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Grim realities of lust laid bare

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Grim realities of lust laid bare Empty Grim realities of lust laid bare

Post by Admin on Sat Feb 11, 2012 12:50 am

Grim realities of lust laid bare
Stephanie Bunbury
February 9, 2012

Director Steve McQueen (left) with actor Michael Fassbender. Photo: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

THERE is no getting around it: Steve McQueen is a difficult interviewee, tetchy and defensive. The fast-tracked star of Britain's uber-cool art scene - he won the Turner Prize five years out of college - and now probably the country's most feted film director doesn't lack confidence: he is quite prepared to present his naked self on video in a gallery, as he did with his exhibit Bear.

Right now, he is so clearly discomfited by talking about himself that you half expect him to give up and walk out. Lucky for his publicists, then, that he's such a perfectionist.

We are here to discuss Shame, McQueen's film about a sex addict played by a stripped-raw Michael Fassbender, who also starred in Hunger, McQueen's acclaimed account of the death of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands and has become the artist's male muse. For that film, Fassbender starved himself down to Sands' death weight of 58 kilograms. Shame, incredibly enough, was harder.
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Carey Mulligan as Sissy in Shame.

Carey Mulligan in Shame.

"I don't know exactly why, but with Steve you know it's going to be super-intense and super-rewarding," he said at the time. "You know, he always deals with something very relevant, very human and something that is, in some respects, the elephant in the room. Something nobody speaks about."

His character Brandon Sullivan is a financial whiz, living in a bijou New York penthouse laden with possessions and distractions. Sex - always casual, usually paid, mostly but not exclusively with women, cold and very frequent - is the best distraction, but his constant consumption is curtailed when his brittle, needy sister Sissy - played marvellously by Carey Mulligan - comes to stay, unexpectedly and for some unknown, unlimited time. What is Brandon distracting himself from? Being human, mostly. And Sissy is maddeningly human.

Shame is an extraordinary film, serious and searing. Why Michael Fassbender did not get an Oscar nod could be described as one of this year's great awards-season mysteries, except that it's not that mysterious: Shame is just too good for the Oscars. It also divides audiences. Too tough, too naked and too grim for its American detractors, it was greeted at its first showing in Berlin by some resentment by local libertines. Who was this English Puritan, trying to spoil their fun?

McQueen, predictably, bristles when reminded of this. "I'm a moralist, I'll say that. If they want to chastise me for that, fine. I'll take it. I mean, there is a right and wrong about certain things and sometimes you don't always do right." But Brandon is not the bad guy here. He lives in New York, a non-stop city that is essentially an instant sales delivery system where someone with money can get whatever he wants.

''To a degree, that's where we all live, bombarded with images of desire in advertising and buying up big in response. There are no easy choices in this film," says McQueen. "I like Brandon very much. I like him because he's a geezer and he's trying. I'm not lecturing him; he's a freakish one of us."

McQueen and Abi Morgan, the scriptwriter who also wrote The Iron Lady, interviewed sex addicts and experts in the field. There were grim stories of people so full of self-loathing they tried to kill themselves.

"I was interested in addiction, but specifically in sex addiction because I was just so fascinated by the idea that to maintain this addiction you need someone else to do it with," says McQueen. "So, immediately, there's a drama." In a way, he agrees, it is the obverse side of Hunger; Bobby Sands is incarcerated but finds a sense of freedom by stopping eating; Brandon is free to do anything, but makes his body into a prison.

Outside the scenes of his degradation, Brandon seems fine. So do most addicts, McQueen points out. "Alcoholics are the best liars ever. It's all about show; they don't want anyone to see them in any kind of state of vulnerability, which is where the shame comes in."

Sex addiction is still regarded as a bit of a joke, as he says. "And up to a certain point it is funny, like the charming drunk. But when it becomes too much, it ceases to be funny and becomes about someone damaging himself."

Fassbender had to drive himself to extremes to show that, he admits. "To put yourself into that state of mind is not acting. You've got to be that. That's why I believe him and most actors I don't believe; he puts himself through it." So is it hard for him too?

McQueen snorts with mirthless laughter. "Of course," he says. "You have to engage yourself to make an environment for the actor, for the camera person, for the costume designer; to understand the world you want them to create, you have to become it. I'm playing every character."

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