Steve McQueen • Director of Widows
“I don’t know: what is me? I just try to do the best I can”
by Kaleem Aftab
- As his fourth film, Widows, hits cinemas around Europe, we chat to British director Steve McQueen about the process behind making the movie
British director Steve McQueen became the first black director to helm a Best Picture Oscar winner with 12 Years a Slave [+see also:
interview: Michael Fassbender
film profile]. His long-awaited new film Widows [+see also:
interview: Steve McQueen
film profile], which is on general release now in various countries all around Europe, is an adaptation of a 1983 ITV mini-series scripted by crime writer Lynda La Plante. McQueen explains the process behind making Widows, his fourth film, and why he shifted the action from London to Chicago.
Cineuropa: Do you remember when you first saw the original ITV television show Widows?
Steve McQueen: I saw Widows on television in 1983, and it just sort of spoke to me as a 13-year-old black boy in London. That television show gave me a connection with those women. On screen were these four ladies who were being judged on their appearance, rather than on their characters, and at that point, I was experiencing the same thing in a London school. My compass was being set in a way that wasn’t my destination.
And what was it about those women that spoke to you?
What’s so powerful for me about this story is that these four women from different racial, social and financial backgrounds came together to achieve their common goal.
What did you want to keep from the Lynda La Plante-scripted series Widows, and where did you want to impose the fingerprint of Steve McQueen?
I don’t know: what is me? I just try and do the best I can, to tell a kind of truth. What I was interested in were the political, social and economic aspects of our current environment, and taking this fiction and steeping it into that. At the same time, I wanted bums on seats, and I wanted to create a situation where I could engage with the people I was making the film about. For me, there is no point in making a film about a subject matter where the people who you are making the movie about aren’t engaging with it or aren’t coming to see it.
Have you always wanted to make a heist film?
The whole idea of a story that is a rollercoaster ride was attractive to me. I wanted to do a heist movie, but a heist movie that would be a construct that you could break and subvert. I wanted to do that, and also bring along the audience that has been very supportive of Hunger [+see also:
interview: Laura Hastings-Smith Robi…
interview: Steve McQueen
film profile], Shame [+see also:
film profile] and 12 Years a Slave.
What made you decide to imbue the heist story with contemporary politics?
It’s just the obvious thing to do for me. When you are walking down the street, things are going on; when you go to a supermarket, things are going on behind the counter, with this person or that person in the aisle – where do they come from and what is happening to them? There are so many elements of the political in the everyday. Falling in love is political. I wanted to show the environment of the setting, or the heist, and Chicago is a city where politics and criminality seem to have colluded ever since the time of Al Capone, and that’s always been engaging to me.
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