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'Frank' stars Michael Fassbender without his handsome head



On Aug. 7, 2014 Examiner Dorri Olds spoke with members of the cast of “Frank,” a British indie film. Those in attendance were actors Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Domhnall Gleeson, plus director Lenny Abrahamson (“What Richard Did”) and co-writer Jon Ronson ("The Men Who Stare At Goats").

Michael Fassbender flashes his gorgeous grin
Michael Fassbender flashes his gorgeous grin
Dorri Olds

Fassbender plays the title character, a musician who’s not quite right in the head. Frank wears a gigantic paper mache head all the time. He wears it when he sleeps, eats, performs and even in the shower. What that means is that Fassbender’s gorgeous face is hidden under the orb. Sigh.

One great surprise is Fassbender’s voice. It’s a rich baritone reminiscent of Jim Morrison of The Doors. Because Fassbender cannot rely on using his face to convey emotions, he had to use body language. The gifted actor plays that role just as well as any other, including his Academy Award-nominated role as the cruel slave owner in “12 Years a Slave.”

The band has an intentionally unpronounceable name, The Soronprfbs. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Clara, a theramin-player filled with hostility. Writer Jon Ronson said, “The only reason that Clara plays the theramin in the film is that I loved the line, ‘Stay away from my fucking theramin.’”

Scoot McNairy is superb as Don, a band member with a sexual penchant for mannequins. The story is told through the perspective of Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a lonely wannabe keyboardist. Jon winds up in the band by chance when he happens to meet Don right after the band’s previous keyboard player attempted suicide by trying to drown himself in the ocean. The band needs a replacement in a hurry and Jon is Jonny on the spot.

“Frank” is fiction, inspired by Frank Sidebottom, the persona of British cult musician and comedian Chris Sievey. Ronson said Frank was also thought up from twinges of musicians Daniel Johnston and Captain Beefheart. The idea came from Ronson’s memoir. Years ago, Ronson was the keyboard player in Sidebottom’s band.

This is an odd, quirky film that’s not for everyone but those who love it, love it. And, even f it’s not your thing, chances are you’ll still find some entertainment value in it. There are plenty of different ingredients: comedy, drama, and music.

Asked about whether it was a relief to be out from under the head Fassbender said, "It was hot and sweaty in there. Sometimes if you’re running around, you can’t really breathe as well inside it, but I really enjoyed having the head on. I actually wanted to bring it on to my next job but they wouldn’t let me." [Grins]

Gyllenhaal said, “Every time you work on something it’s going to be a collaboration of the people you’re working with. You’re like, ‘Okay, Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson are going to be in this movie,’ and you have kind of an idea of what that’ll be like and then you get there and they are themselves and the reality of that is always going to be different than what you’d expected. Then you have to think, ‘How are we going to tell the story with this group of people?’ That’s always the most interesting part of it; how things shift and change and turn out different than you thought they would. That’s where the life comes from.”

Lenny Abrahamson explained why he prefers to focus on odd characters in his films, “I just think those characters are usually the ones that people don’t quite fit. Those characters are usually under an awful lot of pressure or otherwise not acceptable to the mainstream and by looking at the people that don’t fit it lets us reflect on all of us. They’re also just fascinating characters that I’ve always been drawn to. Well-adjusted people are hard characters to put in the center of the movie. I don’t actually know any but even if I did that would be a hard film to make. I’m always drawn to people that don’t fit in for all sorts of reasons.”

Frank” opens in select theaters Friday, Aug. 15 and opens wide nationally on Aug. 29. Rated R. 95 min.