Steve McQueen is one of the greatest directors, artist or whatever you want to call him of his generation. He won the Turner Prize in 1999 (in a race that included the wonderful Tracey Emin) and directed the critically acclaimed ‘Hunger’ in 2008 depicting the real life hunger strike of IRA member Bobby Sands. Now he’s made his way back to the big screen with ‘Shame’ centred around a sex addict living in New York who’s life is falling apart. Most recently he directed ‘Widows’ an amazing movie which didn’t get the attention it deserved. For that reason Steve McQueen is probably one of my main sources of inspiration when it comes to doing loads of stuff really well, so much so I decided to transcribe an interview he did with Mark Kermode on the Culture Show a few years ago. Hope it brings you as much as inspiration as it did for me.
What is it about the subject of sex addiction that intrigues you? Because during the film as his addiction becomes more and more rampant he becomes more alienated. Although he says himself “that’s an alienation I’m completely happy with”
What fascinated me about it was the fact that this addiction [in some ways] you need someone to facilitate it [not all the time of course]. But I just love the idea of that drama with two people, one wanting something off the other person. And that so called control and also the same time it was about the struggle and not knowing you had a problem in the first place. When I first heard about sex addiction I found it quite funny of course, I laughed. Then you realise this person similar to an alcoholic, in order to get through the day needs two bottles of vodka. Similar to Brandon, he can’t do anything without reliving himself how many times a day. That’s kind of sad, it ceases to become funny.
I think to fall in love with someone is pretty brave. That person could break your heart. I think for him somewhere along the line he didn’t want that to happen or the possibility of being vulnerable.
Many of the scenes involve a degree of nakedness, physical nakedness and emotional nakedness. Tell me how difficult that may or may not be to work with a cast. One imagines acting without your clothes on not too comfortable?
No, but then they’re not very good actors are they. If Michael was walking around with a bazooka and he showed an AK-47 no one would say anything, but its one of those strange things where the bizarre is normal and the normal is bizarre. He’s an actor and we have to get to the emotional depth of the character. And also this isn’t 1951, a lot of people don’t wear pyjamas, they get up in the morning and they’re naked. They’re up, they’re calm and they’re comfortable, end of story.
There have been comparisons made between Michael Fassbender and Marlon Brando in terms of physical performance. I think people now view Fassbender as arguably one of the greatest screen actors of his generation. Do you see any connection between their acting styles?
Yes I do. He’s a man, he’s a man’s man, he’s bold and he’s physical. But there’s a certain fragility in him which is so beautiful. That I think you can project yourself [as an audience member] onto him and see yourself. He can bring you in; he doesn’t push you away he brings in you in, he’s not afraid to show his vulnerability, which is beautiful.
Tell me about Brando’s relationship with Sissy. There’s a key conversation with Brand and Sissy at one point where she says “we’re not bad people but we come from a bad place” – one of the things I admire about the film is you’re explicit as to what that bad place is. Although it seemed to me the film had certain suggestions as to what it might be. Tell me what that line meant?
I wanted to make their past familiar rather than mysterious. But I didn’t want it to be a let out for what Brando does in the movie. It’s their past. When we meet people in our lives we know nothing about them other then what they present. And sometimes there’s tales of the past in the present when you’re with them. Similar situation arises in the film when Carey Mulligan sings ‘New York, New York’ to Brandon. It’s the only time when he has to listen to Sissy, he can’t move, he can’t escape, he’s forced to sit there and listen, he has to.
In terms of where you go from here, two features films both critically well received, do you see feature film making as the primary part of your future career or do you still see yourself as a visual artist that happens to work in film?
No, no I don’t want people to allow me to have to choose. I don’t want that, I want to do what I want to do. Next time I might want to dance [laughs]. It’s not even a joke, I feel as an artist or as a person who wants to do stuff, you should just do stuff, whatever that stuff is. There’s no real barrier or dividing line between what you can and can’t do. I just don’t see it.