If you don’t know who filmmaker Steve McQueen is, then you should. He’s a writer-director who’s second film “Shame” is getting all sorts of buzz due to the sexual content and the fact that it’s easily one of the better films out there this fall. Since the anticipated new feature is rolling out into theaters soon, we got the great chance to talk to none other than Steve McQueen about the NC-17 rating, the climate of movies, shooting the sex scenes and his lead actors.
Brandon (Fassbender) is a 30-something man living in New York who is unable to manage his sex life. After his wayward younger sister moves into his apartment, Brandon’s world spirals out of control.
Latino Review: I have to salute you for sticking with the NC-17 rating because I think that the full extent of what Brandon’s (Michael Fassbender) character is going through wouldn’t have been properly shown onscreen if certain scenes were cut down or not shown at all for an R-rating. You’d be taking away a part of that performance by doing so.
Steve McQueen: For me it was never an option. And also, with respect to Fox, the discussion never happened at all. I didn’t even know what NC-17 is. I’m from New York and I thought that it was nice, I didn’t even know what it is so it doesn’t bother me.
Latino Review: Can you talk about what it was like working with Fassbender a second time around?
Steve McQueen: I think one of the main differences between “Hunger” and “Shame” is that Michael in “Hunger” is very verbal, very articulate and pushing language to the limit. He’s pushing violence to the limit in order to sort of gain freedom. Then the next step is to try to talk and pushing language to the limit as opposed to Brandon in “Shame” where he isn’t saying very much. It’s all physical, it’s all the things happening in his head that we see. It’s almost he’s sort of like a silent Valentino movie star with a situational implosion rather than explosion. It’s a very restrained performance and then there’s an outburst at the end. It’s just very different perspectives and you can see it between “Shame” and “Hunger.”
Latino Review: One of the many things I like about “Shame” is the restaurant scene that is pretty much a five minute one-shot. Do you and yours actors rehearse a lot for those particular scenes or do you let them run wild with improvising?
Steve McQueen: Well that particular scene there was a lot of rehearsal because we had to get the camera movement and set-up particularly right because of the timing and it’s one take. Most of it wasn’t like that, but we did a lot of takes with this scene so we could get the proper photography and the delivery right. We were very successful in the end, thank goodness.
Latino Review: Were there a lot of rehearsals, if any at all, for the more sexual scenes?
Steve McQueen: No, not at all. I think the worst thing you can do is rehearse sex scenes. You’ve just got to go for it, you need the spontaneity. There is the idea of what you want to do but obviously in reality sex is never really rehearsed. In order for it to feel right you need that spontaneity.
Latino Review: Michael Fassbender isn’t the only person who stands out in this movie, Carey Mulligan gives an equally great performance as well. In the previous movies we’ve seen her in she tends to play more of the angelic, pure characters but in “Shame” she plays a character who’s a complete mess internally.
Steve McQueen: I think Carey is a person — I think people thought too though that people thought they had their carve marked. I think Carey has so much depth. Carey’s not easy, she’s really a person who’s sort of deeper and darker than people actually think of and there’s a sort of well of — she’s a well, she’s so deep and I think she’s hardly been tapped. This is the start of something hopefully that is a journey of something she goes deeper into. She’s amazing, she’s a great, great actress but there’s a possibility for her to be greater.
Latino Review: Kind of tracking back to some of the talk about “Shame” because it’s rated NC-17, I think I find that kind of hilarious that some people are paying attention to the film only in that regard. Sex is a part of our culture, it’s been so for many years, what’s the big deal?
Steve McQueen: I would be worried if that was only that that they were talking about [with “Shame] but that’s not the case. I think the situation is this: we see pornography much more easily than we ever have. Two clicks on your iPhone, your iPad, your computer and you can get the most graphic sex-filled website you can think of. So the argument that films from the early 70s and comparing it to “Shame” is just habituating. The biggest websites online are pornography websites. “Shame” is not that particularly tame in comparison but what cinema hasn’t advanced in now, because of that, is to look at it in a much more serious manner. I think our film has a responsibility in doing that.
Latino Review: What did you think of the audience response when they showed “Shame” at AFI Fest?
Steve McQueen: I wasn’t there, I didn’t see it. I sat there for the first eight minutes just to make sure that everything is okay but that was it. I saw the movie once before a Q&A in Toronto and it had such an effect on me. It’s almost like I was winded, like somebody punched me in the stomach so I thought that it wasn’t the best thing to do. So the only time I actually saw it properly was in Toronto. When I saw it was in Toronto and it winded me so much that–
Latino Review: Why did it wind you?
Steve McQueen: It had an effect on me.
Latino Review: Agreed. Towards the end of the third act you go from feeling like you’re in the middle of an adrenaline rush to shaking from the crash. There are few movies that can get that kind of reaction out of me so thank you for that.
Steve McQueen: And thank you. I thank the audience for being so open to come to the movie and seeing it. I think a lot of people thought this wasn’t the movie to make, you can’t make this movie. We’ve proven that there’s a demand to see movies like this. I’m grateful for people to be excited to see this.
Latino Review: I like it when there are filmmakers like yourself that aren’t afraid of treating the audience like adults and bringing up this kind of material. It feels like people are afraid to address certain topics on the big screen like with what we see in this. What’s there to be afraid of if it’s something that happens in real life?
Steve McQueen: I think times are changing right now, I really do think movies are changing right now because we have to. Also, in a way we respond to things like HBO, AMC but not just in a reactionary way but just because technology’s changing and through it technology has been changed and language is being changed within cinema and what cinema can do. There’s still a big space for cinema and peoplewant things that are going to put them somewhere that they’ve never been before but certainly the fact that they want to see themselves in that situation as well. So some of them which is not necessarily so, but of course the movie’s out there which will put you out there and you’ll be superman, you’re a superhero or whatever btu I think lots of people want to look at a film in which they could actually reflect on their own reality. They don’t necessarily want to be in outer space, they want also to be down in the supermarket.
Latino Review: It’s nice to see those films in general. It appears that there’s a surge of those kinds of films in general.
Steve McQueen: Let’s hope so.Â So who’s your pick for best actor? Michael (Fassbender)?
Latino Review: Michael (Fassbender), I would definitely love to see him get nominated.
Steve McQueen: He’s going to win. I think Michael’s the best.
“Shame” will be released in limited theaters this Friday.