(Note strong language in paragraph 10)
By Silvia Aloisi
VENICE (Reuters) - A turn as a sex-obsessed New Yorker has made Michael Fassbender a firm favorite for the best actor award at the Venice film festival, capping what reviewers call a breakthrough year for the 34-year-old Irishman.
Fassbender had already impressed film critics with his interpretation of one of the fathers of psychoanalysis, Carl Jung, in "A Dangerous Method," also in competition at the Venice movie showcase.
But it is his performance in Steve McQueen's "Shame," as a handsome executive living comfortably in Manhattan who can only escape his existential angst by seeking casual sex, that has made him the talk of the festival.
"He's a guy who is trying to feel something and then at the same time can't involve himself emotionally with anybody," Fassbender told Reuters in an interview.
"He has this obsession (with) physical encounters that are pretty joyless and definitely non-emotional, and he is abusing himself, he doesn't like himself.
"After these acts, there is a lot of shame and a lot of self-loathing and so he goes out and has to do it again, to get rid of that feeling, and after the fact there is double the shame, so there is this horrible cyclical pattern going on."
Shame is Fassbender's second film with British video-artist McQueen, whom he credited with changing his life by casting him as hunger striker and IRA member Bobby Sands in "Hunger" (2008), another acclaimed movie.
It is peppered with graphic sex scenes and Fassbender is often shown naked, something he said should be a welcome change for female viewers.
"For women it must be sort of refreshing to not always have to see women parading around naked while the guy always has his pants on," he said.
"I also find amazing how films get those ratings, you can take a cheese cutter and take somebody's head off or riddle somebody with 50 bullets but God forbid if you show a penis and fucking on screen...it seems a bit bizarre to me."
Early reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. Trade publication Variety called him extraordinary and La Stampa daily said he may already have the best actor prize in his pocket.
"It's amazing that it has taken him this long to be fully recognized, as he's got it all: looks, authority, physicality, command of the screen, great vocal articulation, a certain chameleon quality and the ability to suggest a great deal within while maintaining outward composure," wrote Hollywood Reporter.
"Whether he becomes a real movie star is another matter but, when it comes to pure acting skill and potential, it's possible that Daniel Day-Lewis now has a young challenger."
Fassbender says he is flattered but does not like to be told he has finally made it.
This year he also starred in the "X-Men: First Class" blockbuster and there have been rumors he could be the next James Bond after Daniel Craig.
"People always like to have this sort of label. I have been breaking through since, you know, 2000 or trying to break through.
"I really just think ... 'OK, what am I going to work on next?' and for the moment I am not going to do anything until the end of the year, I am going to take time out because I have been going 20 months," he said.
"It just happened that the script came and I thought 'God, I have to do this', and then the next one and the next one. I just keep it very simple with things like what people say and what do you think about Hollywood -- it's not going to get me anywhere to dwell on these things and there's nothing I can do about it."
Reporting By Silvia Aloisi, editing by Paul Casciato