Film and TV

Shame's Michael Fassbender: "I Didn't Know What NC-17 Was Before This"

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You guys definitely win the award for most uplifting movie of the year ...

Fassbender: That's what we were hoping for!

Michael, you've done a bunch of "mainstream" films recently that have really just put you on the fast track to being a huge mega star, so doing a film like this is a real ballsy thing ...

Fassbender: Excuse the pun. (laughs)

Was there ever any hesitation?

Fassbender: Never. You know, I'm in the business of storytelling. I'm there to facilitate a story, and whether that story involves mutants or real-life people, the sort of respect I bring to it doesn't really vary. And in terms of me thinking, it's exactly what I don't think. I don't think "Is this going to damage Michael Fassbender?" I'm thinking about my job as an actor. It's not to sort of worry how an image is portrayed or anything like that. It's, "How do I facilitate the story?"

Now would I have done this film if it had been in anybody else's hands? I don't know. I knew I was going to be in the best hands possible and the trust between us is really beyond 100 percent. So it's really just about, "Am I going to hold up my end of the bargain?" and that's really where the nerves come in, and the fear. It's like "Am I going to be able to represent Brandon the correct way? Am I going to be able to bring to the table something that is going to help Steve and Abi [Morgan, the film's co-writer]?" They've written this beautiful story and my part is to facilitate it in my area. All the other stuff is just distraction, and you just keep it really simple.

McQueen: Just to jump on that. There are always actors around. But Michael is an artist. What I mean by that is he's looking for something to facilitate that -- as all artists are. So it may be high and it may be low, but where the goal is you'll go. Oh, that was a rhyme, wasn't it? (laughs)

What do you make of all the attention towards you personally?

Fassbender: I mean, really nothing changes. Obviously you're doing circuits like this and going to festivals. It's exciting and it's nice. But my day-to-day routines and activities haven't changed at all. What has changed and what is amazing is the choice. You have filmmakers who are interested in working with me that I hold in high regard, who are very talented people. So that is the pinnacle. That's the dream. At one point your just happy to be a jobbing actor, that's good enough. So to be in this position, it's like the one percentile. It's crazy

Michael, when you first read the script, what jumped out at you about this character?

Fassbender: I fell for him, you know? I felt I really liked him. I thought it was a beautiful insight into something I didn't have really any knowledge about. At the beginning, you say "Sex addiction" and you're thinking, "Oh, yeah.H Do you take it seriously? I didn't, really. And then you start to investigate and then you start to meet people and you realize just how devastating and real it is. The thing that struck me was how Abi [Morgan] and Steve had created these characters that I really cared about, and I thought it was beautiful and thoughtful. Like we said before, I'd already sort of committed. I was willing to do it anyway without the need to see a script just because I know Steve is going to be on the ball there. It's going to be dealt with in the most respectful way. In a lot of ways, uncompromising in the right places.

Brandon's a character whose life really depends on the secrets that he keeps. What did you learn about yourself while you were kind of playing that character?

Fassbender: Um, I learned that I feel lucky, I suppose. That I have a healthy relationship to sex. And also just relationships in general. I supposed I'm a pretty open person and I enjoy the sort of intimacy of relationships. And I feel very blessed. Whether that's down to the family that I grew up with, my parents and my sister. They've given me an awful lot of grounding and that sort of nurturing. I experienced it. And Brandon's sort of ... phew. I mean it's dark. It was very sort of exhausting. This job was definitely the hardest because you have somebody who doesn't like himself in a very deep way and then goes about sort of abusing himself because of it. So that's what you take from it. You feel lucky.

You two have worked together twice now and are set to work together again. What is it about each other that allows you to work so well together? Fassbender: I think trust. It all goes around trust really.

McQueen: Absolutely. Absolute trust. I'm just so grateful to have a situation where I'm working with someone. It is a dream come true in a way, you're working, you're collaborating with someone. You're pushing each other and you're sort of challenging each other and it coming off. It's wonderful. I was a bit naive. I thought every actor was like Michael. But no, they're not. He's exceptional. And I think within the work, he just transforms and transcends in some ways the character. He can actually embed himself in Brandon Sullivan and then come out, have a cigarette, and start talking to Hair and Make-Up. He has that chameleon sort of thing. And it's not put on, it's not false. He's a hard working actor in the real sense. I don't think he'll ever be that certain type of Hollywood actor because he's just too good, meaning that he could possibly be in big movies but he is just amazing. I'm going on, I'm sorry. You're here!

Fassbender: Um, I'm right here ... (laughs)

McQueen: There is a quality to him which is just incredible. I believe him. He's a man's man to an extent but there's a femininity in him, there's a fragility in him which he shows. Meaning that I can see myself in him and other people can see themselves in him. He's not just this macho guy. There's a beautifulness to him, a femininity to him, that can actually allow you to involve yourself or invest yourself with him. So that for me is a huge plus because the audience are very much sort of led to embrace him.

Fassbender: But it all comes down to the sort of environment you create as well. And I think the first thing that sort of struck me when I met Steve is this idea that he's a very honest person and open. So it's alright to be vulnerable and it's alright to be insecure, or feminine, or nerdish. All the things that we, perhaps, try and sort of disguise because we're afraid of ridicule or whatever it is. Not being accepted. These are all things that I think we can all relate to and Steve is very much an open book. But that's with the entire crew. When we were working in Belfast on Hunger, I thought, "OK, wow." I come to work and you see the passion on the art department's face or any department you like. And I was like, "Wow, this is pretty palpable and powerful stuff." But then, of course, we were dealing with the topic matter that was very personal to people that were working on it. So when we went to New York I was curious to see, and exactly the same thing happened on that set. And you're talking about people that have been working in the business for 30 years. I remember Joe the grip was saying to me, 'I don't want to let Sean [Bobbitt] or Steve down.' And he's been in the business for 35 years and believe you me, he's not getting paid a lot of money to do Shame. But it's that passion because Steve's a very inclusive person. Everybody believes ... right down to catering that they're part of something together. So then you have a force that's collectively really, really effective and powerful and we work fast.

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James Wallace
Contact: James Wallace