Exclusive interview with Steve McQueen, director of award winning films 'Shame'' and 'Hunger'
You can read here an exclusive interview with Steve McQueen, director of 'Shame', a film competing in our feature-length competition and screening tonight at 7:30pm and tomorrow (Tuesday) at 3pm in Europa Cinema. Steve McQueen acquired international acclaim with his awarded debut 'Hunger' (2008). He is also an acclaimed visual artist whose video works and installations have been shown in museums around the world.
David Michael, a journalist and contributor of numerous international film magazines, dailies and web portals interviewed Steve McQueen at Venice Film Festival, where 'Shame' won FIPRESCI Award and the film's lead actor, Michael Fassbender, won Best Actor Award.
D.M.: Where did the story come from?
S.M.: Myself and Abi Morgan. We said we’d only meet for an hour, and we ended up meeting for three. We ended up on the subjects of sex and the internet, and we just decided he should be a sex addict. At the time, it wasn’t in-vogue, this was three years ago, so what was interesting for me was to investigate it. So we went to the US and spoke to a psychoanalyst who deals with sex addicts, and we also spoke to actual sex addicts. Through that research you start to question your own psyche, because you get very deep into this understanding of how these people operate; they go on sexapades, they spend all day on the internet, or they’re masturbating or going with prostitutes, or even taking extraordinary risks sexually. After that, what happens is they come out of this sexapade and they have this huge wave of shame and embarrassment. Everyone we spoke to said this, and what they do to cover up the shame, is they do it again. I was like everyone else, you hear ‘sex addict’ and you begin to laugh and snigger, but it’s like the guy who drinks too much, you first think he’s a funny guy, but when the drink takes over and they need to drink just to survive the day, then it becomes a problem. Sex addiction is like alcoholism, it’s not really about the actual sex, in the same way alcoholism isn’t about being thirsty.
D.M.: What informs the style of the film? Is it related to you being an artist in any way?
S.M.: I think painting really. When you think of somebody like Goya, he shows the most awful atrocities, but he wants you to engage with the painting. So what he does it through composition. For me this movie is about look, because most people don’t want to talk about this subject or deal with it, a lot of people might see themselves in the film, but not talk about it. I want the film to like a dog whistle, but I want people to look. Like Hunger, people told me how can you shoot this disgusting stuff and compose it in a beautiful way? It wasn’t the case of making it kitsch, it was about making people look at something they don’t want to look at.
D.M.: It’s been announced that you’re going to work again with Michael Fassbender on a third film, do you look at it as a special working relationship between the two of you?
S.M.: He wasn’t as popular as he is now when we first met, which was great. We met on a level playing field, which I think was important. We met when neither of us was of any real interest to anyone really. When I see him on screen, it’s like he’s not acting, I believe him. I think a lot of movie stars, I don’t believe them on screen; we’ve seen them do the same thing in another film. With Michael you believe him; he’s not a movie star, he’s an artist, an actor, that’s the difference. He’s willing to go further to get closer to how we are as human beings. When you see him, I feel sometimes we can translate and recognise ourselves in him. You can see a bit of yourself in that person, that’s what an artist or actor is meant to do – translate reality- and not a lot of people can do that.
D.M.: Michael has admitted it was a harder role than in your previous film Hunger, did you feel that too?
S.M.: Yes, but I’m there to support and I’m there to push. It’s my job to support him and be his scaffold to prop him up. He went deep, he went very deep.
D.M.: Was it a disturbing film to make?
S.M.: No, it was great film to make; we really had a lot of fun on set. I think when you’re making a film like this; you need something to pull you out of it, because it’s kind of heavy. It was quite light on the set. Somebody once told me if you’re making a comedy it’s horrible on the set, but when you’re making a serious drama, it’s funny. That was the case with us. We had a great time, and had close bonds. We were doing something that we thought was interesting so we all pulled together.
D.M.: There’s an increasing number of visual artists beginning to direct, can you explain that and did you feel more pressure to follow Hunger up, and prove it wasn’t just a one-off?
Myself, I just wanted from day one, as an artist to play with story-telling and that was it really. It was simple as that. For me this is my first film, every film I do will be my first film. When I’m on a film set, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m Mr Magoo. I always want to be a little bit naive, I’m an amateur. I always want to be an amateur, because when you become a professional, that’s when your ideas run out. I’m an amateur, always will be. Which I mean is to have freedom and not be constrained by certain ways or techniques of doing things.