“I met him at the hotel he was staying at — I was back in London for the London Film Festival — and I had read the script and I met him for coffee. And he kept on trying to leave! It had been ten minutes, and he said, “All right then,” and got up, and I was like, “Uhhh,” so I kept on trying to engage him in coversation. You know, Steve [McQueen] is an artist, and he’s very much of the mind-set that actors are artists, too, and everything around that is superfluous. We’re meant to create things, and that means taking away vanity and taking away the machine that surrounds it — though that [publicity] is a necessary thing and a good thing, because it gets people to watch the films that you do.
So he was talking about that, and he was like, “You’re an artist, you’re an artist!” And I said to Steve, “You know, I played Nina in The Seagull a couple of years ago, and I’ve never found a role onscreen that’s matched how difficult it was and how much I loved doing that part and how much it stayed with me. There’s no equivalent, and nothing I’ve done onscreen has been as hard or as interesting or as fun to do.” And then I read Shame and I was like, “She’s practically related to Nina, they’re like cousins, almost the same person. If I feel the way that I felt when I played Nina, I can play this onscreen,” which I’ve never been able to do, because I’m quite uncomfortable around cameras.
So I said that to Steve, and I said, “I’ve been thinking about getting this seagull tattoo on my wrist as a reminder, because there’s this brilliant thing Nina says in Act Four when she comes back and she’s completely fucked up — she’s had a child with this writer and she’s lost the baby and she’s lived in abject poverty, and she comes back and she’s fraught but she’s got this clarity — and she says, ‘I know now that it’s not about fame or glory or all the things I used to dream about. It’s the ability to endure, to bear your cross and keep the faith. I do have faith, and when I think about my vocation, I’m not afraid of life.’” [Beaming.] And I thought, That’s so sick! And it’s stayed with me, and when I told him about that little passage, he got excited and was like, “Yeeeah!” and I’m like, “I’ll get a tattoo!” and he’s like, “Great!” So it was sort of raucous and I got a call a couple of hours later that he was offering me the job, and I think it was only because I told him I was getting a tattoo. [Laughs.] I got the tattoo the following morning.”
- Carey Mulligan on how she got her part in Shame