Michael Fassbender tells Steve Pratt about stripping off for the camera in his portrayal of a sex addict.
DISCUSS new movie Shame and one matter guaranteed to be raised is the subject of nudity, notably actor Michael Fassbender’s full frontal flashing.
Artist turned film-maker Steve McQueen – who directed him as hunger striker Bobby Sands in the equally uncompromising Hunger – is peeved by all the talk. “As an actor you’re like a dancer, you use your body. I don’t understand all these questions about nudity. It’s a nonsense. You’re an actor, an artist, get on with it,” he says.
“That’s what he said to me every day,” jokes Fassbender, Hollywood’s man of the moment with an impressive line-up of movies in or about to hit cinemas (Jane Eyre, X-Men:First Class, Haywire, A Dangerous Method) and talk of an Oscar nomination for his unabashed performance as a sex addict in Shame. .
He says of the nudity and sex scenes issue: “You don’t like doing them unless you have exhibitionism tendencies – which is cool – but I don’t feel that comfortable parading around naked in front of a (essentially, at the beginning) roomful of strangers.
“But it had to be done, it was an essential part of getting inside the psyche and there were various stages you see exactly what’s going on in his head. That’s my job, I’ve got to facilitate those things.
“Forget Michael Fassbender and whatever that image is, I’m there to facilitate my part in the story. So you just go and roll up your sleeves – but I didn’t have any on.”
The screenplay arose from a meeting between McQueen and writer Abi Morgan (who also wrote TV’s The Hour and the Thatcher movie, The Iron Lady). A chat scheduled to last an hour went on for three-and-a-half hours as they batted around various topics.
“I remember I didn’t want to make a film with a gun in any way, I wanted to make a love story really. We started talking about the internet and pornography and sex addiction and Abi put alarm bells in my head,” recalls McQueen.
She takes up the story: “My dad had died and we talked about the fact that he only had three days left to live and I noticed him flirting with a nurse. I thought that was incredible, that you still have that lifeforce even in the last few days of your life.”
The accessibility of sexual content was another aspect that led them to sex addiction.
“When I was a kid, the closest to pornography was the top shelf of the newsagent, now it’s two clicks of a mouse. This affliction isn’t a brand new addiction, but it’s accessible and this amplifies it even more,” says McQueen.
Researching the addiction led them to groups in New York after it became apparent some organisations over here weren’t comfortable talking to the film-makers.
Fassbender was shocked by what they found out about sexual addition, from which his character Brandon suffers. “All of us were introduced to it probably through celebrity stories and there’s a public perception perhaps of selfindulgence within that world,” he says.
“So what was interesting to discover was just how many people were claiming to be suffering from it and it wasn’t being treated as an official mental illness. That was very important to Brandon’s character and what Abi and Steve had put at his core was this problem of dealing with intimacy and any emotional contact within any relationship.
“So I was very lucky to meet somebody suffering from exactly that. It’s very difficult when talking to somebody like that because you’re essentially trying to extract information out of them.
“When you ask them direct questions people tend to be a bit more on guard, so I just asked them to tell me stories and from those I could get an idea of how a certain motivation was born and how somebody suffering from this condition deals with it.”
THE director and his leading man obviously have a respect for each other and their work. “He wasn’t so bad in Hunger, so I thought ask him again. I don’t know... he’s a good actor, isn’t he?” says McQueen.
Fassbender says simply: “Steve changed my life with Hunger so I didn’t need to read a script, it was just when and where.”
Both Hunger and now Shame deal with extreme emotions. For McQueen, it’s just reality.
“It’s how things happen,” he says.
“With Bobby Sands, this is what happened.
People with this affliction in Shame, this is actually what happens. I’m not there to scandalise, but to portray – as an artist. That’s what you try to do, to present things. You try to reflect things that surround us and sometimes what you see isn’t particularly pretty.”
The title Shame reflects the New York research.
“When you sit in a room with somebody suffering from the effects of this compulsion, the word shame is just in the room," says Morgan.
“It was very apparent from the people we met that was the centre of the compass, it came back to shame. One of the reasons we went to New York was because we couldn’t get people to talk about it over here. You can talk about drugs, alcohol, gambling but for some reason you can’t talk about sex in the same way.
“New York allowed us to go and talk to them.
Steve and I spent a long time talking to these people, then walking around the city and that word shame bubbles up in you.”
• Shame (18) is now showing in cinemas.
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