If you're just now hearing about Michael Shannon because he'll be playing General Zod in "Man of Steel," for shame. The actor has been building an impressive resume, playing unforgettable characters in films like "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," "Bug" and "The Runaways." He received an Oscar nomination for "Revolutionary Road" as a former mental patient who opens his neighbors' eyes to their suburban folly.
His newest film, "Take Shelter," reunites him with his "Shotgun Stories" director Jeff Nichols. Shannon plays Curtis, a man having disturbing visions about the end of the world. Terrified for his family, he builds up the tornado shelter in their backyard as his life crumbles around him.
"Take Shelter" opens September 30. You can also catch Shannon on HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" and in the upcoming films "Premium Rush" and "Man of Steel" as Zod himself.
So did you have nightmares after making this?
No, I didn't. I anticipated that I might, but I don't know. I guess I got it all out of my system at work. I slept pretty peacefully. Right after this job, as soon as it was done shooting, I went onto another job, so I didn't have a big, cathartic period to kind of digest what happened. The whole summer was a real whirlwind going from one thing to the next. So I guess I'm still processing it. I don't know.
At the end of the day, how do you sort of shake off an experience like that? Yoga? Primal screaming?
Well, I don't know. I didn't take it on on a real -- I think the act of doing the movie, in a way, you're releasing that energy. You're not taking the energy on. You see what I mean? You're getting it out. I mean, when I see the film now, I'm very moved by it, but it's not like some sort of affliction or something that I'm still trying to recover from. It was an expression. It was a release of something.
It's a very personal movie about family and communication. Do you feel there are aspects to it that you grasped better now that you're a father?
Yes. Well, it certainly had a lot more meaning, significance to me, and it was much more visceral. I mean, I played characters that had children before I had a child, and yeah, you think that your imagination can fill in the blanks, but it really can't. But that's one of the reasons I was so passionate about doing the film, was because I had had that experience.
For Jeff, he always says that we were talking on the phone one day and he overheard me talking to my daughter. And before he heard that, he wasn't sure that he thought I would be appropriate to play Curtis, but that once he eavesdropped on my conversation with her, he heard some side of me that he didn't know existed prior to that.
Also Check Out: Why You Need to Know Michael Shannon
"Take Shelter" is part of this trend of men trying to protect their families in today's economy and going to great lengths to do so. Even something like "Breaking Bad" or "Warrior," when Joel Edgerton participates in MMA fights to save his family. Do you think it's the political climate, or does it speak to something bigger?
Well, yeah. It's overwhelming, I think right now, this sense of fragility in the world. There are so many things that feel like they could fall apart any minute that are just barely being -- you know, I found that whole debt crisis incredibly alarming and hard to wrap my head around, hard to digest. We're so lucky that that didn't turn out even worse than it did. And the idea that the people that are really kind of controlling things are just invisible. You don't see them; there's no way to interact with them or influence them. There's something going on that is going to happen regardless of us and what we think or feel should happen. That can create a lot of anxiety.
It lends itself to a sort of paranoia.
I don't even know if paranoia is the right word because paranoia, for me, is much more about -- I don't necessarily think that there's somebody out to harm necessarily, that their goal is to harm anyone. That it's just more about greed. Paranoia makes it sound like -- I don't feel like somebody is going to attack us. It's not that. Paranoia sounds too much like a conspiracy. It's not a conspiracy.
Let me put it this way. You have a love for the people in your life, your family, and you would hope that the rest of the world would at least acknowledge how important that is to you, and that that's important in general. And it's frightening to think that maybe it's not, there are people to which that's not important. It's the same thing, this feeling that we may all ultimately be some sort of collateral damage in the name of something that -- God knows what it's serving. I don't know.
It's hard to not think of Curtis in terms of your character in "Revolutionary Road" or even "My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?" Do you feel that that's reductive, and that you're pigeonholed because some of your most famous roles are people who struggle with mental illness?
No, I don't feel pigeonholed. I mean, I do the work that I do, and I know what's behind it and what I put into it. And then the people that watch it, they can get as much or as little as they want to get out of it. I think if you really think or pay attention to something that I have worked on, that it will ultimately be a little more complicated than that. But it's the world we live in ... For example, when people talk about music. It's very hard to have a conversation about a band without saying, oh yeah, they sound like this other band. Or they sound like if this band met this band. Everything is about comparison. It's kind of rampant, and I feel like in our cultural dialogue that it's hard to talk about things without comparing it to something else.
Every part I take, every part I play, to me, is a distinct individual. I see no correlation between them whatsoever. The only correlation I see is that I am the individual playing these people. There's certain things about myself that are going to come through no matter what I play, and so it's always going to come back to me. And maybe I have a certain way of being that is, I don't know, intense seems to be the word that is often prescribed to it. But it wasn't my goal in life to set out to scare people or be intimidating or intense. It was simply my goal to tell stories and be different characters, and I feel like that's what I'm doing.
Yeah. Well, you're not scary in person.
[Chuckles] Okay, good. Thank God.