Steve McQueen refers to his new film, Widows as a rollercoaster, which is apt since this interview itself was a rollercoaster and a minor film festival miracle it even happened. (It involved a shuttle bus, an Uber, and a five-block sprint through the streets of Toronto as McQueen patiently waited. When the interview started I was still out of breath.) It’s been a full five years since we last had a Steve McQueen film (personally, I think McQueen is one of the best directors working today), which of course was 12 Years a Slave, which took home a Best Picture Oscar.
Widows stars Viola Davis as Veronica, a woman who has to pay off the debts of her husband (Liam Neeson) after he’s killed during a heist. To do this she recruits fellow widows Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) to pull off an upcoming heist that their now dead husbands had been planning. Colin Farrell plays a corrupt politician at the heart of all this and there’s an extended long take he’s involved in that is just absolutely stunning.
McQueen is not one to mince words. He’s blunt about how he’s been labeled “difficult” within an industry where a white director in a similar position doesn’t get that word attached (instead, they’re often labeled “passionate” or a “perfectionist” some other euphemistic term). He’s also blunt about the fact he was told not to hire Michelle Rodriguez because she also apparently has a reputation for being “difficult.” McQueen explains why being labeled as “difficult” is all a bunch of bullshit.
But they know that, and that’s why they want to work for you.
One reason why I love actors is these people portray humanity. They take so much risk to show up, and to be who we are. And I just, I’m so in love with them and to collaborate with an actor, to encourage them, to help them produce something that maybe they didn’t even know they could possibly do, and also inspire me? Boom. Loving it. That’s what it’s about. For me, the movie is about a rollercoaster ride. It’s a rollercoaster ride. But, on the rollercoaster ride, it’s from A to Z. You stop at certain locations which tell us about the environment we’re in and the predicament these women have to challenge in order to get to their destination. I want to tell you something as well…
Take Michelle Rodriguez. People told me not to work with her.
Because she’s “difficult.” She’s this and that. “Don’t work with her. No, no don’t work with her.” But people say that about me. If you’re a white director, they call you a perfectionist. Me, they call difficult. So I didn’t pay any mind to what people say about Michelle, because I had to find out for myself. I offered her the role and she said no.
Why didn’t she want to do it at first?
She said that she didn’t want to be the character. The character was subservient to men. She didn’t want a situation where she was beholden to a man. She said no and I did a lot of auditions of other actresses, but for me it wasn’t working.
That has to be tough when you know who you want.
Well, yeah. I even sat down with her in a café in LA and we hit it off like a house on fire immediately. It was kind of funny because, what’s interesting about Michelle is, I’m interested in easy people. She is just amazing as an intellect and what she’s interested in, she’s so curious and so tenacious as a human being. When I met her, I thought, “Oh, I understand what they mean by difficult.” She’s always asking questions to herself, difficult questions. And trying to answer them. Bring that here! I want that! I have the same reputation so it’s nonsense. Again, when people say things about people, one has to find out themselves. That’s it. That’s what it is.
‘Widows’ premiered this week at the Toronto Film Festival and will open in theaters in November.