The first time Steve meets Michael, Michael is one of a dozen people they've got in reading for Bobby Sands. He stalks into the room with his jaw tight and his chin up, and he reads Bobby Sands like he's slamming every word through the back of the room, trying to break the walls down.
It's a great performance. It's attention-getting. But it isn't Sands.
There are other factors in play. Steve hasn't done a lot of this, but he already knows what he wants. And what he doesn't want. He doesn't have the patience for actors who bring attitude to an audition. He might never have directed a feature film before, but he knows how to gauge whether he's going to be able to work with people. And this actor... there's a vibe coming off him that makes Steve sure that he's not going to get along with him.
Guys like this, Michael, what's-his-name, Fassbender, Steve knows their type on sight. They push when you're too tired to push back, they want things their way, they think they need to be in charge. Arrogance isn't a good look on people, not in personal relationships and not at work, and Steve's got too much on his plate to be bothered signing up for it.
"No," he says, when Michael's stalked out of the room. Gary shrugs, and the next actor comes in, taking a seat and facing the two of them: he's a professional, this guy, he knows how it's supposed to get done.
It wasn't Steve's idea to see Michael again, but there he is, in front of Steve and Gary, sides in his hand.
He's unmistakable, physically; he practically disappears side-on, which is an advantage for what Steve's going to ask his lead to do. Between that and the headshot and the CV, Steve knows he's the same man he already rejected; Michael can't be anyone else.
But he's not the same man. His reading's less brash, his shoulders set differently. He's open this time where he was closed before, vulnerable where last time he was spiking with ego.
If it's acting, he's sure as hell showing off his range.
Steve reads lines with him, and he gets a sense, for the first time, of how he's going to bring Bobby Sands to the screen. He puts the script down and talks to the guy, and Michael's animated, interested, it's not about a stepping stone to something new. He's right here in the moment.
"Of course it sort of scares me," he says, just outright, like it doesn't cost him anything. "But it should. A good part should always scare you, you know, or you're not doing it right."
And there it is. Right there. Right in his eyes, something Steve should have seen last time and didn't. He thought it was arrogance, but now he's going back to art school, a boy who pushed and pushed and pushed, and it wasn't until Steve put the boy down hard that things all fell into place.
He spots a bruise on Michael's wrist and wonders if there are more under his clothes. Or maybe it's enough just to let someone else lead. Steve can work with that.
"Let's get out of here," Steve says. Michael's eyebrows go up, draw together, the expression's unguarded and surprised. Steve stands up and walks around the table, offering his hand. "You're my Sands."
"Anywhere you want to go," Michael offers. "I've got my bike if you're up for it."
Michael all but disappears under Steve's arms on the bike. But Steve leans with the turns and learns how to direct Michael that day, language mapped onto Michael's body with a simple touch to his shoulder or a squeeze to his thigh.
Michael stands there outside the elevator, staring at it, staring. For a split-second Steve wonders if there's a bear in the elevator or something equally ridiculous, because Michael is not getting on.
He's just about to call 'cut' when Michael backs away and takes a seat on the cushion, and Steve gets it, realizes what Michael's showing them here. Where Brandon's going. What he already knows he can't face. They know the backstory, him and Michael and Carey, but they're not going to spell it out on the screen; it has to come through from actions and movements, little touches, glimpses of emotion in the dialogue.
And there's a piece of the puzzle, right there. Brandon waiting for the elevator, and then stuck in place, unwilling to move forward. He knows what he'd be walking into, and he can't take that step. But they're going to pick up in the apartment, with Brandon pacing, mussed, lost. It all makes sense. It's going to work on screen.
Steve catches up with Michael after and puts a hand on his shoulder. "Come on. Break time," he says, drawing Michael away. For a moment, Michael just looks at him, like he's wondering where Steve's going to take him. I could take you somewhere, Brandon says in the film, because that's what it's all about to him.
Living deep in Brandon's head for five weeks-- three for prep, two for filming so far with three to go-- Michael's a different man. He's present, attentive, engaged, a professional-- all that, of course. But where his body was down to flesh and bone last time, this time-- and Steve believes it's not too much to say this-- his soul is down to whispers and threads.
Steve puts on tea, and Michael stands there, fingers moving restlessly at his sides. He looks at Steve, and then at the empty space beside him, and he says, "May I--"
"Whatever makes you comfortable." Steve puts some emphasis on 'you'. Because it's Michael he's concerned about, not Brandon. In three more weeks, Brandon's going to be all in Steve's head. He'll be working with Joe in the editing room, images of Brandon spliced together to make a coherent whole. And Michael's going to find new roles, new lives to inhabit.
This is how it is, and how it should be, but that doesn't make it easy in the moment.
Michael folds himself down to the floor, and Steve can almost see him drifting down out of Brandon's head, leaving that messy desperation behind in the air. He'll have to stand up into it again, but not tonight.
Steve slips a hand onto the back of Michael's neck and lets Michael lean against him, his face pressed gently against Steve's thigh, his breath hitched. Steve's palm is warm on Michael's bare skin.
He can work with this.