You know those actors who fall into that category of "He/she is mega-familiar and always great, but I can’t remember their name"? For most of you, Michael Shannon probably fits snugly into that ballpark.
Despite having an Academy Award nomination and starring in a slew of high-profile flicks including "Bad Boys II" and "8 Mile," Shannon has remained relatively off the grid of superstardom. The reason? He's been playing second fiddle in most of his projects, turning in stellar work that helps his costars shine. That’s all about to change.
With a deservedly buzzed-about lead performance in the Sundance hit "Take Shelter" (it opens in limited release this Friday) and an upcoming baddie turn as General Zod in Zack Snyder's Superman reboot "Man of Steel," Shannon is on his way to becoming a household name. It's high time this happened. As an actor, Shannon has paid his dues.
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A Kentucky native, Shannon got his start like most talented actors: on the stage. He made a name for himself on the theater grid, working with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company (the troupe responsible for launching the careers of Gary Sinise, John Malkovich and Joan Allen)and appearing on London's West End. He made his film debut in 1993 with a small part as a wedding groom in the comedy classic "Groundhog Day," and stayed busy on screen by taking bit parts in films as varied as "Vanilla Sky," "Tigerland" and "Pearl Harbor."
His biggest break came when he melded his worlds of theater and film together. In 1996, Shannon originated the role of crazed, self-destructive, delusional Peter Evans in the critically acclaimed (and incredibly unnerving) play "Bug," by Tracy Letts. The show premiered in London and later moved to Off-Broadway, where it ran for close to a year. The thriller's enduring popularity inspired legendary director William Friedkin ("The Exorcist") to helm a film adaptation. Of the play’s cast, only Shannon was asked to replay his role for the 2007 screen version. In the end, it only grossed $7 million at the domestic box office, but for Shannon it got the job done. It got him noticed.
Evidence? A year later, Shannon starred alongside Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Revolutionary Road," from Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes ("American Beauty"). Leading up the 2008 awards season, awards pundits were touting the "Titanic" duo as the couple to beat at the Oscars. But when the time came, both were left out in the cold, while underdog Shannon came out as the film’s MVP, garnering a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his show-stealing turn as a mentally unstable man.
See the trend? If there's one actor from this generation that's mined the complexities associated with mental decay, Shannon's the man. His two most celebrated turns, in "Bug" and "Revolutionary Road," no doubt prepped him well for "Take Shelter." In the domestic thriller helmed by relative newcomer Jeff Nichols, Shannon plays a family man who starts having recurring nightmares that the end is nigh. His terrifying visions cause him to become crazed about evading an apocalyptic storm, forcing his family and friends to question his sanity.
Appearing in almost every frame of the film, Shannon is a force to be reckoned with. You can't tear your eyes away from him, even as his condition worsens. The reason? He makes you care. Whether these visions are foreboding or not is obviously the essential riddle of the film. But the emotional pull comes from seeing a good, honest man struggling to cry wolf. You want to believe him, and that's why the film is as involving and successful as it is.
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All of which bodes well for "Man of Steel." Snyder has lined up some of Hollywood's finest to relaunch the beloved superhero franchise. Just take a look at the principal cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne and Kevin Costner. Sure those are some big names, but remember, only Shannon gets to play bad. With his turn as General Zod, he joins the likes of Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson, Willem Dafoe and Mickey Rourke, acclaimed actors who have all embodied superhero villains.
In other words, Shannon has arrived.