Let’s get the whole name thing out of the way: The Steve McQueen you see here may share a moniker with the late, great Bullitt star, but the similarities end there. This McQueen, 42 and London-bred, is a writer, an artist — he won a prestigious British award in 1999 for a video installation inspired by Buster Keaton — and an increasingly buzzed-about director. His latest, Shame, is one of the most notable movies of the season. ”I want people to leave the theater and have the film stay with them,” he says.
McQueen, your wish is granted. Shame (in limited release Dec. 2) chronicles the struggles of Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a rich New Yorker who’s secretly grappling with sex addiction. Just when his sister (Carey Mulligan) makes an unexpected visit, he seems headed for rock bottom — fast. The movie won Fassbender the best-actor award at the Venice Film Festival, and Oscar chatter for the Irish-German actor soon followed. Shame’s NC-17 rating — earned due to its frank sexual content and full-frontal Fassbender — has also caused a stir. ”The nudity is of no consequence,” insists McQueen, who lives in Amsterdam with his wife and two children. ”If I was making a film in 1951, Michael might have been wearing pajamas, but I’m making a film in 2011 and people often don’t wear pajamas. It’s just that simple.”
This isn’t the first time McQueen has pushed Fassbender to extremes. The actor dropped 30 pounds on a 600-calories-a-day diet to play Irish activist Bobby Sands in 2008’s critically acclaimed Hunger, which won the Camera d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival. ”It’s like falling in love — you can’t plan that kind of stuff,” says McQueen of their collaboration. ”I don’t take Michael for granted, or take for granted that he’s going to make a film with me. Our relationship is beautiful because we don’t even need to speak. We can just grunt, like a harrumph, and we just get on with it.”
The duo have already decided on a third project: Twelve Years a Slave, based on the 1853 Solomon Northup memoir about a black American born free but enslaved later in life. Shooting next year, it will costar Chiwetel Ejiofor and Brad Pitt, who’s also producing. Meanwhile, McQueen is heartened by Shame’s early positive reception. ”It’s great. It tells us people want to see intelligent movies, movies that address how we live now. That’s just important,” he laughs. ”Otherwise there’s no reason to make bloody movies!”