Hunger: Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen’s Brilliant Debut

Casting Bobby Sands

Robin Gutch, Producer states: The casting of Bobby Sands inevitably created a lot of debate as the development of the film progressed. At some points there was a temptation to see if we could attach a a star who would be attracted to the role because of the physical demands it entailed and the chance to portray a character who arguably changed the course of Irish and British history. But the more we thought about it, this seemed the wrong approach as well as being just impractical due to the need to break the shooting schedule to allow an actor to fast for several months.

Gary Davy came on board as Casting Director, and I remember came to his first meeting with me and Steve and put down a photo of a charismatic emergent Irish actor called Michael Fassbender, saying “”this is your man.”

We were intrigued, but of course felt the need to audition a range of very talented actors who were suitable for the role. But Michael just stood out all the way along the line, and so we offered him the part.

Laura Hastings-Smith, Producer: Steve, Casting Director Gary Davy and I had lunch with Michael Fassbender in early 2007 and this really sealed everyone’s confidence that Michael had the depth of interpretation and commitment for the part of Bobby Sands. I remember talking through in detail the physical realities of the safe but radical weight loss required for the part – he didn’t waiver, he’d already thought through every aspect of what taking on this role entailed.

We then met with Liam Cunningham for the part of Father Dominic Moran. We needed an actor who could compete equally in the extended dual that is the 28-page conversation, between the priest and Bobby, at the centre of the film. As an actor, Liam is able to bring a fascinating mix of strength and vulnerability to the screen. As with Michael, in the end, we were fortunate that our dates just worked with his other commitments.

All the rest of the film’s exceptional cast are from Northern Ireland. Steve, Gary and I met with actors in Belfast and we were astonished by the passion and generosity towards the script and Steve’s vision for the film. It bode well for the production while reminding us of the sensitivities and responsibilities involved in making this film.

Crew and shooting in Northern Ireland

Laura Hastings-Smith, Producer: Our shooting schedule in Northern Ireland coincided with numerous other productions but we managed to attract many excellent local crew including the production designer, Tom McCullagh who created the Maze set for us over two sites in, and just outside, Belfast. We had hoped to get some access to the actual Maze prison for filming, and so the strain of a massive build on our budget was nerve-wracking. Hunger is a period film and the demands on Costume (Costume Designer Anushia Nieradzik) and Hair and Make-up Designer Jacqueline Fowler was huge – we were all acutely aware of the importance of creating an utterly convincing world. The DOP, Sean Bobbitt, had worked with Steve on much of his artwork over the last few years so this creative partnership was well established. Bringing together the right cast and crew for a film is a kind of alchemy and on Hunger we had the magic combination of the best talent, collaborative support and a shared vision.

We shot the film in Northern Ireland in two parts, filming the first two thirds of the film in Autumn 07 and then the last days of Bobby Sands’ life on hunger strike in January 08, allowing time for Michael to lose weight in November/December. The split schedule was a necessity however we came to feel it was a massive advantage to the film; allowing an extended length of time to reflect on the footage shot and edited, and focusing our prep for the final third of the film.

Resonance Today

Jan Younghusband, Exec Producer: I feel it is the right moment to be revisiting and reconsidering the ideals of these young men who put themselves and others through a great deal for their belief that they could make their world better. I also feel that Steve has a unique perspective (as artists have done through hundreds of years) to show us a crucial moment in our history and enable us to think again about why it happened and what it achieved. The film is impressionistic and not a discussion of facts or a debate about right and wrong, but more a meditation on a moment in time. Today there are different struggles to make the world better according to particular beliefs and lives continue to be affected.

Enda Walsh, Writer: Well very simply it made me question what I believed in in the world. I acknowledge and respect these people’s belief in something. It is this that should have universal relevance.

Robin Gutch, Producer: I think when Steve and I came back from Belfast the first time we felt that HUNGER could be a film that would portray one of the darkest and most significant episodes of recent British and Irish history. But as the development process went on, with Steve and Enda pushing deeper and deeper into the more universal aspects of the story, the film has achieved a much more contemporary resonance in the post 9/11 era and also emerged as an unforgettable piece of cinema about the extremes of human experience. I am sure there will be many, many, different readings of HUNGER.