He's the tortured Rochester in ''Jane Eyre,'' the young Magneto in ''X-Men First Class,'' and soon to be everywhere

By Chris Nashawaty
Updated February 25, 2011 at 05:00 AM EST

You may have noticed that right now we’re being overrun by a new wave of strapping young Hollywood leading men. They’re easy on the eyes, full of nonthreatening A-list potential, and sometimes hard to tell apart. Michael Fassbender is not one of those guys. Lean and ruggedly handsome, the 33-year-old German-born, Irish-raised actor comes across on screen and off as a rakish throwback to a long-lost generation of bad-boy actors like Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton — macho men who seem to know their way around the barroom and the bedroom. And if that isn’t enough, there’s also this: He knows how to make an entrance.

On a wintry afternoon, Fassbender walks into a midtown Manhattan café looking as if he just dismounted a Harley. He’s wearing a brown leather motorcycle jacket over a gray T-shirt and jeans, and his face has a few days of reddish stubble. As he approaches a table in the back, a waitress stops what she’s doing and whispers, ”Is he famous? Because he looks famous.”

The short answer is: No, not yet. But that should change any day now. On March 11, Fassbender can be seen as the smoldering Mr. Rochester in a new adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s literary classic Jane Eyre. After that, he’ll play Magneto in the superhero prequel X-Men First Class (out June 3), costar with Ewan McGregor in Steven Soderbergh’s political thriller Haywire, and match egos and ids with Viggo Mortensen’s Sigmund Freud as Carl Jung in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method. In addition, he is currently shooting British director Steve McQueen’s gritty indie Shame, and will then star in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, the eagerly awaited, big-budget quasi-prequel to Alien. ”Michael’s not that well-known to the public yet,” says Cronenberg, ”but within Hollywood everybody wants him. He’s a hot property because everyone thinks he’s quivering on the brink of major stardom.”

Fassbender takes a seat and flashes a smile at the blushing waitress, ordering steak and eggs and a glass of cabernet. He apologizes for appearing so exhausted — a result of his grueling back-to-back film schedule. ”My eyes look like two piss holes in the snow,” he says. Inevitably, the conversation circles around to the question he’s been hearing a lot lately: Is he ready for what’s about to happen? The fame, the celebrity, the swooning waitresses? Fassbender laughs. ”No. I feel kind of tripped out.”

Fassbender says this in a top-o’-the-morning Irish lilt. He sounds like he should be wearing green. And when his brunch arrives, he points to his home fries and says, ”Help yourself to me spuds!” The actor is the first to admit he’s been on a wild ride since his harrowing skin-and-bones performance as IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands in McQueen’s 2008 art-house drama Hunger, a role for which he shed more than 30 pounds and transformed into a walking ghost. That role, combined with charismatic turns in Inglourious Basterds and the critically acclaimed indie Fish Tank, had Hollywood wondering if he was the next Christian Bale.