Nicole Beharie Has No “SHAME” Baring It All For Her Art

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Nicole Beharie is the ultimate multi-tasker.  The actress is on speakerphone navigating her way through the streets of L.A., which is no easy feat since on this day most of the traffic lights have been knocked out due to high wind storms from earlier that week.  However, Beharie sounds calm and collected. And why shouldn’t she? The “really cool indie film” she shot last year in New York, is one of the most talked about movies in Hollywood.

Hollywood Black Film Festival 2011

Shame, by Black British director Steve McQueen, takes a provocative look at sexual addiction and the resulting guilt and isolation through the eyes of Brandon (Michael Fassbender, X-Men: First Class), a seemingly normal, successful business executive.  Beharie plays the role of Marianne, a co-worker who decides to take a chance on love with the emotionally damaged Brandon. The film has made headlines for it’s NC-17 rating, and while the nude scenes are attention-grabbing, there is more much more to the story.

TheUrbanDaily spoke with the talented rising star (who made her debut in American Violet and performed with Mos Def  in the play “A Man Of Color”)  to get the scoop on what it was really like filming those nude scenes with her sexy co-star, avoiding “magical Negro” roles, and the challenge for Black actresses to find interesting and compelling characters to play.

TUD: What attracted you to this project?

Steve and Michael had done a movie together called Hunger. I loved the vision of the movie.   I saw Marianne as a complex character. She’s looking at Brandon through lover’s eyes, but not really knowing what’s going on with him.  What I really liked about the project was casting an African-American woman in this part, which could be played by anybody.

From interviews that I’ve seen, Steve McQueen seems very passionate and intense about his projects.  What was it like working with him on set?

Steve just really wants you to be there in the moment and not feel self-conscious.  He wants you to be honest, and he really gave us so much freedom to play and explore.

A pivotal scene for your character is Marianne’s first date with Brandon. It’s one of my favorite scenes because  it shows the awkwardness we all experience on the first date. Can you tell us how you were able to convey that authentically?

Originally for that scene we had pages of dialogue, but when we were ready to shoot Steve wanted us to improvise and see what we could get out of that.  It was actually the coolest experience.  It was frightening, but I loved that the director let us play, because it showed that he trusted us with the scene. All the awkwardness and silences—that’s what happens on a first date.

VIDEO CLIP: “First Date”

You and Michael Fassbender also share a very intimate scene in the movie.  What kind of preparation did you need to take on emotionally and creatively to prepare for your nude scene?

We actually shot the love scene before doing any other scenes with dialogue.  I just tried to pretend there wasn’t a camera in the room. Michael is so engaged and so much fun to work with.  I know I couldn’t have gotten through that scene without him.  He is a total gentleman.

What stood out about your character, is that she isn’t the usual stereotype of how Black women have been portrayed in mainstream cinema—Marianne is educated, smart and is seen as an object of desire.  More importantly she doesn’t fall in to the “Magical Negro” trope out to save Brandon.  Was that intentional?

Oh yes. Marianne doesn’t end up being the savior angel–she has her own needs.  The film as a whole doesn’t make any judgments about Brandon’s character.  I really liked that.

Do you feel that the NC-17 rating given to Shame reflects America’s attitudes towards nudity and sexuality?  I’ve read some reviews and comments where people were frustrated with the movie’s  lack of moral judgment concerning Brandon’s addiction.

I think there’s a double standard.  People look at the movie and think it’s  tantalizing and that’s not what it is.  Shame is really about looking through the keyhole and seeing how this person is dealing with a sexual addiction.  It’s really more of an in-depth character study.

The director of the movie, Steve McQueen, was recently part of a director’s roundtable where he took Hollywood to task for their lack of diversity, particularly their reluctance in casting actors/actresses of color in lead roles. What was your reaction when you saw it? (TO WATCH ROUNDTABLE CLICK  HERE)

I thought that was just gorgeous.  You just saw all the other directors squirm in their seats.  It’s like a club that we’re not a part of.  We also have another club, as far as Black Hollywood that hasn’t been reaching out to him either.

Viola Davis (The Help) also participated in a similar roundtable (WATCH HERE)  where she stated that because of the color of her skin, directors are resistant to giving Black actresses more complex roles.  What are your feelings on that?

Her commentary was so well put together.  That is exactly how I feel, which is part of the reason I wanted to play Marianne–someone more modern and interesting.

Can you tell our readers why they should watch Shame?

As a community we see a lot of movies about drug and alcohol addiction, but this movie is dealing with a different type of addiction.  Our sexuality is a part of who we are, and if you ignore it or focus too much on it, either way it will affect you. There seems to be an idea that the black audience doesn’t want to see movies dealing with topics that are complex, but we have this successful director of African descent who is doing these really cool and amazing things in cinema.

Shame is currently playing in select cities. For listings click HERE

You can follow Nicole Beharie on Twitter: @NikkiBeharie

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