin Kurzel, said the director helped him realise it was the cumulative effect of months of grisly battle that drives Macbeth to murder his king after the war is over. “Never did it occur to me before this that this character was suffering from PTSD,” he said.
“You have a soldier who’s engaged in battle month-after-month, day-after-day. Killing with his hands. Pushing a sword through muscle and bone. And if that doesn’t work picking up a rock and using that”. Kurzel’s version of Shakespeare’s great tragedy opens with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, played by Marion Cotillard, laying one of their children to rest.
In a subsequent battle scene Macbeth is shown hallucinating images of the witches that will deliver the prophesy that predicts his tyrannical path to power. “We know from soldiers today coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan that they have these hallucinations,” Fassbender said. “You could be walking down the Croisette here and then it’s Basra. All of a sudden it’s Basra”.
Macbeth is Kurzel’s second feature after Snowtown, the director’s take on the Snowtown “bodies-in-barrels” murders, which were committed in Australia during the 1990s. His version of the Assassin’s Creed video game, for which he will re-team with Fassbender and Cotillard, is in pre-production.
Kurzel said he was keen to avoid his version of Macbeth being lead by previous adaptations of Shakespeare’s text. “I was reading that a production of Macbeth is made every four years,” he said. “If that’s so it’s one of the biggest blockbusters out there”
He said his version is less about the unchecked ambition of a ruthless husband and wife and more about a couples’ grief. “[It’s about] how you replace something you’ve lost,” he said. I’ve experienced that in my own life. I was very interested in how desparate you can be to fill a hole left by grief”.
Cotillard, the French Oscar-winner who’s in Cannes for a fourth consecutive year, said that she found playing Lady Macbeth in English with a Scottish accent difficult. She said it was hard to be swept away by a character who lives in a world where “all is gloom”. “She grapples with her fears and that turns her into a bit a monster,” she said.
“There’s a lot of love between these two characters but they’re just too damaged to allow in anything luminous”. The film, financed by StudioCanal and FilmFour, was shot partly in Scotland. Kurzel said the Scottish countryside “eats you up”, noting that at one point Cotillard had, indeed, been swallowed by a boghole.
When asked what the worst and best things about shooting in Scotland were Fassbender replied: “Whisky and whisky”.
by Henry Barnes