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.