Steve McQueen tends to become diffident when talking about himself; he is emphatically not a man to blow his own trumpet. So let's blow it for him. This is someone who cut a swath through the British art world with his video installations, mainly silent and in black and white, projected on to spaces within galleries; he was only five years out of art school when he won a Turner Prize. And now, with his first two feature films, and the soon to be released , he has indisputably become one of our most distinctive, compelling film directors.
We meet in the expansive, glorious Art Deco restaurant at the American Hotel in Amsterdam. A heavy-set man with thick horn-rimmed glasses, he sits at a table, fingers intertwined, with a default expression somewhere between worried and stern. Why Amsterdam? It's where he lives with his long-time partner, the cultural critic Bianca Stigter, and their two children. When I first met McQueen in London three years ago, he told me smilingly, 'I fell in love with a lady there.' He's more closed down these days, and simply says of Amsterdam, 'It's not on the way to anywhere else, so no one comes here. So I'm never bothered. Which is great. And that's all I have to say about that.'
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Being interviewed is clearly not a joyous prospect for him. I remember watching McQueen in Cannes in 2008, when had its world premiere. He was at a round table of journalists from all countries, rapidly firing questions at him. He looked flustered and unhappy, and struggled to respond in facile, bite-sized quotes. Even six months later, when I faced him one-on-one at a quiet London club, his words seemed to run away from him, and he reached for a pencil and notepad to make little drawings, a visual aid to formulate his thoughts.
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is totally British, bankrolled by Film 4 and the now defunct UK Film Council, and produced by Iain Canning and Emile Sherman, who most recently brought us a very different film, . McQueen and Morgan are British, too, as is Mulligan, and while Fassbender is Irish, he calls Hackney home.
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So one would assume London, a metropolis in which sex addiction is not unknown, might be the obvious setting for the story. 'That was the whole idea,' McQueen says with a sigh. 'But for our research, Abi and I wanted to speak to experts in the field, and no one in London would talk to us. Then we heard about these two women in New York who had studied sex addiction, who introduced to us to a lot of people with this particular affliction. There was one guy, his wife was a very beautiful woman – but there were a thousand other people he'd rather sleep with.
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'It goes back to the availability of sex. It's like there's more fatty food in supermarkets, so people get fat. There's greater accessibility to alcohol, so guess what? More people get pissed. That's how it is. Everyone wants to get lost a little bit these days – and understandably so.'
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In any case, several experts and addicts in America shared their experiences. 'I finally thought, why not shoot this in New York? So it was as if the wind blew us over the Atlantic. That's what this whole film has been about – having a sense of what's right and following it, nothing too pre-planned.'
28/05/2013 · Only in America
This attitude endears him to Fassbender, who says simply, 'I really consider Steve to be a genius. I know that's a word that gets bandied around, but when I met him, I knew it was a life-changing moment for me.