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Q&A: STEVE McQUEEN, director of Hunger


SS: Was Bobby Sands talked about among your friends?

SMcQ: No. It was just the idea of someone who stopped eating in order to be heard that made this impression on me.

SS: What sort of regimen was Michael Fassbender on to achieve that emaciated look?

SMcQ: There was a dietician involved. He did a great job. And that was it, really. The film is called Hunger. You need to lose the weight to make the film. And that’s what it was all about. He did a fantastic job. Michael’s not only a great actor, he’s a great artist.

SS: Did he lose a lot of weight?

SMcQ: I don’t want to dwell on it. He did a great job and that’s it.

SS: The film pivots around a remarkable 22-minute conversation between Fassbender, as Sands, and Liam Cunningham, as Father Dominic Moran, who confront each other over the philosophical and practical issues of the hunger strike. How did you decide to shoot it all in one take, and largely in a stationary long shot?

SMcQ: It’s just one of those times. This conversation has to happen and obviously they are two sides to the same coin in a way, and how do they have the debate? The best way to shoot it was in one take and let them have it out. Let the audience have its ears much more tuned and much more refined as they have this on the brain, and not all the cuts. I didn’t want to have a situation where these two guys weren’t talking to each other. I wanted a situation where the audience is leaning in. They’re backlit, their faces are slightly obscured. And the focus of the ear is very much in tune to hear what they’re saying. So it has a real kind of tension, almost to the breaking point, of course.

SS: There’s an account in the press notes of you clearing the room of the crew and having a final word with the actors, before the scene was shot. What did you tell them?

SMcQ: I won’t say. But it’s the sort of thing you have to talk about often in a situation like that. There’s risk. It’s a tightrope. You can fall off. It’s all about getting centered and focused and confident in their ability.

SS: How factual was the film?

SMcQ: Very factual, apart from that conversation, which didn’t happen in that way. But it was one of those conversations that needed to happen.

SS: There’s a scene where the guard is assassinated in an old folks’ home.

SMcQ: Yes, there were incidents where people were shot leaving church. People shot in hospitals. Nowhere was sacred. People shot through the windows in the house.

SS: That’s a powerful opening sequence, where the man we discover to be a prison guard starts his normal day with a meticulous routine. You know something’s really on his mind, and before he leaves, he looks underneath his car for a bomb. And then the wife has to go out—

SMcQ: And shut the gate.

SS: Have you encountered any negative appraisals of the film?

SMcQ: Just a couple. I don’t think anyone gets away with it. Of course, the right-wing press. They don’t criticize the movie, they criticize the politics. But that’s their thing. That’s what it is.

SS: Which is funny to me, because the movie is not a soapbox.

SMcQ: No, no, no. Before I started making the movie, there was no Guantanamo Bay, no Abu Ghraib. But the comparisons are scarily similar. In 2003, the second Iraq war hadn’t started. I went to Iraq. I was a war artist. I was in Basra. At that time, it was like Coney Island — it was cool, it was calm. And obviously things started to change when they started to kidnap people.

 

 

 

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