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Michael Shannon Breaks Down His Career, from 'Boardwalk Empire' to 'Man of Steel'

"I did all that? It doesn't seem real." Michael Shannon takes us through his illustrious career, including his roles in 'Groundhog Day,' 'Shotgun Stories,' 'Revolutionary Road,' 'Boardwalk Empire,' 'Take Shelter,' 'The Iceman,' 'Man of Steel,' 'Knives Out,' 'George & Tammy' and 'The Flash.' The Flash opens in theaters on June 16th Director: Adam Lance Garcia Director of Photography: Francis Bernal Editor: Michael Suyeda, Jason Malizia Guest: Michael Shannon Producer: Frank Cosgriff Line Producer: Romeeka Powell Associate Producer: Rafael Vasquez Production Manager: Natasha Soto-Albors Production Coordinator: Jamal Colvin Talent Booker: Mica Medoff Camera Operator: Zach Eisen Gaffer: Alfonso Audio Engineer: Michael Giggino Production Assistant: Kameryn Hamilton Post Production Supervisor: Edward Taylor Post Production Coordinator: Jovan James Supervising Editor: Kameron Key Assistant Editor: Billy Ward

Released on 06/02/2023


Even the fact that we're even having this conversation.

Here's all the movies you've done.

It, like, doesn't seem real to me.

It's like, I did? I did all that?

It doesn't seem real.

[playful music]

Hi, I'm Michael Shannon

and this is the timeline of my career.

Brad, how was the wedding?

Well, I just wanted to thank you

for making Debbie go through with it and everything.

All I did was fan the flame of her passion for you, Fred.

You are the best!

I started out in Chicago doing non-equity theater,

which is non-union, you know,

I didn't even get paid or nothing, just scraping by.

But there was a casting director in town named Jane Brody

and she had a scene study class.

One day she said, Hey Mike, I want you to come in

and meet Harold Ramis.

I said, Really? You're kidding.

She's like, No, he's gonna make a movie here.

Super nervous going in to meet Mr. Ramis,

but he was just as sweet as could be.

You know, there wasn't much to it, the scene.

It's basically me shouting, WrestleMania,

but I guess he was charmed by what I did

and I got the part.

WrestleMania! No way, no way!


The funnest thing about that job was really just getting

to watch Bill Murray do his thing and improvise.

And since I was in the restaurant,

I just got a real tutorial getting

to watch him do his thing.

The biggest thing I learned watching Bill Murray

was that it's important to have fun.

He was just so relaxed, he was just having so much fun.

It's easy to forget that, sometimes.

He just had a a real ease about him.

He was so comfortable in his own skin, you know?

You hear about my father?

He died, this past weekend.

I made this film Shotgun Stories, which was the beginning

of my long partnership with Jeff Nichols.

I was doing something called the Sundance Filmmakers Lab

and a fellow named Gary Hawkins,

he had a script called Downtime.

But Gary taught at the North Carolina School for the Arts.

He was very proud of what he had done at the lab

and he showed it to his students,

and one of his students came up to him

after seeing this and said,

Mr. Hawkins, do you know how to get ahold

of Michael Shannon?

The kid said, Well, I wrote this script

and I really want him to read it.

And Gary kind of looked at him like,

You gotta be kidding me.

Next thing I know, in the mail,

I got the script for Shotgun Stories.

I read it and I thought it was

the most incredible screenplay I had ever read in my life.

I called this kid up and I said, Man, you're deep.

Like, this is really cool.

He said, Look, I don't have any money at all.

Like, I wanna shoot on film and any money I do have

is gonna go to buying the film.

He said, I'll take good care of you

and my mom will cook dinner for us every night.

I was like, You know, what the heck?

You only live once.

And I just had the most amazing experience

making that movie.

Probably the hardest scene in Shotgun Stories

was when I go to the hospital and I hear that Kid's dead.

That was a hard scene just because there's a thaw

that happens and that's, you know,

for this guy that you've watched the whole time

kind of not really showing his hand very much,

for him to suddenly receive this incredibly emotional news

and actually have a fairly genuine reaction to it.

That was probably the trickiest part.

Now, I don't need to be told that a man who goes

after his mother with a coffee table's putting himself

in a weak position legally, that's obvious.

My recollection of my audition for Revolutionary Road

is that I actually went into the office.

I went in and I read with the casting director.

I was doing the scene and, yeah, she felt like I upset her,

I guess particularly when I said the line,

Why don't you do us all a favor?

Why don't you shut up?

I think that really got to her.

How about doing everybody a favor? How about shutting up?

Once I did my audition, then I went in to meet Sam.

I remember driving from San Diego

to Los Angeles to meet him.

And the whole time driving up there, I was like,

God, I hope I can do this again.

And then I walked into the office and Sam was there

and he said, Oh no, you don't have to do it again.

No, I just wanted to meet you.

I was like, Oh, whew, thank God.

Playing a guy who says what he thinks and believes

at all times is liberating, I guess.

But, I mean, the thing you have to remember

was the company I was in, so I'm trying to do this

in a room with the, you know, Leonardo DiCaprio

and Kate Winslet and Kathy Bates and Richard Easton.

I'm kinda the bottom of that totem pole

and yet I'm trying to, like, take over the situation.

Have you any champagne, whiskey, perhaps?

We do, sir.

[Woman] Nelson!

It's all right, dear.

I got a call from my manager and he said,

Did you watch The Sopranos?

I was like, Why?

And he's like, Well, the fellow made that,

Terence Winter, he's making another show

called Boardwalk Empire and he wants to meet

with you about it.

I'm like, Oh wow, okay.

It'll be him and Martin Scorsese.

I said, Can you repeat that?

It was on a day that I was shooting up in Hudson

and they were like, Look, just as soon

as you're done shooting, get in a car.

and get to the hotel as quick as you can

'cause they're waiting for you.

The day of the meeting, we go overtime.

Finally, We're like, okay, we got it. That's a wrap.

And I, like, bowl outta that chair.

I'm like, Get me in that car.

Get on the road to go into Manhattan,

bumper to bumper traffic, like a fricking parking lot.

Without a doubt, the longest car ride of my entire life.

I thought I was gonna have a nervous breakdown.

I finally get to the freaking hotel,

thank God they're still there.

And I'm so fried from being so stressed out

about getting there and Scorsese just starts,

So the show's about this and that and

[mumbles] and yeah, it's set in the prohibition.

Do you know much about this period in time because?


And Terence Winter's just sitting there,

nodding his head and I'm like, it's just all going like--

[imitates airplane engine]

I'm like, Uh-huh, uh-huh.

And then Terence Winter's like,

We don't want you to play a gangster

or a mobster or something.

We want you to play, you're like the Elliot Ness guy.

So I'm the good guy?

They're like, Yeah, yeah.

[man grunts]

Everybody stay seated.

I think a lot of people imagine

that when you get to be on a show for a long time, you know,

you really get to dig into, you know, something.

But Boardwalk had a really kind of odd rhythm to it

for the actors, I think.

Like, let's say it took, you know, I don't know,

five months to do a season of Boardwalk

or something like that.

Over that period of time, you might only work, like,

20 days, couple of scenes in every episode.

But you're just not, like, going,

punching the clock every day.

You don't necessarily wind up feeling,

like, entrenched in it so much.

It more feels like you're like a spy or something

and you get the call, you know, Meet here Monday

at 8:00 AM, and you're like, Okay,

and you know what to do.

What I thought was gonna happen

is that you were gonna see Van Alden fall

from grace and then you were gonna see him,

like a phoenix, rise from the ashes.

It was interesting that that didn't really happen.

What actually wound up being the storyline

is he just kept sinking further and further

into abject despair and humiliation.

I'm not gonna lie, I would've preferred

the first storyline maybe, but, you know,

people seem to be really entertained

by watching poor Nelson's struggle.

So who am I to say different?

I've been having these dreams

I guess they're more like nightmares.

The first time Jeff gave me Take Shelter,

it was not to play Curtis, it was to play his friend.

And I read the script and I said,

Jeff it's just even more staggering than Shotgun Stories.

We gotta make this.

And so there was someone he had in mind.

Eventually, it just didn't come to pass.

So Jeff was like, God, well,

who am I gonna get to play Curtis?

And finally he was like, Well, I don't know.

Mike, you wanna do it?

I'm like, If the money's right, yeah, I guess.

That's a joke 'cause there wasn't any money on that, either.

Yeah, I said, Yeah, yeah, I wanna play Curtis.

Yeah, in terms of, like, scenes from Take Shelter,

everybody is always like the fish fry and they're, like,

you know the scene where I flip over the table

and that's the scene, you know?

And I guess people met, they were like,

How do you do that?

And frankly it was, that scene came and went fairly quickly.

We didn't do it a lot of times,

we didn't really need to do it a lot of times.

The scene to me, in Take Shelter, that still,

to this day, gets me emotional even thinking about it,

the scene where she's trying to get 'em to open the door

and go back outside.

She says, It's okay honey.

Open the door, it'll be okay.

And he's like, I can't, I can't.

That scene right there is one of the,

I don't know, that scene just kills me.

What do you got for us?

Well they don't have the dates for the 28th, you know?

We can't take the blame if you change it last minute.

Hey, that's fuckin' bullshit.

Oh, Ray, those eyes just,

I never see anything like Ray Liotta's eyes.

Our characters don't have the best relationship

in that movie.

We never got, like, super friendly.

I mean, we didn't antagonize each other, but I just,

I was freaking out on that movie a lot

'cause I was playing Richard Kuklinski

and I had my hands full.

I didn't really talk much between takes.

Ray's one of those people that had the capacity,

the ability, to shock and intimidate me,

which is pretty hard to do.

But he could do it.

I will find him, Lara.

I will find him!

Zack Snyder wants to meet you.

He's making a Superman movie, Man of Steel.

He wants you to play General Zod.

I'm like, Really? Terence Stamp?

And I remembered, like, seeing those movies

when I was a kid and being, like,

That man is the most badass man I've ever seen in my life.

He's scared the crap out me.

Your father stole the registry's codex and stored it

in the capsule that brought you here.

For what purpose?

So that Krypton can live again.

I would argue that Man of Steel is, in a way,

this significant story, like, culturally,

not just an entertainment thing.

Because at the end of the day, what it was about,

it was about a civilization, right,

that ruins their own planet.

I've never heard of that before.

And then decides, well the solution to that

is to go to another planet and take it

and then we'll just go live there.

And I thought, Yeah, yeah, this story's important.

It was a totally different take on Zod.

Terence Stamp was just mean,

he was just being mean to everybody.

And Zod was like, Look, I just,

my job is to protect my civilization.

Like, that speech that he has, And now I have no people.

Like, I thought that was, like,

beautiful and heartbreaking and.

But I also just like Zack so much.

I really, really like Zack Snyder a lot.

After everything that you put this family through

for the last 10 years that any of us are gonna support you,

that any of us are gonna give you,

like Dad liked to say, A single red dime, you're nuts!

Rian Johnson is just so much fun to work for.

We didn't have a talk about improvising, necessarily.

I mean the script as is was beautiful.

That's why we were all there was because of the script,

because it was just we hadn't read anything

like that in such a long time.

Nobody had even seen anything like that in a long time.

I just couldn't help it.

Like I just wandered off into Walt Land

and it just came out.

If you do it, it is not like he says,

Could you not do that?

He's like, Oh wow, that was cool!

I mean, the thing about that movie

is that we all were having, it goes back

to the thing I said about Bill Murray.

Like, this was the perfect instance.

It was like, just go in and have fun,

like, amuse yourself and if you amuse yourself,

odds are you might amuse a small amount of other people.

It was, without a doubt, the most fun I've ever had

with a group of actors on a movie set.

The house was up on a hill and if you walked down the hill

through the little forest, there's a big parking lot

and it was filled with all these movie star trailers.

Nobody ever went to their trailer.

They would just sit there empty all day

because in the house there was a basement

and they'd just put cast chairs in there

and we'd just sit around in the basement all day.

Jamie Lee Curtis would hang out in the kitchen

of the house upstairs with the, like, owners of the house

and they would cook.

It was surreal.

That's the least stressed out I've ever been at work.

The most stressful part of that job

was doing my scene with Christopher Plummer,

A, because I was acting with Christopher Plummer,

may he rest in peace, two,

because Rian said, I wanna do it in one setup,

which just always gives me the hives

'cause there's nothing to cut to.

It was a hoot.

Hey, Tammy, you know this one?

[lilting country music]

Oh, I know all your songs, Mr. Jones.

Oh no, my daddy was Mr. Jones. You call me Baby.

♪ Tell me why, baby, tell me why, baby ♪

George and Tammy was just totally, like,

get in the submarine and go deep.

That journey that those two people go through,

it's hard to quantify it.

It's just so enormous and goes

in so many different directions.

I guess I'd like to be able to say that we had, like,

formulated some sort of game plan.

We never really did.

We just understood it separately from each other,

just because of the amount of research we had done.

We'd watched all the interviews we could watch,

we'd talk to all the people

that would make themselves available to us.

And you know, Jessica had had such a long time

with this material, it just kinda made sense to us.

We didn't really have to say, Okay, so in this scene,

should it be like this or that?

It just, it was a very organic thing.

This world must die.

So The Flash comes around.

As I recall, at the end of Man of Steel,

Superman breaks my neck and kills me,

which was the cause of much consternation among some fans

because Superman's not supposed to kill people.

But I say to Superman, It's either me or you,

so he has to do it.

So then I get this call, I'm like,

They saw Man of Steel, right?

And my manager's like, Yeah, they saw Man of Steel,

but it's different.

I'm like, What is it?

It's a multiverse.

I'm like, I don't know what that means.

I was very upset by what happened to Zack

in the Justice League and all that.

Didn't feel right to me.

Now I know I probably don't know all the sides to this story

and I should probably just keep my mouth shut,

but like I said, I really, really, really love Zack

and really appreciated that opportunity.

But then I talked to Andy, who's also a lovely guy

and very, very creative and fun and, you know,

I said, Hey, you know, I would really feel awkward

about doing it without Zack's blessing.

So until I get that, you're just gonna have to wait.

So I reached out to Zack and he gave me his blessing

and said, It's okay. You can do it.

And I appreciated that and then I said yes.

But it was a very different thing because, like,

Man of Steel, it was like a year of my life

between the training, we did a whole summer

of physical training leading up to the shooting

and the shoot was, like, six months long or something.

I was in and out of Flash in like, like a flash,

like two or three weeks.

That's it.

The Flash isn't my story, you know, I'm there

as a adversary, a threat, a problem to be dealt with.

The Flash is really The Flash's story.

Actors are the aperture between the audience and the story

and you should not be seen.

The more transparent you are,

then the more the audience gets to receive the story.

You have to care about the story

more than your own performance.

You're serving a writer and a director

and you're delivering their intent to the audience.

Do everything that you can possibly think of

to deliver that to them.

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