After the year “Shame” star Michael Fassbender has had, the GQ Breakout Man for 2011 should be in a good mood.
Still, anyone who has seen Fassbender (“X-Men: First Class,” “Jane Eyre”) in British director Steve McQueen’s harrowing 2008 film “Hunger” or sees him in the excellent, intense, NC-17-rated sex addiction tale “Shame” opening Dec. 2 would be surprised, as I was, to walk into an Elysian hotel room to find Fassbender and McQueen dancing.
“Let’s do the interview dancing, all three of us,” Fassbender tells me, mid-shimmy. The guys haven’t started the day’s other chats this way, but, the Irish-German actor says, “I think we should.” Soon Fassbender is singing Frank Sinatra’s “Chicago.” Later as I’m leaving I hear the guys singing along to the Police’s “Roxanne.”
Speaking of “Roxanne,” or men who pay for sex: In “Shame,” Brandon (Fassbender) can’t engage with the world except through his constant pursuit of sexual fulfillment. He frequently indulges in Internet porn, prostitutes and other women, with little time left to help his estranged sister (Carey Mulligan) who suddenly turns up, asking to stay at Brandon’s New York apartment for a while.
McQueen, 42, and Fassbender, 34, who also stars in “A Dangerous Method” (opening Dec. 16), spoke in frank, often-surprising ways about “Shame,” sex and, well, naming their hands after women. (Disclaimer: The video above features explicit language. Discretion advised.)
Michael, how do you explain being able to transition from one role to the next so effectively, and how nervous are you to make each performance as great as the last?
MF: I guess I’m kind of like that character in “Finding Nemo,” the girl who always forgets stuff. What’s her name? She keeps forgetting who she is.
MF: That’s her I think, isn’t it? Because once I finish something I sort of flush it away; I forget about it. So my fear is very much alive and well on the next project because … it’s like you prepare a film and you have people like Steve and [co-writer Abi Morgan] and it’s in development for like two, three years—maybe four, five years—somebody’s baby that they’re trying to bring to life. So you want to make sure that, “God, I hope I’m not the weak link in this chain here.” So there’s always the nerves and the fear. But you mustn’t let that stifle you. You embrace it and recognize it.
What other Disney characters do you relate to?
SM: Mary Poppins.
MF: Speedy Gonzalez. Why Mary Poppins?
SM: Because you can do anything. That’s what I mean. From the furthest person you can think of.
MF: [Laughs manically.]
SM: He can do that. He has the capacity to do that.
Why Speedy Gonzalez, and what can we expect when you play Mary Poppins?
MF: You can expect some dancing, some singing, an umbrella. I like Speedy Gonzalez because I like speed. Not the amphetamine. But the experience of racing, stuff like that.
After seeing “Shame,” people will likely have a new perspective on sex addiction. What would you say to someone who still doesn’t believe that sex addiction exists?
SM: It’s like [someone saying], “The world is flat,” isn’t it? What can I say?
MF: It seems like a real situation to me. It’s like somebody running up and saying, “I’ve got a headache.” And it’s like somebody going, “No, you don’t.” People are coming forward and telling us their stories and their lives are being literally torn apart.
SM: I think the way that people [going through] sex addiction are being treated right now is like people in the early ‘80s when people had AIDS and HIV. People are being ostracized from talking about it and not actually having any space to express themselves with this situation. It’s making the stories look worse because people are uncomfortable with sex in general.
It seems like the studio embraced your decision to leave the movie as is, with the NC-17 rating.
SM: To their credit, I never had a conversation with Fox Searchlight about cutting the movie. I never had a conversation with Fox Searchlight about NC-17. Never. It never happened. They have been absolutely amazing. And the response for the film here has been just amazing. So we’re just very very pleased with it.
Do you think it will change the way people see that rating?
SM: Who knows? I hope so. Because I think we desperately are interested in seeing films we can engage with. This is a responsible movie. First and foremost, this is a responsible movie. This isn’t NC-17—
MF: It’s not exploitative.
Meanwhile the “Saw” franchise gets an R no problem.
SM: It’s amazing, isn’t it? Absolutely amazing.
MF: Violence seems to be more acceptable. And as Steve has said before, [it is] part of the norm. Whereas all of us are involved, well, a lot of us in life are involved in some sort of sexual relationships with other people. Most of us masturbate. And yet we can’t discuss it.
SM: [Holds up left hand.] Betsy.
MF: [Laughs and holds up right hand.] Diane. [Holds up left hand.] Betsy. [Laughs.]
MF: We’re doing it. So this is what I was trying to touch on before. It’s there, so shouldn’t we acknowledge that and take a look at it and discuss it? What’s wrong with that? Why do we have to suppress it or hide it or not recognize it? That seems weird.
Brandon’s colleague at the office says, “Do you like your sugar?” and turns an innocent line into something sexual. What’s something else that if people said it in a particular way, it could sound sexual?
MF: “Do you want jam on your…” [Laughs, looks at the camera.] “You got a long lens on your camera.”
Steve, I know it was important to you not to go into too much detail about Brandon’s past. How much better or worse would life be if everyone wore their issues on their forehead?
SM: In movies I think they seem to. But in real life we don’t. Michael said something great; we set up the situation where when we come into the movie theater, it’s as if the film had to have been going on for a while before we got in there. Meaning that we picked up the story at this particular point in time. Brandon’s been living for 30-odd years and at this point we sit down in the movie theater and get a glimpse of his life.
Michael, was that an extra challenge for you that we don’t have the scene that explains, “This is what happened years ago that made me who I am today”?
MF: No, it’s relieving. It makes my job easier. Because like Steve said, these conversations I find that when I see them in scripts, I’m like, “Oh God, here we go.” I’m filling in a backstory for an audience that can do it very easily by themselves from their own experience in life, from their own observation of life. And contact with people and situations and everything. And it’s much more rich, people’s own investment, when you leave the blinds open. In the right places. That in itself is a very fine art. Hats off to Abi and Steve for that, finding the right amount of information to give out. Because you know what, you have to give the audience enough. It’s not, “OK, we’re exploring something and we’re keeping it to ourselves.” It’s not about that; it’s about investigating it together with the audience, and you have to participate.
I asked this to your “300” co-star Gerard Butler and he told me that he cries frequently: What’s something surprisingly not badass about you?
SM: I like wearing flip-flops. Often. Is that a good one?
MF: What weaker aspects of myself? I like cuddly toys, teddy bears ... I don’t know. S***. I don’t think I’m badass anyway! I think it’s probably I’m trying to look for something that I do that is badass.
SM: To be serious about the question, what’s interesting, I’ll be honest in a way. I think we’re both quite feminine in an odd, strange way. I don’t mean to say I’m feminine to put a badge of honor on my shirt. I think there’s a certain kind of femininity which I appreciate in Michael and I appreciate in a way that one can be themselves. It’s kind of liberating. I think in that question there’s a funny, interesting answer where I don’t think there’s anything which is sort of badass. I’m a man and that’s it and I try my [bleeping] best.
MF: I agree.
What will people be feeling about sex after walking out of “Shame”?
SM: I think the last thing you think about when you leave the cinema after seeing “Shame” is sex. It’s a starting point for a conversation. Sexual addiction has as much to do with sex as … [alcoholism] has to do with being thirsty. It’s just about how we all are engaged in this environment, in this world, and we’re struggling to try and navigate ourselves through. And how ultimately, ultimately, ultimately we’re on our own. ‘Cause no matter how close you get to another human being, ultimately you’re on your own. But there is hope. There is hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We just have to navigate our way toward that light.
Michael, do you feel like a great actor, or at what point did you feel that way?
SM: Yeah, he [bleeping] does! That’s a [bleeping] question I don’t want him to answer! So he’ll just [bleeping] shut up about it!
MF: [Laughs.] That’s what I’m like. I always, before a scene, I’m like, “I am a great actor. I have the potential of being great.” And then I pray to the god Act-imus.
Everyone should do that. It works!
MF: I just feel lucky, man, to be honest. Really simply I feel lucky that I’m allowed to work with this guy and that I’ve been allowed to work with the people that I’ve been working with and the talent and trying to learn as much as I can. And doing what I really love doing at the highest level. For that I’m grateful. Touch wood. [Knocks on table.]
What’s the worst piece of sex/relationship advice you’ve ever heard?
MF: “[Bleep] me, daddy.” [Laughs.]
Who is sexier?
Jessica Rabbit vs. Catwoman.
SM: Oh, OK. Catwoman.
MF: Catwoman, easy.
SM: She’s prowling. She prowls. She’s sensual. Leather.
MF: Kind of dangerous. But I suppose Jessica Rabbit is too though, isn’t she?
SM: She’s sassy.
MF: She could be dangerous too, though. I guess I see Catwoman more as an actual sort of person, funny enough, than I do Jessica Rabbit. I know they both come from cartoons.
SM: She’s got a dirty mouth. Which I quite like.
MF: [Laughs.] She’s got a dirty mouth!
Miss Piggy vs. Minnie Mouse.
MF: Minnie Mouse.
SM: Oh God. It’s like pedophile.
MF: Bestiality, actually.
MF: They’re animals for god’s sake.
Princess Jasmine vs. Lois Griffin from “Family Guy”
MF: Who’s Princess Jasmine?
SM: I have no idea.
She’s from “Aladdin.”
SM: I don’t watch too much TV.
Daisy Duck vs. Marge Simpson
MF: Who is Daisy Duck?
Wonder Woman vs. Betty Boop
MF: It’s gotta be Wonder Woman. That was my first feelings of excitement. I remember watching a woman on screen. It’s definitely wonder woman.
SM: She’s big, isn’t she? Which is nice.
What could have made Michael Fassbender’s great year even better: “Oh, jeez. I don’t know. A holiday. No, no, I had a great year. Everything’s perfect as is.”
On Chicago: “I’m not going to get to see the city. I’ve always wanted to come here. People have always told me, ‘Chicago, you gotta see it, the Windy City, the music here.’ But unfortunately we’re on a plane in two or three hours and flying to New York. So I’m going to have to come back. I want to go see some blues here.” (MF)
“I want to see the Chicago Bears. The Chicago Bulls, basketball, I’d love to see them play. What else would I like to see? A museum. The Art Institute of Chicago. Which actually I’m doing a show there soon.” (SM)
“I’d love to walk around. The buildings are mad. I’d like to check out the architecture.” (MF)
On Mila Kunis being named one of GQ’s men of the year: “I like her style. She seems to have a very sort of generous spirit. When I’ve seen her performances, she seems to be a generous sort of actor. She seems to be giving a lot to the audience and the other players. She’s in amongst the boys. A cat amongst the pigeons … ‘It’s a man’s world, but it would be nothing with a woman.’ Or a girl.” (MF)
“I love her eyeliner. She’s sort of beautiful, isn’t she? Man of the year, why not? I think maybe she sort of stimulates men and it’s a men’s magazine. And there you go.” (SM)
What they’re listening to: Pet Shop Boys, Marvin Gaye (both); Beach Boys (MF); AC/DC, Guns ‘n Roses (SM)
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Fridays at 7:30 a.m. on WCIU, the U
firstname.lastname@example.org. @mattpaisCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun