Michael Fassbender and Steve McQueen, Shame

No Shame in Their Game: Actor Michael Fassbender and Director Steve McQueen

You should pay attention to Steve McQueen for more than a few reasons. (And we’re not talking about the actor from Bullitt.)

Perhaps you saw him recently in a video (see below) from The Hollywood Reporter exasperated over the lack of working black actors and directors in Hollywood. His utterly valid indictment left the panel of bigwig directors speechless in their white guilt.

But before that viral moment, McQueen’s been long regarded as one of the most provocative artists of his generation.

The London-born visual artist has used film, photography and sculpture in his wide-ranging work. His 1990s work made critics take notice. (His 1993 B&W film piece Bear featured two naked black men (one of them McQueen himself) in an ambiguous face-off that blurred the line between homoeroticism and gangsterism. And six years later, he won the Turner Prize for Deadpan, another B&W effort based on a Buster Keaton stunt.)

But more significantly, McQueen’s been able to jump from the art world to cinema without being limited to films with black ensemble casts or particularly black subject matter. Like he alludes to in that THR clip, his aim is to present reality on film, not operate in a false “film reality.”

His 2009 feature debut, Hunger, starred Michael Fassbender (see left) as the protagonist in story about the 1981 Irish prison riots. It won the first director’s award at Cannes.

Now he’s teamed with Fassbender again in Shame, a film about sexual addiction, which hits theaters in NYC today (Dec. 2). The flick is so raw that it’s earned an NC-17 rating and enough pre-release buzz to perhaps even make Oscar stand up and take notice come nomination time. The NC-17 rating is largely because of the graphic sex scenes and Fassbender’s frontal nudity. Bare tetas and bush get an R, but bucky-nekkid male bits gets you slapped with an NC-17. That’s Hollywood.

McQueen talked with the good folks at WSJ.com‘s Speakeasy blog about Shame‘s take on obsessive behavior and his own gradual climb to auteur status. Read part of what he had to say below and then watch the THR clip and slightly explicit Shame trailer below that. And then rush to the theater to watch Shame for yourself. Let Tyler Perry know he’s not the only black director that kills at the box office.

This film seems to be about people who, outwardly at least, look like they’ve got it together, but deep down they’re falling apart.

The film is about ritualization, the whole idea of here’s somebody who has an apartment, a job, and this deep dark secret. Through our research—mine and (screenwriter) Abi Morgan’s—we found a lot of that was happening. There’s this kind of self preservation, a delusion of control.

This brother and sister, Brandon and Sissy (Carey Mulligan), are obviously extremely dysfunctional. Yet you never get the full backstory about their upbringing. Why did you decide to leave it ambiguous?

When people come to the cinema and sit down, they bring their history, their present and their past with them. So when they see something on the screen they have an idea of what it could possibly be, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s a respect for audiences: an audience member has an idea of what might have happened, and I think that’s enough. Sometimes you come into a story in the middle of someone’s life.

You wrote the screenplay after you and Abi Morgan did your research?

Yes. This was all about receiving shit. It is not about history or a costume drama or something that happened yesterday. To me, the film was like a dog whistle going off in the cinema.

Sex addiction is something you hear about in the media, typically when a male celebrity cheats on his wife and then goes to rehab. Was it something you had thought about a lot?

When I first heard about it I was really laughing, thinking “What is this?” But it’s similar to a person who is an alcoholic, and you see him at a Christmas party and he’s a great drunk having lots of fun. But when you realize this person has to drink two bottles of vodka to get through the day, you see it’s not fun anymore. It’s the same thing with sex addiction. There’s a wonderful line that sexual addiction has as much to do with sex as alcoholism has to do with being thirsty.

Read the rest of the interview here.


WATCH The Hollywood Reporter‘s Directors’ Roundtable:



WATCH Shame trailer:

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