Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Black Sheep interviews Steve McQueen

An interview with Steve McQueen, writer/director of SHAME

The other day, I joked to a friend that I had received shame in the mail. Of course, I was referring to my review copy of SHAME by Steve McQueen, but I preferred to remain cheekily ambiguous. It did get me thinking about how the title of the film might be more apt than originally imagined though. Sadly, SHAME, one of this critic’s top picks from last year, was scarcely seen in theatres. I had been out to see it twice and was deeply moved both instances but when the topic is sexual addiction and the content is widely publicized as explicit, the crowds do not always follow. There is at times an underlying sense of shame in seeing something so sexual amidst strangers. Perhaps now that the film is available for home consumption, privacy will make way for its genius to be appreciated. I’m just pleased it didn’t come wrapped in black plastic.

McQueen, a novice director whose mastery of the language of film is miles away from amateur, knows that the film is a hard sell but suspects that there are other levels to the depths of our shame. “He’s like us,” McQueen tells me of his protagonist, Brandon (Michael Fassbender), when we meet at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011. “We do not have self worth. If we did, the world would be a fantastic place but we keep on fucking up and trying to fix it.” The notion here is that those who cannot handle Brandon, don’t want to look at themselves. McQueen continues, “He’s trying, that’s what is so endearing about him. I’ve come to appreciate that people who have an affinity with Brandon is because they understand him and I think that’s important.”

Asking people to understand Brandon means asking them to accept sexual addiction as a legitimate affliction. This is something even McQueen had a hard time with before he sat down to write the screenplay for SHAME with co-writer, Abi Morgan (THE IRON LADY). “When I first heard of sexual addiction, I laughed of course, as you do. It’s like if we take a great drunk, makes everyone laugh. Well, when you realize it takes him two bottles of vodka to make it through the day, it ceases to be funny. When it comes to sex addiction, you realize this guy has to have sex, to a certain extent, every day and it then ceases to be titallating. Any emotional involvement, any emotional risk at all, it just fucks him up.”

SHAME is McQueen’s second film and also second working with Fassbender in the leading role. Their first pairing was McQueen’s award winning debut, HUNGER, where Fassbender played Irish Republic Army leader, Bobby Sands, during his time in prison. The two are slated to work together again on McQueen’s third feature, TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE, so what is it about McQueen that keeps Fassbender coming back for more? “The one thing that really impressed me when we were in Northern Ireland, doing HUNGER, was the passion that everybody came to the set with. Nobody wanted to let Steve down,” says Fassbender, before he takes a breath and continues to gush about his friend and colleague. “Steve leads by example. He is a very open, confident man. He’s not afraid to fall flat on his face, or rather he is afraid but not afraid to show that he’s afraid and show his vulnerabilities. That makes him a giant, very strong, so people follow him.”

McQueen is a concise man, both in his artistic expression and general conversation. When asked about the choice of New York City as location for SHAME, he says, “New York is the epicenter of excess.”

When asked about the lack of backstory for Brandon and his equally damaged sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), he says, “I didn’t want to be mysterious at all; I wanted to it be familiar.”

And when asked why he favors such long shots in his films, he says, “The content demands the form. Some times long is long but sometimes long is necessity.”

Our interview took place in under 10 minutes and he was able to answer almost ten questions in that time. His answers were sometimes curt and abrasive and other times flourished and detailed; it all depended on what was asked. What is unmistakably clear after meeting McQueen is that he certainly has no shame whatsoever for anything he has done in his career and nor should he. He makes art for art’s sake and what people think of his work, well he is just as efficient with that answer too. “Whether people like it or they don’t like it, either way, I don’t care. I just hope they’re very passionate about it.”

SHAME is now available to rent or own. Do not be ashamed to bring it into your home.


BlahJoe said...

Loved this post, seems like a genuine person. As you said also, he wants to make art, it's not about box office takings for him, I respect him for that.

I really wanna see Shame badly.


Black Sheep said...

Well, he was genuine in the sense that he was unapologetically himself at all times. He definitely had an attitude that demanding being worked around though.

You should definitely see Shame. It is a modern masterpiece. Let me know what you think of it!

Oh and I added your site to my blogroll. Nice work!