Michael Shannon’s got the Krypton factor
Michael Shannon is one of the most intense actors of his generation, with eye-popping turns in the likes of Bug, Take Shelter and Man of Steel, but in person, he couldn’t be more nonchalant . . . He even has a nice lie down during the interview
Is it too soon after Take Shelter – our very favourite film of 2011 – to go running back to Michael Shannon for another interview? Hell, no. Around these parts we’re all about Michael Shannon.
We’re Shannonistas and we’re proud.
Long, long before that Oscar nomination for Revolutionary Road or his incoming turn as Superman’s arch-nemesis in Man of Steel, Michael Shannon was a theatre actor who spent a year on London’s West End, just around the corner from Soho, where we meet today.
Does he still have regular haunts?
“Yeah, sure,” he says. “I get nostalgic when I come back. My favourite thing to do is potter round St James’s Park. I like Hyde Park too. I like the birds. I got my pelican fix this morning. I got a photo for my daughter.”
Shannon has a reputation for intensity and heat but in person he’s chilled and dryly amusing. He’s so chilled, in fact, that he walks into his hotel room and lies down on the couch in front of me – all six feet of him – as if readying himself for a freeform therapy session. Almost everything he says is ultimately punctuated and punctured with a little shrug or nonchalant gesture.
On quitting school to take up the thespian arts, he says: “My father wanted me to go to university in Chicago. They have a very fine theatre school there. I could have gone for free because he was a professor. But I had no interest. I didn’t even finish high school. I knew how to get auditions for plays and that’s what I wanted to do. That’s how I met Tracy Letts who went on to write Bug, and Howard Korder, a head writer on Boardwalk Empire.”
And here comes the shrug: “I don’t want to encourage people to drop out of school, but it’s hard to say that I made the wrong decision.”
On living in Brooklyn’s hipper-than-thou Red Hook district with partner Kate Arrington and their daughter, Sylvia: “The people there all know what I do. It’s not a big deal. Michelle Williams lives there. When she first moved in, she was getting a little bit harassed by the paparazzi. But that eventually goes away. We just had a hurricane and most of the buildings in the neighbourhood were hit. That’s a much bigger deal than somebody being in a movie.”
Despite his humour, an appearance in Kangaroo Jack and an apparent preference for the supine, say Michael Shannon’s name in a word association game and someone is sure to say “crazy”. In Bug, in My Son, My Son, What Have You Done, in Take Shelter, nobody does crazy quite like Michael Shannon. More importantly, nobody does the broad spectrum of crazy quite like Michael Shannon.
How does he wrangle all those paranoid states?
“It happens organically without me thinking about it so much. The circumstances are always so different. The sensibility that Werner [Herzog] brings is very different to the sensibility that Jeff [Nichols] brings. That’s when you understand how much a director is responsible for what you do. Even with similar stories they will create a very different vision. The character in My Son My Son is not capable of taking care of himself and lives at home with his mother. Take Shelter’s Curtis is actually very practical. They are very different people.”