Michael Shannon

The actor talks about his Oscar-nominated role, working with the amazing cast and upcoming projects

Michael Shannon has been a very versatile actor to keep an eye on for quite some time now, and he has an Academy Award nomination to prove it now. After cutting his teeth on small film and TV in the 90s, Shannon started to make his presence felt at the turn of the century with roles in such films like Tigerland, Pearl Harbor, Vanilla Sky, High Crimes and 8 Mile. The actor hasn't stopped working since and his latest film, Revolutionary Road, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting actor for his tremendous turn as John Givings, comes to DVD and Blu-ray on June 2. I had the chance to speak with Shannon today about his role and the spate of future films he has lined up, and here's what he had to say.

On the DVD special features it said that this was kind of a dream project for Kate Winslet and she was on the film for a long time, so I was wondering where in the process you became attached to the film?

Michael Shannon: Just when they were trying to audition. I think Kate and Leo (DiCaprio) signed on first and then probably Kathy Bates. After that, they were auditioning. There aren't really any other super-famous people in the movie, they just took their time to find the best actors for each part. I just went in and auditioned like any other actor would.

Was this a book you were familiar with before auditioning for this?

Michael Shannon: Oh yeah, yeah. I had read it and I was a huge fan of it. I was really excited to hear they were making a movie out of it and I was a little bit nervous because I had thought that I had found out about it too late in the process. When I saw they were making a movie out of it, I jumped right on the phone, started trying to get an audition.

You play the very unusual John Givings and I thought it was a wonderful character and performance, but I was kind of surprised that you don't really have that much screen time in the film. Was that one of the challenges to create this character without that much screen time?

Michael Shannon: I don't know. I don't know how much of a challenge it is. For me, it's not like, I'm not trying to get attention towards myself. It's not like I look at a job and say, 'What's the most attention I can get out of doing this job?' I'm basically just trying to tell the story. I mean, John isn't in the movie very much, but he's a very important part of the story, because he's the only one who can understand what Frank and April are talking about. One by one, Frank and April tell people about their intentions to try and start a new life, and everyone looks at them like they don't understand or they're crazy. John's the first one who says, 'Hey, I know what you're talking about. I understand. I think that's a good idea. I think you're right.' So that gives him a feel of importance in the story.

I thought it was interesting that even though John was committed, he's kind of the only person that is grounded in reality in this film, so was that complexity part of why you wanted to play this role?

Michael Shannon: Well, yeah, but I think it's important to remember that the reason John is able to act the way he acts and says the things he says is he has kind of lost everything. He doesn't have a life for himself. I don't think necessarily that John's point of view is that surprising, because when John says something, everyone in the audience can identify with it and everybody assumes it's the truth. The fact of the matter is, it's not like Frank and April are unaware of what John's saying. That's April's whole point to begin with, that we've got to get out of here, so they know what's going on too, but the problem is they have kids and they have a house and Frank has a job and you can't just destroy everything in the process of discovering the truth. There's a line we all walk in life, trying to be honest and at the same time, trying to be responsible.

You obviously have quite an amazing cast here, so just what was it like working with all these actors like Leo (DiCaprio), Kate (Winslet), Kathy Bates, David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn. What was a normal day on the set like with all these actors?

Michael Shannon: It was very serious, to be honest. I know people probably imagine that it's so great to go hang out with movie stars all day, but when they're at work, they're not movie stars, they're actors and they take what they do very seriously. We were all united in our desire to honor this book that meant so much to all of us. I wasn't the only one. Everybody who was on that set was a huge admirer of the book and wanted to make the best possible movie out of it that they could.

I've been a huge fan of Sam Mendes for years now, so I'm sure working with him had to be a pretty big draw to taking this on as well. How would you describe working with him and how would you compare his style to other director's you've worked with?

Michael Shannon: Well, Sam is obviously an incredibly intelligent person. He is very gifted at talking to actors about their characters. Some film directors are very focused on more of the visual aspect of what they're doing. Directing a movie is incredibly complicated. There are a number of different things that you have to keep track of and a number of different questions you have to answer. Sam really takes his time with the actors, which I appreciate because not all directors do that. He really gives you a lot of takes, he gives you a lot of opportunities to get it right and even after you feel like you've gotten it right, sometimes he'll make you go and do it again because he feels that you can go even deeper, so that's very refreshing to get that kind of determination from a director.

It was also mentioned on the DVD that the film was shot entirely on location in Connecticut and New York, so can you just talk about working in all these different locations and the houses?

Michael Shannon: Well, the house, yes, the house was instrumental, definitely, in creating the atmosphere and being trapped in this place. It's weird because it is a very beautiful place. It's very lush, there are lots of trees. I think an interesting aspect in the film are the woods, the house is surrounded by the woods. Obviously, you can make a fairly tale connection, going off into the woods. You can try to escape whatever is happening, but knowing there's probably not so great happening in the woods as well. It gives it a very fairy tale-type quality. The community that we shot in and the people that lived there and had to put up with this film being there, were very very sweet to us. They didn't pitch a fit about the long hours or anything, because a lot of times, when you're shooting on an actual location, you can run into problems. It can be irritating to have a film crew on your block 14 hours a day, six days a week, but they were all very kind and respectful so that was very nice.

I also read that the film was shot in sequence, so can you talk a little bit about why the decision was made to film like that, and does that make it easier or harder for the production?

Michael Shannon: Well, it depends on who you're talking about. I think for Kate and Leo, it was essential to try to do it as much in sequence as possible, to keep this relationship in the right perspective. I can't imagine for them to have to shoot the ending of the film like during the second week. It would be totally confusing because so much of it is an accumulation of what's happening in their relationship. I think it was tremendously helpful to them. It didn't really affect me much while working on the film. All it meant was I shot my first scene and then a couple of weeks went by and I shot my second scene, so I had a little break in there, as opposed to most films that I probably would've just been there for three days, shot everything and then left. So I think I actually enjoyed having that little break in between, to keep thinking about the character and keep it marinating a little bit longer.

It was reported that you might sign on to The Runaways and you also have Jonah Hex and a bunch of other films coming out, so can you talk a little bit about some of those future projects you have coming up?

Michael Shannon: Well, The Runaways is not confirmed at this point. Jonah Hex is something I was shooting down in New Orleans based on a comic book, set in the Civil War. I'm not sure when that's going to come out, but Josh Brolin is playing Jonah Hex and that was a lot of fun. I have a movie called The Missing Person coming out in the fall, that I'm very proud of. It was a film that I was with at Sundance this year and it also co-stars Amy Ryan, who was also nominated for her performance in Gone Baby Gone. I'm going to be working on a television pilot for HBO called Boardwalk Empire, with the great Martin Scorcese. That's what I'm going to be shooting next in June, so I'm looking forward to that.

Excellent. Well, that's about all I have for you. Thanks so much for your time, Michael.

Michael Shannon: Thanks, Brian.

You can see Michael Shannon's wonderful Academy Award-nominated performance as John Givings when Revolutionary Road comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on June 2.

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