Fassbender was born on 2 April 1977 in Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg. His mother, Adele, is Irish (from Larne, County Antrim), while his father, Josef Fassbender, is German. According to Fassbender family lore, his mother is the great-grand-niece of Michael Collins, an Irish leader during the War of Independence. When Fassbender was two years old, his parents moved to the Irish town of Killarney, County Kerry, where they ran the West End House, a restaurant where his father worked as a chef. Fassbender was raised Catholic, and served as an altar boy at the church his family attended. He has an older sister, Catherine, who is a neuropsychologist.
Fassbender and his sister spent summer holidays in Germany, and he speaks German fluently, though he later stated before filming Inglourious Basterds that he had needed to brush up a bit on his spoken German because "it was a bit rusty". He attended Fossa National School and St. Brendan's College, both in Killarney. He decided that he wanted to be an actor at age 17 when he was cast in a play by Donal Courtney. At 19, he moved to London to study at the Drama Centre London, a constituent school of Central Saint Martins. In 1999, he dropped out of the Drama Centre and toured with the Oxford Stage Company to perform the play Three Sisters. Before he found work as an actor, he worked as a bartender and postman.
Fassbender's first screen role was that of Burton "Pat" Christenson in Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg's award-winning television miniseries Band of Brothers (2001). He played the character of Azazeal in both series of Hex on Sky One and starred as the main character in the music video for the song "Blind Pilots," by the British band The Cooper Temple Clause. In the video, he plays the part of a man out with friends on a stag night who slowly transforms into a goat due to wearing a cowbell necklace.
Fassbender played Jonathan Harker in a ten-part radio serialisation of Dracula produced by BBC Northern Ireland and broadcast in the Book at Bedtime series between 24 November and 5 December 2003. He was also seen in early 2004 in a Guinness television commercial, The Quarrel, playing a man who swims across the ocean from Ireland to apologise personally to his brother in New York; this commercial won a gold medal at the 2005 FAB Awards.
During the 2006 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Fassbender played Michael Collins in Allegiance, a play by Mary Kenny based on the meeting between Collins and Winston Churchill. In addition, Fassbender produced, directed, and starred in a stage version of Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, along with his production company.
He appeared in Angel (UK title: The Real Life of Angel Deverell), about the rise and fall of an eccentric young British writer (played by Romola Garai) in the early 20th century. Fassbender plays her love interest, an average painter named Esmé. The drama—the first English-language effort by French director François Ozon and based on the novel by Elizabeth Taylor—premiered on 17 February 2007 at the Berlin International Film Festival and on 14 March 2007 in Paris. He then made a brief appearance in Dean Cavanagh and Irvine Welsh's Wedding Belles as Barney, speaking with a Scottish accent.
In 2006, Fassbender played Stelios, a young Spartan warrior, in 300, a fantasy action film directed by Zack Snyder. The film was a commercial success. In preparation for his role as Provisional Irish Republican Army prisoner Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen's 2008 film Hunger, Fassbender underwent a crash diet that restricted him to 600 calories a day. He received the British Independent Film Award for his performance. One year after his success at the Cannes Film Festival with Hunger, he appeared in two films. The first was Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, in which he played the British officer Lieutenant Archie Hicox. The other film was Fish Tank directed by Andrea Arnold. Both films were critically acclaimed and Fassbender's work in them also well received.
In 2010, Fassbender appeared as Burke in Jonah Hex, a Western film. In an interview at San Diego Comic-Con International, a comic book convention, Fassbender commented of the role: "I kind of developed this character and really pushed it – I’ll see how far I pushed it ... I had this idea about the character, he’s kind of psychotic, he gets his kicks in perverted ways. I didn’t want to make it very obvious or like something you’ve seen before." Hex received predominately negative reviews. Responding to criticism of Jonah Hex in 2011, Fassbender commented: "Pretty awful, was it? I haven't seen it myself." He portrayed Quintus Dias in Neil Marshall's bloody Roman war-thriller-drama film Centurion. and was cast as 'Richard Wirth' in the Joel Schumacher film Blood Creek alongside Dominic Purcell. The story centres on a West Virginia man who comes to terms with his moral qualms and helps his brother wipe out a family that had been protecting a Nazi occultist and who had kept his brother captive for him to feed off for years. Fassbender portrayed Edward Rochester in the 2011 film Jane Eyre, featuring Mia Wasikowska in the title role, with Cary Fukunaga directing.
Fassbender portrayed Magneto in the superhero blockbuster X-Men: First Class, the prequel to X-Men. Set in 1962, it focuses on the friendship between Charles Xavier (played by James McAvoy) and Magneto and the origin of their groups, the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants. The film was released on 3 June 2011 to general acclaim and financial success and promoted Fassbender to being more of a popular movie star. In 2011, Fassbender starred in A Dangerous Method by director David Cronenberg, playing Swiss psychiatrist and psychologist Carl Jung. The film premiered at the 2011 Venice Film Festival.
He also starred in Shame, as a man in his thirties struggling with his sexual addiction. Shame reunited him with director Steve McQueen and premiered at the 2011 Venice Film Festival, where Fassbender won a Volpi Cup Best Actor Award for his portrayal of Brandon. Fassbender was a serious contender for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, but he was not nominated, and according to various sources his full-frontal nudity and depiction of sexual encounters inspired voters "to fantasize, and not actually vote." Fassbender achieved critical acclaim for his portrayal in Shame and received nominations for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama and a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Starring in the film raised Fassbender's profile leading to roles in larger films.
In 2012, he appeared as an MI6 agent in Haywire, an action-thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh, and in Ridley Scott's science fiction film Prometheus. Reviews praised both the film's visual aesthetic design and the acting, most notably Fassbender's performance as the android David 8. Fassbender played the title role in Ridley Scott's The Counselor, a 2013 film based on the Cormac McCarthy script. In 2013, he starred in 12 Years a Slave, his third collaboration with Steve McQueen. Fassbender's portrayal of Edwin Epps earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Fassbender reprised the role of Magneto in X-Men: Days of Future Past (released 23 May 2014), the sequel to X-Men: First Class. Fassbender stars in the title role in Frank (released late summer 2014), a comedy loosely inspired by Frank Sidebottom, a comic persona created by English comedian Chris Sievey.
Fassbender co-starred in Slow West, a western starring Kodi Smit-McPhee and Ben Mendelsohn, in 2015. He played Silas, an enigmatic traveller.
Fassbender played late Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs in the Danny Boyle-directed film Steve Jobs, which began filming in January 2015, in San Francisco, U.S., and premiered in September of that year. The film is an adaptation of Walter Isaacson's book Steve Jobs. The screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin. Fassbender became attached after Christian Bale dropped out of the project. His performance saw him nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Fassbender took on the Shakespearean role of Macbeth in a film directed by Justin Kurzel, where he teamed up with Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth and David Thewlis as King Duncan. Filming for the production began in January 2014 and the film premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.
In 2016, Fassbender once again played Magneto in the film X-Men: Apocalypse. He next starred in The Light Between Oceans, based on the novel written by M. L. Stedman, and directed by Derek Cianfrance; the movie began filming in New Zealand in late September 2014, and was released on 2 September 2016. Also in 2016, Fassbender starred in the thriller Trespass Against Us, with fellow Irishman Brendan Gleeson. His final film of the year was the adaptation of video game Assassin's Creed, which he co-produced through his DMC Film banner. It was released on 21 December 2016. Macbeth helmer Justin Kurzel directed, and co-star Marion Cotillard had a leading role, working with Fassbender again. In May 2017, Fassbender reprised his role as the android David, and played another character, in the sequel to Prometheus, Alien: Covenant. Principal photography for the film was completed in 2016.
In 2015, Fassbender was announced in The Snowman, an adaptation of a Jo Nesbø book directed by Tomas Alfredson and co-starring Rebecca Ferguson and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Filming began in January 2016 and the film will be released in 2017. Fassbender will be reprising his role as Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto in the 2018 film X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
Together with screenwriter Ronan Bennett, Fassbender has formed a production company, Finn McCool Films. Fassbender and Bennett are currently developing a film about the Irish mythological hero Cú Chulainn.
Fassbender has lived in Hackney, London, since 1996 in the same flat that he has owned since he was in his late 20s. He is fluent in German and has expressed interest in performing in a German-language film or play. He is a lapsed Catholic, though he still goes to church to light candles.
Although he prefers to keep his personal life private, Fassbender stated in a 2012 interview in GQ that he was seeing actress Nicole Beharie “as much as possible,” after they worked together on the movie Shame. Since December 2014, he has been dating Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, whom he met on the set of The Light Between Oceans.