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
“People keep asking him what he’s been doing while we’ve been on the publicity tour for Mud,” director Jeff Nichols – who worked with Shannon on Take Shelter and Shotgun Stories – told me recently. “And everybody laughs when Michael says ‘Mostly I’ve been thinking about being a General’. But he’s not kidding. He has mostly been thinking about being a General. He’s going through all the duties and responsibilities that come with the job and how that would affect the psyche.”
I wonder how the prospect of the Phantom Zone might have contributed to the analysis. I can’t think of anything scarier in cinema than the image of Zod and his fellow conspirators being cast off into space in the Christopher Reeve films.
“Oh me neither,” nods Shannon. “That was a very disturbing image. That film stuck with me as a kid. It was so terrifying. The big guy and all that stuff. I loved the original franchise. It’s hard to think why we should make another one. The originals were so good. But they are a bit dated. They are of that era. There is nothing dated about Man of Steel. It feels very contemporary. What I can say is that, visually, it would be very powerful. Because of Zach Snyder. He has a very good eye. I have seen bits and pieces of it. It is very unusual. It is very striking. It doesn’t look like any other film.”
The new, very post-Tamara de Lempicka Superman reboot from 300 director Zach Snyder may look like a Great Leap Forward, professionally speaking, for Michael Shannon. Much of his career has been spent with noted theatre outfits such as Steppenwolf and New Lab. Many of his best-loved screen turns have been resolutely indie. He has, nonetheless, been lurking around Hollywood’s bigger, brasher productions for decades.
Pay attention and you’ll find him in Groundhog Day (1993), Pearl Harbor (2001), 8 Mile (2002), Bad Boys II (2003), and World Trade Center (2006). He’s worked alongside Tom Cruise (Vanilla Sky), Colin Farrell (Tigerland) and Michael Fassbender (Jonah Hex). He has taken direction from Werner Herzog and John Waters.
Is it the case that he does one movie for the rent and another for his craft, I wonder?
“Ideally, you merge those things rather than keeping them separate,” he says. “Because that way you are a lot more satisfied. The summer I made Take Shelter, I also worked on Machine Gun Preacher and Premium Rush. Obviously, not all the films being equally successful. They are three very different movies. But I pursued all of them with a similar attitude. It didn’t change the way I was working. I had a similar approach in each case.”
Shannon’s voice falters between Midwestern drawl and patrician bass. If it’s hard to place so is he. Michael Corbett Shannon was born in Lexington, Kentucky, a campus town on the eastern outskirts of Tornado Alley. The first time he saw the DC comics that inspired Man of Steel was in the trailer where his cousins lived. His parents, on the other hand, are ABC professionals: mother Geraldine is a lawyer; his late father Donald was an accounting professor at DePaul University.