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.
The Widows premiere went really well.
I didn’t get to see it with a crowd and I’m envious.
That’s the good thing about cinema. No point looking at a movie on your laptop on your own at home. The thrill of cinema is to be in an audience with 200 people, 500 people or a thousand people and watching something. I remember when I saw North by Northwest with my wife when we first dated. About 20 years ago. That movie, and the reaction…
You got to see it with a crowd?
Oh, I mean, people applauding and all that. It just gives you a skip in your step as you exit the cinema. It’s a communal experience. That’s what cinema is. And that’s why I made this film.
Is this unique for you? I’m wondering, because Hunger and Shame, there aren’t that many applause lines like Widows has.
Sometimes there’s a time to cheer and sometimes there’s a time to cry. And we have that both in this movie.