Michael Shannon isn't known for playing the funny guy, the romantic guy or the guy who saves the planet. He's known for playing ... a different type of guy. Of his most memorable characters, there's Peter Evans, the paranoid loner in Bug; John Givings, the embittered schizophrenic in Revolutionary Road; Richard Kuklinski, the cold-blooded contract killer in the upcoming biopic, The Iceman; and at the top of no one's guest list is Nelson Van Alden, the super-religious and possessed Prohibition agent in Boardwalk Empire. But when the Oscar-nominated actor inhabits his characters -- his face twitching with repressed sadness, his piercing, protrusive blue eyes begging to be understood -- he makes a strong case for spending at least two hours getting to know these troubled souls.
"People always ask me, 'Why do you always play crazy people?'" says Shannon at the loft he shares with his wife, actress Kate Arrington, and their four-year-old daughter Sylvia, in the isolated Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook. Today, the only noise is the trickling of his cat's running-water fountain dish, which he casually explains is because still water in the wild can be poisonous. (Noted.) "I don't always play crazy people but drama is based on conflict," he continues. "There has to be some sort of irritation or else there's no story. No one wants to see a play or a movie about someone eating a sandwich and thinking about how it's a really good sandwich and then they have a cupcake and that's the end."
"He's a brilliant actor who makes the most fascinating (aka crazypants) choices in roles and steals every scene he's in."
-- Kelly Stitzel, contributing editor of popdose.com
Thanks to these conflicted characters, Shannon has a reputation of being pretty serious, but assures us that he has his own off-kilter sense of humor, confirmed by his friend, playwright and frequent collaborator Craig Wright. "I thought he was very funny," says Wright of the first time he met Shannon. "I told him I thought Sigur Rós was one of the best bands of the past 20 years. He said, 'I like Sigur Rós too, Craig. I like to listen to them when I try on my prom dress. And then I twirl around in front of the mirror.'" Still, Wright's very dark comedy Grace, about a fundamentalist couple torn apart by a disturbed neighbor (Shannon, of course), debuting on Broadway this month, isn't everyone's idea of a fun way to spend a Saturday night. "It seems to be that some people enjoy what I do," mulls Shannon, "but not like billions of people -- so yeah maybe it's a cult thing." Next summer, he is likely to amass some new fans (maybe not in the billions, but certainly they'll be up a few zeros) when he plays Superman's nemesis General Zod in Man of Steel. "A lot of people are excited about that film," says Shannon in his understated style. "People have General Zod pictures that they want me to sign, but I'll just keep taking the subway and walking down the street and when people say things, I'll be like 'thank you,' and I'll just go about my business." Wright argues that Shannon's fans are a little more intense than that. "Try having a conversation with him in public sometime," he says. "You have to push through the autograph hounds and the swooners. Michael is going to be able to have every problem of fame he wants to have. Don't worry about Michael Shannon." We won't.