When this failed to get them heard they began hunger strikes, with their leader, Sands, a 27-year-old father-of-one convicted for possession of a firearm, being the first of 10 men to starve himself to death.
Mc Queen was 11 and living in London when the hunger strikes began, and he vividly remembers seeing Bobby Sands's image on the television news every night.
That's what drew me to it, initially.' Clearly the quality of work has gone up a notch or two this year.
When we met he was working in London, finishing up Andrea Arnold's next film Fish Tank, in which he plays a leading role as the mysterious stranger who turns around the life of a disaffected 15-year-old girl. There don't seem to be any barriers with him, that enthusiasm seems genuine and free-flowing. It's got this forward-thinking, open-minded, creative buzz.
Steve has never worked with actors before, and he speaks very unconventionally, yet directly on the money.
To have an artist who must see things so clearly in his own head, but who also has the communication skills to bring everybody else in line with his vision - that's pretty impressive. For me, it's great to have at least one film where I can say, "I did that, I was part of that." I've achieved something now.' Fassbender was born in Heidelberg, Germany.
I'd never been in that kind of situation, and I didn't know how vulnerable actors are in auditions, that cockiness can often be covering nerves.' At the urging of his producer and casting director, Mc Queen saw Fassbender again. That's the guy."' Though there are moments of real beauty and tenderness in the film, the opening section evokes the atmosphere of the H-blocks so vividly that you feel as if you are in there. You smell the urine trickling down corridors, hear the oppressive silence just before violence breaks out, and most of all feel the scars violence leaves not only on its victims, but also on its perpetrators. So you're in this prison, and the audience is in this prison - all of you are in there together.' Despite its polarising subject matter, the film is also curiously apolitical, refusing to make a hero of Sands or monsters of his guards.
He played a Spartan warrior in the 2007 Hollywood blockbuster 300, which he says got him into rooms for more high-level meetings. He plays a frustrated painter in François Ozon's enjoyable melodrama Angel, centred on an untalented but hugely successful romance novelist (Romola Garai)."' He came to London at the age of 19 to go to the Central School of Speech and Drama, dropped out in the last year after getting an agent, and almost immediately toured in Chekhov's Three Sisters with the Oxford Stage Company. As a result, Fassbender fan sites run by teenage girls and SF/comic book geeks abound online.His first major television role was the 2001 Steven Spielberg-produced Second World War drama Band of Brothers. 'They've been great on those sites, amazing,' he grins.'It's that naivety that gets things done, that lets you go for it and learn from your mistakes,' he says.'People like De Niro, Pacino, were in their late twenties when they made their best films, and when I was 17, 18, I remember thinking, "God, that's ages away! 'But there were so many of us running around in green.' There were long stints of bar work between jobs until Hex, a cult supernatural series made for Sky in 2004, in which he played a fallen angel out to seduce a schoolgirl witch.After the film won the prestigious Caméra d'Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Nike invited him to its store to pick out things for his agent, his girlfriend and himself. ' A triumphant directorial debut for the Turner Prize-winning British video artist Steve Mc Queen, Hunger has subsequently won awards at the Venice and Toronto film festivals.The film is extraordinary, as is Fassbender's central performance as the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.'Shall I show you something that's really going to make you laugh - and cringe? We are sitting in the back of a cosy, shabby-chic pub in London's East End not far from the 31-year-old actor's home in Hackney, and I have been asking how it feels, after a decade of steady work, to finally break through with a lead role in the acclaimed film Hunger.He pushes his Guinness aside and puts a foot up on the table to show me his new trainers, which have been customised with his name down the side in big, white capitals. 'The next thing is the robe with my initials on it!'Whenever I went up to visit my relatives across the border, people even in the south would be like, "Oh my God, you're going to get bombed!"' Fassbender became interested in drama at school and when he was 18 he put together a theatrical production of Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs with friends.