Michael Shannon on Actors Working for Free: “I think as a group actors need to stop enabling this behavior”
“If somebody’s got a good script and you want to put good actors in it then everybody should be taken care of” – Michael Shannon
Earlier this month, we reported Charlie Cox’s admission that he pretty much just broke even starring in the off-Broadway play Incognito. Of course, he knew this going into the production and still did it because he really wanted to do the project. According to Cox’s former Boardwalk Empire co-star Michael Shannon, working for little or no money is not the type of behavior that actors should be encouraging. Speaking with Variety, Shannon touched on that issue and also spoke about finding his characters and why he thinks he could’ve gotten more out of his Boardwalk Empire character .
Talking about actors who do “prestige” projects for less money, Shannon says, “I think as a group actors need to stop enabling this behavior. There’s no reason it should be that way. If somebody’s got a good script and you want to put good actors in it then everybody should be taken care of. We’re not asking for millions and millions of dollars. It’s gone too far in the other direction really. If it was just me I wouldn’t care. I probably would do it for free. But I have a family.”
On another note, the interviewer points out that Shannon is known for being fully immersive in his characters. When asked if he ever knows when he has a character “down,” Shannon replies, “No, you don’t. I don’t ever really feel like…I guess I don’t really look at it that way. It’s weird. Because I don’t think people ever really have themselves down, you know? Experience isn’t really that way. ‘Oh, I finally have become Michael Shannon.’ Which is like what this movie’s about. It goes beyond qualitative commentary, being a good performance or a bad performance. It’s more that I’m being what I can stand being right now.”
With that in mind, Shannon points out that his career-making role in Boardwalk Empire was an example of a character that he felt didn’t live up to his full potential. He recalls, “I wasn’t always happy with what was happening with [Shannon’s Boardwalk Empire character] Van Alden. I honestly thought it could have been a lot more interesting. I thought it fell into a very repetitive thing, particularly toward the end where he’s just being constantly humiliated and he tries to take it, then he loses his shit and does something bad and then he does it again. It’s a classic structure – it’s almost like a very dour Three Stooges. The great dark secret of humanity is that people love to watch other people squirm. They love to watch other people suffer, which is really strange.”