Some famous actors are swamped by paparazzi wherever they go. But Michael Fassbender has found a way of sidestepping the spotlight while filming a new Alien movie in Australia heading into the surf.

The Irish actor has been enjoying his time in Sydney shooting Alien: Covenant, playing both the android David from Prometheus and a doppelganger in a sequel that director Ridley Scott says will take the sci-fi story back to the original Alien over three planned movies to explain where the famous chest-bursting creature came from.

"I'm loving it," Fassbender says with a strong Irish accent in a hotel by the harbour. "I'm in the water most days sometimes twice a day.

"I'm surfing well, attempting it all over the place, from the northern beaches to in and around Sydney."

With two Oscar nominations in three years, the 39-year-old has built a successful career on bringing a ferocious intensity to dramatic roles: Irish activist Bobby Sands in Hunger, British lieutenant Archie Hicox in Inglourious Basterds, sex-addicted Brandon in Shame, slave owner Edwin Epps in 12 Years A Slave, the title roles in Macbeth and Steve Jobs, and Erik Lehnsherr, better known as Magneto, in the X-Men movies.

So it's a surprise to hear Fassbender say he always tries to bring comedy to his performances.

"I just look for different types of characters but maybe all of them are a little extreme," he says. "I think I should probably start looking for comedies now. That's probably what I'm going to try."

He played an offbeat comic role, an introverted singer who wore a giant plaster mask, in Frank two years ago and says he tries for humour with David in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant as well.

"I try and bring comedy to everything, even if it's a horrible sinister character. Even Epps in 12 Years a Slave. That scene where I'm chasing Solomon around and slipping in a pigsty. That reminded me of a Buster Keaton sketch or Charlie Chaplin."

So given his interest in comedy, how intense is Fassbender in real life? As intense as the characters he plays?

"I'm pretty intense, yeah," he says with a laugh that suggests the opposite is true. "I have moments, I suppose I can get frustrated by little things but most of the time I try to keep things fairly light."

Michael thinks he has handled the fame that has come his way pretty easily, partly because it has been so hard-earned.

"It doesn't infringe too much, I've got to say, fame and stuff like that," he says. "I manage to fly under the radar a lot of the time. I'm just happy I'm doing what I love doing and I actually have the opportunity to do it ...

"Having been out of work in my early twenties and going into my mid-twenties, I know what it was like to try and get a gig. And I know there are so many actors out there trying to get a gig, so I just feel really lucky I managed to get a break."

While trying to get that break, Fassbender's side jobs included bar work, market research ("that was definitely the worst job that I ever did, the most mind-numbing), labouring ("I wasn't very good at that") and unloading trucks. But he never gave up in the years before he made it.

"I didn't know what else to do," he says. "I thought about it. I'd be lying if I said I didn't. But I really believed in myself. I always had a motto: I said to myself 'you're good enough to be working', so just keep knocking on the door. But I was terrible at auditions. I mean, I made a balls of so many of them."

Too nervous? "Probably, yeah. Self-conscious. It's a strange way to present something ... Nowadays, thankfully, actors get to do it themselves. With the great thing of technology, they can record their own audition pieces, send them in very easily through email or whatever else I actually don't know how they do it and that's a fantastic thing.

"Because to go into a sterile room with somebody who wants you to be relaxed and comfortable because everyone does [is tough]. A director wants you to be at your best so then you have to do this small talk and try to break the ice and sometimes that can just make it worse because you just want to go in and do the piece."

Outside of work now, Fassbender insists he is often preparing to work rather than having much of a social life.

"A lot of the time when I'm working, to be honest, I'm just doing homework if I'm not on set. I'm just trying to make sure I'm getting the job correct. A lot of it can be pretty solitary, to be honest, but I do like to socialise with the people that I'm working with when I get a chance."

Michael is back in cinemas this week as Magneto in X-Men: Apocalypse. The new instalment of the cerebral comic-book superhero series is set in 1983, when an ancient mutant named Apocalypse (an unrecognisable Oscar Isaac) is set free after being entombed since ancient Egyptian times. Lehnsherr is hiding from the world in Poland, working in a steel foundry with a wife and daughter, after his failed attempt to assassinate President Nixon in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

But after a personal tragedy, Apocalypto recruits Magneto to help destroy humanity so he can become ruler.

"He's hung up the cloak and the helmet for the first part of the film," Fassbender says. "He's abandoned his mutant ways."

The movie grew out of a planned trip to Russia that Fassbender shared with screenwriter-producer Simon Kinberg to promote their previous X-Men instalment.

'We talked about this idea of what would it be like if Erik was just living a normal life and had found some sort of peace or solace," Fassbender says. "There was always that cool story of Magda, his wife, in the comic books. We also thought it was interesting if he was working in a steel factory or something to do with steel, but using hard graft as opposed to any of his powers.

"In a way that seemed like some sort of penance for what he'd done in the past. Simon went off and wrote a really cool arc out of that."

Michael says he approaches every movie the same way "trying to facilitate the story the best way I can and bring a reality to a character even if it's in a fantasy world" and has always found Lehnsherr an interesting character.

"There are so many layers to him and I love the complexity of his relationship with Charles [Xavier]. I think it's very sophisticated."

Michael has found the X-Men movies have passionate fans.

"I've found going everywhere in the world from Brazil to you name it, somewhere in Asia like India people love X-Men, I guess because of that concept of people feeling ostracised or outcasts in society one way the another," he says. "That's probably a pretty universal theme."

So what do we make of Apocalypse being the third movie in weeks after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War where superheroes who should be allies are battling each other?

"Interesting," says Fassbender, who thinks it has to do with the state of politics. "In politics you've always got to keep one eye forward and one over your shoulder making sure you're not going to get a knife in the back. I suppose that's the nature of power and control, unfortunately. I suppose that's just the way that the world is.

"In terms of business deals as well, I suppose the concept always is to crush the opposition as opposed to work in harmony."

As well as acting, Fassbender has moved into producing his films, starting with the western Slow West and the coming action-adventure movie Assassin's Creed, the video-game adaptation that is his second movie with Australian director Justin Kurzel who also shot Macbeth. And he knows exactly what type of films he wants to make.

"Successful ones," Fassbender says with another laugh. "A mixture. I really like to do things which are sort of high concept and perhaps a bigger beast of a piece like the X-Men things.

"Assassin's Creed is a big-concept piece or franchise. Then we've got other stories within the company like Slow West, which was made for $2 million and made pretty close to here in New Zealand. Then we're looking at television as well because that's a very interesting medium."

Michael has also been developing a project based on Irish myths "kind of like Greek mythology, the Irish version."

"That's something that we started in 2007. Obviously we're taking our time." He laughs. "I always as a child found those stories so fascinating and wondered why they were never brought to life on screen, so that's a passion project."

Having become a favourite for certain famous directors, working three times now with both Ridley Scott (The Counselor as well as Prometheus and Alien: Covenant) and Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame and 12 Years A Slave), Fassbender jokes that he has a method for making sure filmmakers employ him again.

"I find out something deep and dark about them then I blackmail them," he says. "That's a very effective method."

When it happens that you're on the same wavelength as a director, it's a pleasure working with them again.

"You don't have to start from that unsure place. A lot of the times the chemistry between a director and an actor can just not work. That's obviously a problem.

"Then you have to rely on your own experience but that's always going to come up short because, as an actor, I feel anyway, you need the director to draw those unexpected things out of you. When you're sort of directing yourself, you're deprived of those things which is a shame."

Even as he has become more successful, Fassbender has been living in the same modest flat in Hackney, East London, that he has owned since he was just a rising actor in his late twenties, but that is about to change.

"I'm thinking of moving out of Hackney now," he says.

Into a 40-room mansion in the country somewhere? "No, just somewhere probably closer. Hackney is unfortunately east side of London and if we're filming in Pinewood, it's an hour-and-a-half to get there and an hour-and-a-half back ... I'm not sure where in London but it'll be somewhere maybe in the west side, which bugs me because I do like the east the best, but what can you do?"