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Michael Fassbender commands the screen as a sex addict in 'Shame'

A movie about sex that’s pretty much the antithesis of sexy. That in itself is no small feat, but the greatest accomplishment of British director Steve McQueen’s harrowing Shame is that it chronicles a sex addict’s unremitting cycle of abuse, while not vilifying him in the process. Through all the psychological turmoil, the freak-out fits and the unsettling boinking, the vulnerable Brandon (a commanding Michael Fassbender) works hard to keep up the façade of a wealthy, successful thirty-something New York executive. Without a doubt one of the best films of 2011, Shame provides grim though a propos commentary on the ubiquity of Internet porn and its impact on human sexuality.

Michael Fassbender's Brandon butters up his next pub prey in 'Shame'

Constantly hunting for the next empty tryst – whether pounding one out in a bathroom stall, preying on chaste-looking gals on the subway or exposing his escort habit to all of Manhattan, pressed up against the window to his penthouse apartment – his freewheeling addiction is threatened by the arrival of sister Sissy (an equally brilliant Carey Mulligan), an emotional wreck who crashes at her brother’s flat against his will.

Clearly incapable of keeping his smutty appetite in check, Brandon then seeks out darker, evermore dangerous fixes. “I like him, because this guy knows he’s ill,” shares the strapping Irish-German actor Michael Fassbender at the Toronto International Film Festival. “He has a very low opinion of himself, and therefore, goes about abusing himself in such a way. I wanted him to be repulsive, but also vulnerable – to be real. He is a product of our time; he embodies all of those things.”


Fassbender, who’d already left filmgoers awestruck as IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands in McQueen’s previous film, Hunger, commits to another audacious part that required he spend a large chunk of the movie naked, shagging and in low spirits. But there isn’t anything titillating about a guy incapable of intimacy, wholly overrun by addiction. Fassbender, who won the Best Actor prize in Venice, had complete trust in McQueen’s bleak depiction of a sex addict’s grind.

“Everywhere I look, on the street, when I’m buying cereal, sex is being sold to me in every single way. I’m at the airport and I see these billboards of a girl in lingerie, so it’s everywhere and people aren’t dealing with it,” an impassioned Fassbender tells NIGHTLIFE.CA. “We’re trying to deal with it in an honest, intelligent way and Steve has really made us question where our moral compass is, how we’re relating to each other in physical forms, how we’re losing this intimacy.”

Director Steve McQueen with Carey Mulligan and Fassbender on the set of 'Shame' // Credit: Mk2 Diffusion

In the department of debilitating sexual neuroses, Fassbender is racking up quite the experience, as he also stars in David Cronenberg’s upcoming A Dangerous Method, which explores the budding friendship between psychology heavyweights Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and the woman who came between them. While Cronenberg’s film is (surprisingly) a lot tamer by comparison, Shame is expected to shake up the U.S.’s much-maligned NC-17 rating, which limits a film’s box-office potential by flagging it as possibly ‘obscene’ or ‘pornographic’. In recent interviews, Fox Searchlight hinted that it would wear the taboo rating as a badge of honour in marketing Shame, as well as stressing the film’s near unanimous critical kudos. “It’s interesting, you can take somebody’s head off with a cheese cutter, but heaven forbid you should show a penis,” remarks Fassbender, on the absurdity of America’s prohibitive rating system.

Sexing his way to the top: Fassbender fronts GQ's December issue

Fassbender, who exudes the kind of rugged masculinity that’s landed him roles in studio vehicles like X-Men: First Class and 300, doesn’t play coy when asked about rumours he’d be under consideration to take over the James Bond franchise. In fact, he’s kinda got his sights set on the dapper Double O. “I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say I’ve walked around the house humming the tune to myself at various stages of my life,” jokes the hunky male lead, who was sporting a fitted leather jacket and jeans at his Toronto media call. “It would obviously be very flattering that people have said this, but I think Daniel is doing a great job.”

Shame | In theatres December 16
A Dangerous Method | In theatres January 13


Check out Fox Searchlight's new trailer for the film, featuring Carey Mulligan's rendition of "New York, New York":