Michael Shannon on Why He Prefers Supporting Roles

“I see some people that have talent and something to offer but they get in their own fucking way sometimes.” – Michael Shannon

Aside from his performance as General Zod in Man of Steel, Oscar-nominated actor Michael Shannon has mostly stayed away from major roles in big-budget features. In fact, Shannon often plays supporting roles in features that cost 10% of what Man of Steel cost, too. That’s because Shannon likes to embody the acting ideal of being able to play many different types of roles in his career — hence why he prefers doing small roles in three or four features rather than a lead role in one movie. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Shannon explains why he prefers that career trajectory while so many of his peers seek more and more of the spotlight.

Despite the immense amount of praise that comes his way, Shannon is wary of how actors let praise for their work go to their heads. He remarks, “Lucky me, you know? Jesus — a lot of it is about minding your Ps and Qs. I see some people that have talent and something to offer but they get in their own fucking way sometimes.” For example, he says that his job is to help the filmmakers tell a story — and some ego-driven actors don’t think of it that way. He says, “If I think what they’re doing is worth a shit, I’m there to help, you know? Sometimes, you can get actors who are not about helping. It’s about them. That’s a turnoff.”

His belief of being there to “help” filmmakers and not make a project about himself is why Shannon is usually more likely to take supporting roles that only require a few days of work rather than pursing lead roles. He points out, “I don’t really mind it. The smaller the part, the quicker I get home to my kids. That’s the way I look at it. I’m more nervous about taking the big job and being away for a long time.”

For example, he points to his performance on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire — one that brought him much attention — as a role that went on for a little too long for his taste. He explains, “I’m not going to lie, when Boardwalk was over, I was kind of relieved. I was grateful for the opportunity, but spending five years on something — that was about as much as I would want to do.”

Again, that is a testament to Shannon’s desire to tackle a variety of roles instead of spending too much time on a single project. He says, “I like to change it up and do different stuff. I certainly don’t want to get locked down on a show for years and years and years, even though I know it can be lucrative.”