Fassbender’s mother, Adele, is 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, the Irish leader during the Irish War of Independence. When he is two years old, his parents move to Killarney, County Kerry, where they run the West End House, a restaurant where his father works as a chef. His parents move to Kerry as they want their children to grow up in the countryside rather than the industrial backdrop of their previous residence in Germany. He is raised Catholic, and serves as an altar boy at the church his family attends. He has an older sister, Catherine, who is a neuropsychologist.
Fassbender attends Fossa National School and St. Brendan’s College, both in Killarney. He decides that he wants to be an actor at age 17 when he is cast in a play by Donal Courtney. At 19, he moves to London to study at the Drama Centre London, a constituent school of Central Saint Martins. In 1999, he drops out of the Drama Centre and tours with the Oxford Stage Company to perform the play Three Sisters. Before he finds work as an actor, he works as a bartender and postman. Other jobs include labour work, market research for the Royal Mail and working for Dell computers.
Fassbender’s feature film debut is in the fantasy war epic 300 (2007) as a Spartan warrior. His earlier roles include various stage productions, as well as starring roles on television such as in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers (2001) and the Sky One fantasy drama Hex (2004–05). He first comes to prominence for his role as Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) activist Bobby Sands in Hunger (2008), for which he wins a British Independent Film Award. Subsequent roles include in the independent film Fish Tank (2009), as a Royal Marines lieutenant in Inglourious Basterds (2009), as Edward Rochester in the 2011 film adaptation of Jane Eyre, as Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method (2011), as the sentient android David 8 in Prometheus (2012) and its sequel, Alien: Covenant (2017), and in the musical comedy-drama Frank (2014) as an eccentric musician loosely inspired by Frank Sidebottom.
In 2011, Fassbender debuts as the Marvel Comics supervillain Magneto in X-Men: First Class, and goes on to share the role with Ian McKellen in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), before reprising it again in X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) and Dark Phoenix (2019). Also in 2011, his performance as a sex addict in Shame earns him the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice International Film Festival and is nominated for Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards. In 2013, his role as slave owner Edwin Epps in the slavery epic 12 Years a Slave is similarly praised, earning him his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. In 2013, he appears in another Ridley Scott film, The Counselor. In 2015, he portrays the title role in the Danny Boyle-directed biopic Steve Jobs (2015), and played Macbeth in Justin Kurzel‘s adaptation of William Shakespeare‘s play. For the former, he receives Academy Award, BAFTA, Golden Globe and SAG nominations. In 2015, he produces the western Slow West, in which he also stars.
In December 2014, Fassbender begins dating Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, whom he met on the set of The Light Between Oceans. The two marry in a private ceremony on October 14, 2017 in Ibiza, Spain. As of 2017, they reside in Lisbon, Portugal.