Steve McQueen, Michael Fassbender and Abi Morgan on Shame - Interview

Steve McQueen, Michael Fassbender and Abi Morgan on Shame - Interview

British Turner Prize winning artist and director Steve McQueen and – at the time unknown - actor Michael Fassbender first forced their way into the public’s attention with their 2008 hard-hitting film Hunger, about the Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands.

For that role Fassbender shed a whopping 16kgs, so great was his commitment to that film and McQueen, and the film went on to receive the Caméra d'Or at Cannes as well as numerous other awards and nominations around the world. The two join forces again in new film Shame, which is just about as brutally heartbreaking as they come. 

Here, Fassbender plays the high-flying but sex-crazed Brandan, whose life spins radically out of control following the unexpected visit of his needy and insecure sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) who needs more than just a place to crash. TheVine attended the Shame press conference in London as part of the recent London Film Festival, with director McQueen, actor Fassbender and screenwriter Abi Morgan.

Let’s start form the beginning. How did this film come about?

Abi: “Steve and I met about two and a half years ago for an hour, and three and a half hours later we were still talking. And that was the starting point. We talked about love stories, really.”

Steve: “I wanted to make a sort of love story, and we started talking about the internet and pornography and sex addiction and that put all sorts of alarm bells in my head… My dad had recently died and we talked about the fact that I’d watched him closely with only three days to live and I noticed that he flirted with the nurses. I just thought that was incredible; that he still had that life force even in the last few days of his life.”

It’s a British film, so how did it come to be set in New York?

Abi: “We thought we could do the research here (in London) but we found that people were really reluctant to talk about sex addiction. So we ended up researching the film in New York and we set it there also.”

Michael, were you scared about doing this film and of how exposed you are in it?

Michael: “Yes! Like everybody else, I suppose for me sex addiciton was a bit of a grey area. I guess what was interesting was how many people claimed to suffer from it, and how it wasn’t being treated as an official mental illness. What was very important to Brandan’s character and what Abi and Steve sort of put at the core of his character was his problem with dealing with intimacy and emotional content in any sort of relationship. So, trying to find that was probably the hard part and then everything else stemmed from that.” 

Having previously worked together on Hunger, was it an easy decision to work together again?

Steve: “He wasn’t so bad in Hunger so I thought ‘well okay, I’m going to ask him again’. I don’t think I can add to that, he’s a good actor isn’t he?”

Michael: “Obviously Steve changed my life with Hunger, so I didn’t even need to read the script, it was just ‘okay’.”

Gweneth Platrow is also starring in a film about sex addiction, why do you think there is a rise in this issue?

Abi: “I think that we’ve commodified sex and we’ve really deconstructed the etiquette of dating now and with pornography and how accessible it is. Steve talked about the sort of access and excess of pornography and I think we’re kind of fascinated now by the ways we choose to interact sexually – through webcam or texting, we have a different access point now and perhaps in some ways that’s taken us away from intimacy. You could see that as a hot subject in a way.”

Michael, you mentioned you signed on before seeing the script. Was there anything you later found out that due to the explicitness of the film you were like ‘no I can’t do this’?

Michael: “No, my imagination was much more devious.”

Did you feel embarrassed doing some of the scenes?

Michael: “Oh of course. It would be for anyone unless they have exhibitionist tendencies, which is cool… But it just had to get done. It was an essential part of getting inside the psyche and that’s my job and I’ve got to facilitate these things. I’m here to tell stories and facilitate my part in that story so I just had to roll up my sleeves - though I didn’t have any on - and just go for it.”

Steve: “As an actor, you’re like a dancer – you use your body. I mean, I don’t understand all these questions about nudity, it’s nonsense, you’re an actor, an artist, get on with it.”

Michael: “That’s what he said to me everyday.”

Both your films Hunger and Shame explore extreme emotions… is your third film going to be as tough with the human soul?

Steve: “I don’t know if it’s toughness. It’s, you know, reality. It’s just how things happen, with Bobby Sands that’s what happened, with people with sex addictions this is what happens. I’m not here to provoke or scandalise it at all, I’m here to portray it and sometimes what we see is not particular pretty. I’m not interested in pushing anything; I’m interested in exploring things. We just do the best we can.”

The title Shame suggests morality, do you consider yourself a moralist?

Steve: “Well yes I do, actually, but I’m not moral at all. Morality is like socialism, great idea in theory but it just doesn’t work.”

Shame opens in cinemas February 9 and is (appropriately) rated R 18+.
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