Michael Shannon: “When you’re an actor, it can be a hindrance if you look askance at people”
If you’re like me, you can’t get enough of Boardwalk Empire and Take Shelter star Michael Shannon, whose chilling, intense acting style is perfect for roles like the religious crusading Prohibition Agent Nelson Van Alden on Boardwalk Empire, a character whose dramatic change over the course of the HBO drama has been one of the series’ standout performances. In an interview with NPR, Shannon reveals how he manages to pull off such an intense role and whether he brings that same method to his other roles.
Van Alden isn’t one of the characters on Boardwalk Empire to be based on a particular real-life figure, so Shannon had the freedom to create a back story for Van Alden on his own to motivate his performance.
He figured that Van Alden had to have grown up in “a very strict household,” and explains, “That is the seed of what grows into the adult Van Alden. But he’s a sad character. … I think it is a Frankenstein-scenario in a way because I think inside of Van Alden is a child — that arrested child — that never really got to develop its own identity. I think as much as he believes that he’s operating from these deeply held beliefs, he’s actually in a way very hollow.” As a result, one would assume that it would be easy for Shannon to look at Van Alden as a religious hypocrite, but Shannon actually doesn’t wish to pass judgement, saying, “But it’s very important for me not to judge Van Alden or to judge people in general. When you’re an actor, it can be a hindrance if you look askance at people.”
Has Shannon employed the same research for his next major role, General Zod in the upcoming Superman film Man of Steel? Shannon points out that it’s a bit different because “I’m an alien, which is weird because it’s hard to research being an alien — and what it’s like to be on Krypton.”
While that might be true, I have little doubt that Shannon will bring the same kind of intensity to General Zod.