Michael Shannon on Why He Chooses His Intense Roles And Becoming General Zod

Michael Shannon might be the perfect example of an actor gaining more and more exposure as he climbs himself to the top.

After the long-resumed but little-known Shannon received an Oscar nomination for 2008’s Revolutionary Road his popularity has exploded because of his chilling role as Agent Nelson Van Alden on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, which has launched him into the seemingly perfect role of General Zod in the upcoming Zack Snyder Superman film, Man of Steel.

Because of these recent intimidating roles one would think Shannon wouldn’t be the type of person you’d want to run into in a dark alley, but as Shannon tells The Daily Beast, his background is far more varied.

First of all comes the fact that Shannon was trained to be a comedian in Chicago.  Still, he admits that he often finds himself gravitating to characters who have some sort of mental illness — including an upcoming role as infamous hit man Richard Kuklinski in The Iceman — explaining, “I’m not an expert on mental illness.  I don’t necessarily think that we have as great a handle on our brains as we seem to think we do. I still think the mind is very mysterious and people are very mysterious.”   Shannon credits his interest in analyzing such characters to his grandfather Raymond Corbett Shannon, who was a noted researcher in the behavior patterns of insects.  Shannon recalls, “There certainly seems to be a curiosity that’s been handed down.  He died when my father was a child, so sometimes I wonder what he’d make of all of this that I’m doing. My father had this letter that my grandfather had written, and it was the only thing I ever really knew or saw about my grandfather, and it was a letter in which my grandfather listed all the things he wanted my father to be able to do, and it was like 200 damn things! My father would show me this letter and say, ‘This is where I came from.’ I was like, ‘Holy s—, that’s intense!’ So I guess I’ve got some of that in my DNA. That intensity.”  It certainly suggests the intensity that Shannon brings to Boardwalk Empire!

Yet certainly Shannon’s biggest blockbuster role will be General Zod, memorably played by Terrence Stamp in Superman II. Shannon admits that taking such an iconic role is challenging, but he’s ready to make it his own.  He says, “I’ve seen Terrence’s interpretation and I loved it. It’s iconic and it’s intimidating.  It requires a lot of imagination, since it’s not an everyday character or someone you’d run into on the street. I have to figure out what it means, the whole notion of being a general. I went out and got Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs just to read about the life of a general and see what he thought about and what that experience was like, because to me, that’s a key component to capturing the character.  It’s not enough for me to be in Man of Steel, I want to do something really special with it. It’s not like I’ve won the lottery or something. I’ve got to justify everybody’s wanting me to be involved.”

Michael Shannon currently appears in Boardwalk Empire, now in its second season on HBO and in the films Take Shelter and Machine Gun Preacher, now both in limited release.


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