The Diary: Michael Fassbender; Upstairs Downstairs; Jeremy Deller; Clybourne Park


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The Independent Culture

No shame in short

Poor Michael Fassbender. The actor's scintillating turn in Shame was overlooked at the Baftas, but he didn't leave entirely empty-handed on Sunday. Pitch Black Heist, a black-and-white movie which he co-wrote and in which he stars, won the Best Short Film award. In the 13-minute caper, Fassbender plays a criminal who plots to break into a safe whose alarm is triggered by light. In a unique twist, the climactic heist unfolds in three minutes of total darkness. "Someone told me that the rule is never have more than 30 seconds of black in a film," says director John Maclean. "I thought, 'that's a good rule to break'." The scene was filmed "at a friend's house, with the lights switched off". The rest of the film, made for under £30,000, was shot in three days at The Dolphin pub in Hackney.

Maclean, keyboardist with defunct Scottish folk-rockers The Beta Band, started out making his own music videos. A friend passed his work on to Fassbender and in 2009 they teamed up on Man on a Motorcycle, a short about a day in the life of a courier shot entirely on a mobile phone. Fassbender filmed his part on a day off from Inglourious Basterds. "I thought he'd be sick of hanging around waiting for big set-ups so I made it a quick, guerrilla-style shoot," says Maclean. "We had a lot of fun running around Soho, on the bike". Maclean is now writing his first full feature for Film4, which he hopes will feature Fassbender. For now, they're still celebrating. "He was very, very pleased. The main-actor thing really didn't seem to bother him."

Down on Downton

Sunday evenings just aren't the same unless one can watch a servant ironing a newspaper. This weekend Upstairs Downstairs returns to BBC1, filling the period vacuum left when the second series of Downton Abbey finished at Christmas. The BBC and ITV launched their rival dramas within months of each other last winter. Are the denizens of Eaton Place jealous of the more-hyped Downtonians? "Not really", says Claire Foy, who plays Lady Persie. "I was more scared of people who loved its pedigree saying, 'you've ruined it!' than of someone saying 'there's a similar programme on ITV'. Eastenders is similar to Coronation Street. They're the same beast but but you don't compare them. They're so different in their approach." Not that different, surely? "In ours, the upstairs and the downstairs are far more separate. They're in the same house but they're living different lives. That's why it's so interesting", says Foy. "And there's something really nice about Upstairs... being in London. There's so much more going on." Over to you, Lady Mary!

Deller's art of the busker

What do Jeremy Deller and Simon Cowell have in common? More than you might think. The Turner Prize-winning artist has produced a record with his favourite busker. It features two cover versions – of "Folsom Prison Blues" and "Island in the Sun" – by Chuck, who performs on the South Bank and Kingston High Street most days with an acoustic guitar and home-made percussion strapped to his shoes. "Not every busker can stop you in your tracks like Chuck can", says Deller. "He sounds like Willie Nelson – laid-back, jazzy, simple". The limited-edition vinyl will go on sale next week to coincide with the opening of the artist's new exhibition at the Hayward Gallery.

A drama in many acts

The searing arguments on stage in Clybourne Park have been eclipsed by far more colourful discord behind the scenes. The Broadway transfer of Bruce Norris's satire about race was thrown into jeopardy this month when it was suddenly left without a producer. Scott Rudin pulled out in retaliation when Norris, who is also an actor, withdrew from a lead part in Rudin's upcoming HBO adaptation of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. According to Rudin, Norris pulled out of the show at the very last minute, having made a series of outrageous demands, "in the hope that we would turn him down, and that he would not have to face the responsibility of reneging on a commitment he made. He's a wonderful playwright, and an equally wonderful actor, but I am unwilling to support or de facto condone this behaviour." Rudin has also binned productions of A Parallelogram and another new play he had commissioned from the writer. Clybourne Park has now been bailed out by Broadway theatre-owner Jordan Roth, and will open at the Walter Kerr, a week later than planned, in April. The spat, though, looks set to run and run.