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'Shame's' Michael Fassbender, Steve McQueen on a serious roll

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'Shame's' Michael Fassbender, Steve McQueen on a serious roll Empty 'Shame's' Michael Fassbender, Steve McQueen on a serious roll

Post by Admin on Thu Nov 24, 2011 1:20 am,0,7303372.story

'Shame's' Michael Fassbender, Steve McQueen on a serious roll
Having forged a bond built on taking risks, the actor and the director embark on a new round of intensity.

By Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times

November 27, 2011
Actors will endure a lot for a director they believe in. Michael Fassbender swallowed his pride and wore a superhero helmet for Matthew Vaughn in "X-Men: First Class" and toggled trickily between English and German for Quentin Tarantino in "Inglourious Basterds." But none of that compares to what he's been willing to go through for Steve McQueen.

Four years ago, when Fassbender began working with the punctilious filmmaker (no relation to that other Steve McQueen) in the prison drama "Hunger," the actor lost 35 pounds to incarnate Irish Republican Army hero Bobby Sands.

For their latest collaboration, the NC-17-rated "Shame," Fassbender shed a lot more than weight: He went full-frontal and simulated numerous sex acts — while also improvising scenes shot guerrilla style on New York subway cars — to play a man incapable of emotional connection.

"Why do I want to do all this with Steve?" Fassbender mulled as he sat with the director sipping a glass of wine at a Beverly Hills hotel recently. "Because what's massively evident and refreshing about [him] is that he has no rule book about making a film. He'll never rule anything out."

In a fall film season when anticipated releases come from some of Hollywood's most reliable names — Spielberg, Scorsese, Eastwood — who are working with familiar talent, McQueen and his star pupil represent a refreshing departure. And with "Shame," which opens this weekend, they add another notch to their improbable résumés.

McQueen, 42, is a longtime visual artist who kicked up controversy in the British art world before becoming a feature-film director just a few years ago. He is also a rarity for other reasons: a black director making art films about nonblack subjects.

Fassbender, 34, is a German-born, Ireland-raised outsider who toiled in entertainment-world obscurity for nearly 15 years. But in the past year he has become, thanks in part to his collaborations with McQueen, one of the most sought-after talents in Hollywood. His recent run is almost unheard of: Audiences have seen the actor play Rochester in "Jane Eyre," tackle Magneto in "X-Men: First Class," incarnate Carl Jung in the new release "A Dangerous Method" and now take up "Shame." In coming months, we'll see him as a secret agent in the globe-trotting action thriller "Haywire" as well as star in "Prometheus," a movie described as a prequel of sorts to "Alien."

In "Shame" he plays Brandon, a well-to-do Manhattanite afflicted with a crippling addiction. Fassbender's character craves physical gratification but is frightened of emotional entanglements and has worked out a disturbing routine of prostitutes, Internet porn and one-night stands. In one shocking scene, he sends home a prospective girlfriend (Nicole Beharie) just as they're getting intimate so he can call a meaningless hook-up. Within seconds, the two have taken their clothes off and are going at it against a floor-to-ceiling hotel window overlooking the Hudson.

In its look at self-destructive behaviors, "Shame" evokes addiction touchstones like "Requiem for a Dream" and "Days of Wine and Roses." "I made this movie because there's a situation going on in our culture that wasn't being spoken about," McQueen said. "And I wanted to speak about it."

Combining a moody austerity with sexual frankness, "Shame" generated buzz on the film-festival circuit and won a top acting prize for Fassbender at the Venice Film Festival. But its explicitness, not to mention its quiet pacing, had it heading for a token release until Fox Searchlight, a division of 20th Century Fox that has released unconventional hits such as "Black Swan" and "Juno," acquired the rights.

The movie has an atmospheric, almost dreamy quality, with a stark visual palette that McQueen conceived with his cinematographer, Sean Bobbitt. It also features what is becoming McQueen's trademark: extremely long takes. McQueen kept a camera tight on Carey Mulligan, who plays Brandon's fragile chanteuse sister, for about five minutes while she offers a bluesy rendition of "New York, New York."

"Steve combines an incredibly creative instinct with an ability to ask 'Why is something done that way? Why do we have to do it that way?'" said Iain Canning, one of the film's producers, adding that not every star would go along with that sort of unorthodoxy.

The director and the star actually didn't hit it off the first couple of times they met. But on their third meeting, in London, they bonded when Fassbender gave McQueen a ride on his motorcycle. "Our 'Officer and a Gentleman' moment," McQueen recalled as the two launched simultaneously into a duet of that movie's schmaltzy ballad, "Up Where We Belong."

Waiting for Fassbender

It was several years later that the director his and co-writer, Abi Morgan, started interviewing sex addicts before beginning their screenplay. They also teamed with Canning and Emile Sherman, producers on last year's best picture Oscar winner, "The King's Speech." But the project only crystallized when a certain performer agreed to do it.

Though McQueen said he could have imagined other actors in the role, he said he would have waited years to make it with Fassbender. "Michael can reflect us," the director, an intensely serious person, said with customary grandiloquence. "We see ourselves in him. He is who we are. We put our face on his face. He is a mirror."

Both he and McQueen needed a certain amount of elasticity, as well as an improvisational spirit, on "Shame." The two would sometimes shoot at dodgy clubs, often late into the night. The movie cost just a few million dollars and was shot in only 25 days, nearly unheard of for an award-season contender from a rising star.

Some of the film was also created on the fly. When Beharie, who plays Brandon's part-time love interest, arrived on set to shoot a scene of her first date with him, she found that the lines she had been studying didn't matter: McQueen wanted the awkwardness that came from not knowing a script, just like any first date. "I got there and was told 'We're not going to use the script, and we're going to wing it,'" she said.

In other instances, McQueen would provide a single guideline — say, "You can improvise any of the dialogue, but just don't move from the couch" — and see what the actors would do with it.

"On a big set there are a lot of people involved, so there are a lot of opinions flying around," Fassbender said. "You do a film that's $150 million and you have 150 million options. This couldn't have been more different."

Shorter and slighter than his on-screen alpha presence would suggest, Fassbender is apt to switch between diatribes about consumerism and the Occupy Wall Street movement ("We're sold things in a very effective manner; we're nicely sort of numb") and a surprising, staccato laugh. That ability apparently helps him on set, where seasoned actors say he can turn on personalities like a light switch.

"One minute he's Irish Michael Fassbender, joking around with the crew. And the next minute he's a sex addict," said costar Mulligan. "And it's not like he's some Method actor who goes into a corner. It just happens."

The serious director

Unlike Fassbender, there's a seriousness nearly all the time to McQueen, who sometimes brushes aside questions he doesn't like. Born in London, McQueen has developed a fair amount of fame in the art world. For much of the 1990s he shot black-and-white film installations, some of them starring himself. The 1993 work "Bear," for instance, featured him and another naked malemodel in what may have been a menacing or romantic pose, while in the 1997 video piece "Deadpan" he wryly reenacted a moment from a Buster Keaton movie.

Having won the art world's prestigious Turner Prize, McQueen touched off a controversy a few years ago when he created postage stamps featuring the images of servicemen who died in Iraq. He held his ground when some on the right accused him of being unpatriotic and even tried to get the Royal Mail to adopt them as official stamps.

In 2008, he branched out with "Hunger," about Sands' 66-day hunger strike in 1981 at Maze Prison, a subject he said fascinated him because of the intersection of politics and sacrifice.

His star took a similarly circuitous route to the film spotlight. Born in Germany to an Irish mother and German father, Fassbender and his older sister moved with their parents to Killarney, Ireland, when the actor was a young boy. He started acting as a teenager — bit parts in television and small films — but remained mostly unknown.

Then he had a few eye-catching turns — one as a predatory family friend in the British coming-of-age drama "Fish Tank." "Basterds" and "Hunger" landed him on many radars, working with an A-plus list of directors that includes Steven Soderbergh, Ridley Scott and David Cronenberg. In Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method," he plays a different, more restrained character, Carl Jung, a man who would have a field day with "Shame's" Brandon.

Fassbender and McQueen will team again on the director's third movie, a slavery drama titled "Twelve Years a Slave" that is being produced by and will costar Brad Pitt and aims to shoot in 2012. The U.S.-based story tells of a free Northern man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the mid-19th century.

"I know I'm in a one-percentile position," Fassbender said. "I guess I've spent enough time in the wings to realize when I get a chance to work and do what I love doing that I want to make the ... most of it and not take it for granted."

Despite Fassbender's reputation for playing intense types, Cronenberg said he was moved to cast the actor in "A Dangerous Method" because he's "actually a bit of a jokester" and a "playful Irish boy."

Indeed, at one point in the interview Fassbender suddenly launched into a "Curb Your Enthusiasm" routine.

"So then he says, 'No, really, I'm Danny Duberstein, I've had a bar mitzvah. I've had three bar mitzvahs,'" Fassbender tells McQueen, quoting a scene in which the black comedian J.B. Smoove, playing his street-sharpie character, tries to put one over on actor Michael Richards. "So Richards says: 'Don't you only do that when you're 13?' And then [Smoove] says, "I do it every 13 years. You've got to recharge the mitzvah," bursting into laughter before he could even get the sentence out.

McQueen looked at the actor intently and, without smiling, declared, "I should cast this guy."

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Post by Admin on Fri Nov 25, 2011 7:24 pm

Fassbender and McQueen — a team built on trust
Uncategorized — posted by otownrog on November, 24 2011 1:21 PM

Mick Jagger has his Keith Richards and Steven Tyler his Joe Perry.

Their movie equivalent? Steve McQueen, the British artist turned filmmaker, and his muse, Michael Fassbender.

“It really is like making music together,” says Fassbender. “There’s not much dialogue. We seem to be on the same wavelength. And at the center of it all is trust.”

It isn’t every director an actor would lose most of his body weight for, but Fassbender took on true emaciation for McQueen’s “Hunger,” back in 2008. And it isn’t every filmmaker an actor would get utterly naked for – physically and psychologically, in their new film – “Shame.”

“When you’re moving in the dark, trying to find your way, you’ve got to be doing it with somebody you trust, totally,” Fassbender says. “I had to go to some ugly places with ‘Shame.’ But I believed in the character and the director.”

Both Fassbender and McQueen, 42, were relative unknowns when the experimental “art” filmmaker cast Fassbender in “Hunger.” That acclaimed drama put them both on the map. And as Fassbender’s career has exploded, he continues to find time between mainstream films to work with McQueen.

“It’s a true collaboration, the way we work together,” McQueen says. “We work fast. We surprise each other and challenge each other.”

Before “X-Men: First Class,” before Fassbender’s star turns in “Jane Eyre” or “Inglourious Basterds,” he and McQueen made noise with the scorching, hard-to-watch but little seen film about IRA hunger strikers – “Hunger.” Their latest, “Shame” is about sexual addiction and is almost as difficult to watch – sex and sexuality at their ugliest and most off-putting.

“I wanted to put humanity into a subject matter that people try not to think about,” McQueen says. “I wanted to make this man one of us. Addiction, whether it’s sex or drugs or whatever, is an enormous burden and I wanted to see how someone would navigate their way through it, through their working world, their private life, all of it. I wanted to put a mirror up to the rest of us with this guy. He’s not a freak. He is us.”

Fassbender calls Brandon, his sex addict character, “the toughest role I’ve ever had. The thing with ‘Hunger,’ playing [IRA hunger striker] Bobby Sands, at least I was dealing with somebody who was strong in his belief system and believed in himself. Brandon doesn’t like himself at all – self-loathing, punishing himself. That’s harder to live with, that darkness, than the very strict diet I was on with ‘Hunger.’”

McQueen says Fassbender’s co-star in the film, Carey Mulligan (“An Education”), pursued her role (as the sex addicts equally messed-up sister) “quite aggressively,” and compares her to Fassbender and himself in that “as an artist, you want to show us things that we don’t particularly like seeing in ourselves. It can be ugly. We can’t be ostriches and put our heads in the sand.”

“Shame” has already scored top prizes at the Venice and Hollywood Film Festivals — and early reviews have been glowing – “Fassbender and Mulligan both give massive, irresistible performances as people drowning in a hostile sea of commodified sexuality and self-hatred,”’s Andrew O’Hehir raved.

Don’t put it past us. Michael, and Carey Mulligan, his co-star, are actors people think they have figured out. And then they do a film like this. Our next film together [‘Twelve Years a Slave’, filming next summer] could be a musical romance. Well, no. But don’t put it past us. I think Michael trusts me enough to try that, as I do him.”

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Post by Admin on Fri Nov 25, 2011 7:27 pm

Unlikely Look at Sex and the City
Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Steve McQueen, left, the director of “Shame,” with Michael Fassbender.
Published: November 25, 2011

STEVE McQUEEN, the London-born artist-turned-filmmaker, has dark memories of his first visit to New York City. Literally: he was here for the 1977 blackout.

“I was 7 years old,” he recalled. “It has a big impression,. There was a T-shirt: ‘Where were you when the lights went out?’ A lot of people were stealing. It was quite exciting.”

A laugh comes from the man seated next to him. “A big party,” said Michael Fassbender, the Irish-German actor and star of the duo’s new film, “Shame.” His first time in New York? “I did a Guinness commercial here,” Mr. Fassbender replies, in a smooth brogue. “About a guy who swims to New York from Ireland.” The city, he said, “was everything I imagined it to be.”

They are an unlikely couple — the bespectacled, neurotic artist and his rakish, heartthrob muse — but it may be even more improbable that a pair of Europeans have created one of the more memorable cinematic Manhattans in years. “Shame,” which opens Friday in select cities, is a wrenching saga of sex addiction set in executive-suite New York, where self-destruction plays out against minimalist décor, sophisticated hotels and other trappings of upscale urban life.

Despite frequent sex scenes so explicit it has received an NC-17 rating, “Shame” is a deeply unerotic portrait of Manhattan, replacing the city’s usual romance with an antiseptic chill. Brandon, Mr. Fassbender’s character, spends his days toiling at an anonymous Midtown firm and his nights pursuing anonymous sex in any form. He locks eyes with women on the N train and brings prostitutes back to his sterile pornography-laden Chelsea high-rise. This is no easy subject matter, and the film has proved divisive among critics at early screenings, although Mr. Fassbender received best-actor honors at the Venice Film Festival for his role.

That this tale of breakdown and addiction, aided by the immediacy of the Internet, is set in modern-day New York is no accident, although the initial impetus for the filmmakers to cross the Atlantic was more practical than aesthetic. In England, “no one wanted to speak to us about sex addiction,” explained Mr. McQueen, as he sipped tea the other day with Mr. Fassbender at the Standard Hotel, itself the scene of several of Brandon’s trysts.

Mr. McQueen, whose mainstream debut, “Hunger,” also starred Mr. Fassbender in examining a famous hunger strike at a prison in Northern Ireland, is a stickler for research. But when he and his co-writer, the British playwright Abi Morgan (whose credits include the forthcoming Margaret Thatcher biopic, “The Iron Lady”), set out to interview recovering addicts in London, they found that many refused to speak, apparently spooked by an unsympathetic British media.

“We were like Miss Marple and Columbo,” Mr. McQueen said, recalling their hunt for information. Eventually, counselors introduced them to patients in New York, who were more willing to open up. “I thought to myself, well, why don’t we do it here, because it seems we can have some access to people with this affliction,” Mr. McQueen said. “It was a happy accident.”

Mr. McQueen found that New York’s streets offered a visual reinforcement of his message that this addiction can strike in any community, no matter how refined.

“New York is a landscape that even if you haven’t been there, people recognize it,” he said. “Before I ever went to New York, I saw American cop shows and stuff like that. It’s a location that sort of neutralizes everything.”

For Mr. McQueen, the idea was to create a film that could capture the toll of self-abuse without allowing viewers an easy way to keep their distance.

“Everyone can relate to sexual addiction, because everyone has sex,” he said. “Now alcohol addiction or drug addiction, you can give these things up to some extent. But sex addiction, you have to live with sex, and therefore there’s a relationship with most other people in the audience.”

“It was a topic that has hardly been covered at all, or looked at properly,” he added.

Certainly, in the cinema, sex addiction is often played for laughs (as in “Choke”), but even more serious takes, like “Auto Focus,” tend to use illness as metaphor: Bob Crane’s sex addiction as a lens onto Hollywood decay. Few directors delve as deeply as Mr. McQueen into its full human consequences.

Mr. Fassbender, who went on an extreme diet for weeks to prepare for his role as the hunger striker Bobby Sands in “Hunger,” is accustomed to his director’s demanding standards. But he said the 25-day shoot for “Shame,” which required him to simulate several sex acts and even urinate on camera, was at times even more trying.

“Something starts to seep into your enamel; it’s like putting on another layer of skin,” said Mr. Fassbender, who slept less than five hours each night while filming. “It was exhausting. It was definitely for me the most difficult job to date.”
Interview: Michael Fassbender

Mr. McQueen, genuinely surprised, asked, “Why was it more difficult than ‘Hunger’?”

Mr. Fassbender thought for a few moments. “Bobby Sands was such a confident character in his beliefs,” he said, and Brandon “is somebody that doesn’t think very highly of himself at all. The opposite. What he’s doing is going about abusing himself; he’s damaging himself badly. Living with that, I think it kind of got to me at certain times.”

The “Shame” shoot was Mr. McQueen’s first extended stay in the city since a stint at New York University film school in the early 1990s. His less-than-pleasant experiences in Manhattan restaurants informed one of the movie’s lighter moments, when an overeager waiter bothers Brandon on a date. “That’s kind of indicative of a lot of meals in New York,” the director said with a laugh.

Mr. Fassbender chimed in: “The service thing is brilliant here, but sometimes it’s too much. Every time you’re getting into conversation it’s like, ‘Is everything all right here? Can I get you anything?’ ”

It was around this time in the interview that the two found themselves embroiled in a somewhat darker New York moment. Mr. McQueen is a precise conversationalist — “I want to get this right!” he exclaimed at one point, struggling with a sentence — and so he was rather annoyed when a loud crunching bass line began pumping through the bar’s speakers. It was 4 p.m., and the place, the exclusive celebrity-friendly Le Bain, was nearly deserted.

“Excuse me?” Mr. McQueen bellowed. “Can you turn the music down?”

He was met by a manager, clearly unmoved. “I have people coming in,” he said, talking over Mr. McQueen’s protests.

The director stayed polite — “Look, I don’t want to fight with you,” he said — only to be met with a smirk. “I don’t want to fight either,” the manager said.

“Whatever,” Mr. McQueen said, waving him off, but the manager persisted. “What does that mean?” he asked, in a mocking tone. “What is ‘whatever’ about?”

It was a bizarre, aggressive moment, and Mr. McQueen seemed to sour after that. He had lost track of his earlier point, and, as the manager walked away, he uttered a quiet, vigorous expletive. The Hudson River, framed by the tall glass windows behind him, shimmered on its way past the island, but Mr. McQueen did not turn to look.

“New York is not owned by anyone,” he said later. “That’s what makes an interesting city. It is a city of how many stories — thousands, hundreds of stories, millions of stories. That’s the beauty of working here.”

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