Michael Fassbender Interview For ‘Shame’
‘Shame’ is the mesmerising second collaboration between Michael Fassbender and ‘Hunger’ writer/director Steve McQueen. The film follows Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a thirty-something man, closed from emotional contact, lonely, unable to manage his sex life and moving towards self-destruction. When his wayward younger sister moves into his apartment stirring memories of their shared painful past, Brandon’s insular life spirals out of control. ‘Shame’ is a compelling and timely examination of the nature of need, how we live our lives and the experiences that shape us. The likes of Carey Mulligan, Nicole Beharie and James Badge Dale co-star. ‘Shame’ is scheduled to be released December 2nd in the US, and January 13th in the UK.
This kind of affliction seems extremely taboo. How was it for you researching the role, speaking to various people to get into Brandon’s psyche?
Michael Fassbender: Like with everyone this seems to be kind of a grey area, this idea of sexual addiction. I suppose because all of us were introduced through celebrity stories, there’s a certain public perception of self-indulgence within that world. What was interesting to discover was just how many people were claiming to suffer from it, and how it wasn’t being treated as an official mental illness. Then it’s just the factors. It’s very important to Brandon’s character in what Abi Morgan (co-writer) and Steve McQueen had really put at the core of his character, it was this problem with dealing with intimacy and emotional content in any sort of relationship. Trying to find that was I suppose the hard part, because everything would stem from that. So I was very grateful, and I am very grateful that I got to meet somebody who’s suffering with exactly that. I think it’s very difficult when you’re talking to somebody like that, in that your essentially trying to extract information out of them. So by asking them direct questions it’s not really so effective, people tend to be on-guard a little bit more. So I just asked them to tell me stories, and from those stories I could get an idea of where certain motivations were born within a personality like that, and how somebody suffering from this condition deals with it in the situation, how it manifests itself physically – even in an embrace, the idea of that you just want to squirm your way out of it. That really helped me get a physical life for that inner life, if you like, it really helped speaking to somebody. And then I just worked a lot with the script.
Do start with your own characteristics and then work around the script and these other sources?
Michael Fassbender: Yeah, I just dive into the script and find the person in the script. You ask a lot of questions in your own personal way that I go about it. It’s just about relating your character back to yourself, asking honest questions to yourself, and then just finding a list of characteristics and ticking the boxes of the ones you’ve got already, and then working on the other ones. I don’t know where it starts and ends, but it’s just about being honest with yourself.
A lot has been made of the nudity and sexual content, what were your thoughts on this going into the film?
Michael Fassbender: My imagination was much more devious than what actually appeared in the script (laughs). Unless you have exhibition tendencies, which is cool (laughs), but I don’t, I don’t feel that comfortable parading around naked in front of essentially, at the beginning, a room full of strangers. But it just had to be done, it was an essential part of getting inside the psyche, there was various stages where you see what exactly was going on in his head. It’s my job, I’ve got to facilitate these things, forgot about “Michael Fassbender” or whatever that image is, I’m there to tell stories, to facilitate my part in the story. You just roll up your sleeve, but I didn’t have any on (laughs), then you’ve got to just go for it.
I really enjoyed the sense of the shared history between Brandon and Sissy, that brother and sister dynamic….
Michael Fassbender: That was a really clever decision from both Steve and Abi, to have siblings. There’s a real honesty to siblings I think, and a real cruelty as well. Although there’s a very strong bond, there’s also an awareness of all the weak points and how to hit them and how to really strike home. We sat down, the three of us, and talked about where these people are coming from, where they are in their lives when we meet them in the film, what’s happened before? A biography is always an important thing to do anyway. We discussed a lot of that, how far we wanted to go with it, a little bit of work shopping with the scenes. Then I also didn’t want to spend too much time with Carey, I wanted to keep that element of awkwardness, I don’t know how to describe it, a certain element of tension, of unsurety, I wanted to preserve that. Steve felt the same, we did a couple of workshops and then it was like, “That’s enough.”
Your first collaboration with Steve McQueen, ‘Hunger,’ really shone a light on your work…
Michael Fassbender: I said to Steve at the end of ‘Hunger,’ “You changed my life.” Literally, in terms of a professional point of view. I was getting to the point, I was 30 years old, the recession was just around the corner, which meant as in any other industry, less jobs for less actors. And then for someone to take a chance on an unknown actor, and to take the risk to play a lead in the film, there was less and less of that happening. When I was 17 and I started off doing this my dream was to meet a director, and to have a relationship with a director, like Scorsese/De Niro, Lumet/Pacino. That would be the ultimate, to have a collaboration like that, and to be on a wave-length that powerful with somebody, and that’s what I was so lucky to find with Steve with ‘Hunger.’ With Steve it’s just when and where, I don’t even need to see a script.
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