Lynn Hirschberg: In Shame, which is out now, you play Sissy, a deeply troubled girl with
an almost incestuous attachment to her brother (Michael Fassbender), a
sex addict. Both characters are in search of something—anything—that
will make them feel whole. Sissy, who works as a singer, is naked even
when she’s clothed. She reveals too much, sleeps with the wrong men, and
when she turns up unexpectedly in her brother’s spare, pristine New York
City apartment, the effect is like a bomb going off: The siblings ignite
each other’s self-destructive ways. Shame is unsettling and haunting. Is
that why you were attracted to the project?
When I read the script, I found it terrifying. My English agents sent it to me and said, “There’s this amazing part.” For me, as an actor, it was sort of scary. I’d seen Hunger [about Bobby Sands, the IRA leader who starved himself to death in prison to protest the conflict in Northern Ireland], which was done by Steve McQueen, the director of Shame, and I thought it was just incredible. And I’d always wanted to work with Michael Fassbender, who had been cast as the brother. So, I asked to have a meeting with Steve to pitch myself for the job.
What was the meeting like?
I just talked for an hour. Steve was trying to leave, but I kept on: “No, don’t go—I don’t have the job yet!” I thought if I could keep him sitting at the table, I could persuade him to let me have the role. He kept trying to pay the bill, and I said, “No, no, no. Sit down.” He got in a cab, but I wouldn’t leave him—I got in, too. Finally he said, “I’m going to my appointment now.” And I said okay. That afternoon, I got a call saying I had the role.
You have an intense full-frontal nude scene in the film. Did you find
that difficult to do?
I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of nudity. I’ve done only seminude, very innocent things in the past, and I’ve always been of the quite British mind-set that I won’t do gratuitous nudity. When it came to this, it just seemed so obvious that she is the sort of person who would have no trouble being naked in front of any family member, especially not her brother. She’s an extrovert and wants to be seen. More than anything, she wants someone to acknowledge and help her. I thought I had a week before the nude scene to go to the gym, but we shot it on my first day of filming.
Oh, my God.
Weirdly, it was fine. You take your clothes off, and you’re like, “Ah—all of you are wearing clothes, and I’m naked, ha, ha, ha.” It’s kind of fun—not that I would continue to do it. The nudity helped me dive into who she was. Once she’d been naked in front of her brother, I could go from there.