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Steve McQueen: The Actor and His Films

Image for Steve McQueen: The Actor and His Films

There's a part of every man that wants to be Steve McQueen. He was cooler than Christmas, radiated charisma like a dozen Ryan Goslings and captivated cinemagoers with on-screen characters that epitomised laconic style. Men like the Cincinnati Kid, Bullitt, Thomas Crown and the Cooler King. Dude could even make double denim work for him. With a new book on the man, Steve McQueen: The Actor And His Films, landing on our shelves, we've asked author Andrew Antoniades to delve into the archives and talk us through some rarely-seen snaps of the man in action. And before you ask, none of them come from the set of Hunger.

Steve McQueen showing off his skill with the lasso on the set of The Magnificent Seven in 1960. McQueen's skill with props was always impressive and in the early years of his career gave his performances a level of authenticity that enabled him to stand out from his co-stars. The Magnificent Seven represented his breakthrough picture and allowed him to outshine the established actor and star of the film, Yul Brynner, much to the older actor’s frustration. McQueen had become a household name.

McQueen between takes on location in New York for Love With The Proper Stranger in 1963. Director Robert Mulligan entertains Natalie Wood and McQueen in front of Macy’s department store in Manhattan. This film placed McQueen in more of a traditional leading man role and allowed him to show his range in a non-action film. This consolidated his heart-throb status.

A rare colour image from Baby, The Rain Must Fall, 1965. This was McQueen’s last appearance in a black and white film where he played a man recently released from prison trying to rebuild his family life. The film proved to be a very challenging and downbeat character study, but provided one of McQueen’s most potent and subtle performances.

McQueen holds court with producer and friend Robert Relyea and his first wife Neile on the set of period comedy, The Reivers (1969). McQueen had made five back-to-back hit films starting with The Cincinnati Kid and culminating with Bullitt - establishing himself not only as the biggest global male star but, as a producer with his own film company, a power behind the camera, too. However, The Reivers was not particularly well-received and would prove to be a poorly timed project that did nothing for his career.

In full rodeo costume during a break in filming of a scene in the understated Junior Bonner, in 1972. This film was. This was McQueen's low-key cinema comeback after the debacle of Le Mans, a disastrous film for his finances and his career. He was attracted to the role of an aging rodeo star, seeking a character-driven role where he could flex his acting muscles.

Preparing to film a scene for The Getaway (1972) where his character obtains a shotgun in the build-up to a dramatic police shootout. McQueen was a very experienced user of many types of weapon, stemming from his rural upbringing and his time in the Marines, years before he became an actor. The Getaway re-established him as the top action star of his era. The film was violent (as you'd expect from director Sam Peckinpah) and a box-office hit.

On location in Mexico for The Getaway with Peckinpah. The actor and director had just finished filming Junior Bonner and were ready for another project. In this image, several of McQueen’s hallmarks are present: sunglasses, a beer and various pieces of Navajo-style jewelery with embedded turquoise stones. During this period he met his Ali MacGraw who was his co-star.

McQueen in the titular role of Papillon. He starred with Dustin Hoffman in this prison-escape film that was truly epic in scale. It gave his fans another dose of what had made The Great Escape so special: McQueen defying the odds to find freedom. In this scene his character comes to the rescue of Hoffman’s. McQueen conveys how Papillon has been reduced to a caged animal, whose primary instinct is survival. He gives new meaning to the phrase ‘silent but deadly’. McQueen was a master of acting by saying relatively little if anything at all, relying on gestures and mesmerisms to convey meaning.

Steve McQueen: The Actor And His Films, Andrew Antoniades. Dalton Watson Fine Books.

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