Michael Shannon on Playing General Zod in Man of Steel and Loving Deerhoof

Bring on the Major Leagues

Jun 14, 2013 Web Exclusive Photography by Ray Lego Bookmark and Share

Michael Shannon's been acting since the early '90s: he cut his teeth in Chicago's theater community and showed up in a small scene in 1993's Groundhog Day, as the enthusiastic recipient of WrestleMania tickets as a wedding gift from Bill Murray's character Phil Connors. But of late Shannon has established himself as a singular idiosyncratic entity, with the potential to become one of the finest actors of his generation. He garnered an Academy Award nomination for his role as the schizophrenic John Givings in 2008's Sam Mendes-directed Revolutionary Road, while his performance in Jeff Nichols' 2011 feature Take Shelter as the unhinged Curtis LaForche, who is dogged by post-apocalyptic visions that may or may not be clairvoyance, earned him a Saturn Award for Best Actor. Shannon's maintained a high level of visibility of late, both with his scene-stealing role as the mercurial government revenue agent Nelson Van Alden in HBO's Boardwalk Empire, and as serial killer Richard Kuklinski in the Ariel Vromen-directed The Iceman, released back in May. His highest-profile acting role to date is as Superman's nemesis General Zod in the Zack Synder-directed Man of Steel, which opens today.

Under the Radar caught up with Shannon on a recent press junket. Myriad topics were discussed, and the full in-depth four-page feature appears in our new June/July 2013 print issue, which is on newsstands now. However, for this Q&A, we've included some outtakes regarding Shannon's love of music, and the full unexpurgated transcript of our Man of Steel discussion.

John Everhart (Under the Radar): I was curious as to how you approached this role [of General Zod], given Terence Stamp's great performance [as Zod] in the original films. Was it difficult to not try to measure up to that?

Michael Shannon: Terence Stamp struck me as just pure evil. Pure rage, evil, hatred, loathing. A control freak. Zack [Synder] was very adamant from the beginning that he didn't want Zod to seem that way in this film. That's a challenge. Everybody's expecting what Stamp delivered, which was huge, and there's no way I can match that. I can't do what he did better than he did it. So I had to change it up, because he's one of the best ever.

Given that you've mainly worked on indie films, or relatively low-budget studio pictures, was it much of an adjustment working on a film that seems destined to become a blockbuster?

I was fortunate to work with Zack Snyder on Man of Steel. That's what Zack does when he's on set. He makes people feel comfortable. I was extremely anxious before I started shooting it because I knew how high the stakes were. I knew how much money was at stake, and how high Warner Bros. had their hopes for their picture. And quite honestly, I was surprised that it was my job to have. But Zack is very good at making sure that everyone's having a good time. He's very shrewd in that regard, because that's when people usually do their best work, when they're relaxed. He's a very smart man, and you would've never guessed working with him just how ridiculously high the stakes were because he's so calm.

Were you much of a fan of the Superman comics or comic books in general as a kid?

I've never been a big comic book guy. I had cousins who were, and they had boxes and boxes of comics. But they never made sense to me, because you read them once and then what did you do with them? I preferred to play video games and eat candy, basically, as a kid.

Well, a lot of people collect them. I used to, but I get where you're coming from. Shifting gears, I wanted to talk to you a bit about music. You have your band Corporal. I listened to a couple songs online, and one reminded me a bit of Silver Jews, and another sounded sort of like Neutral Milk Hotel. Really good stuff.

Man, that's fricking high praise. Silver Jews and Neutral Milk Hotel. Are you trying to hit on me? [Laughs]

Ha! Well, do you actually get to record and play gigs very often? Your schedule's obviously really busy.

I'm playing tomorrow night. I'll probably be asleep. But honestly, I don't play as much as I'd like. I'd like to record more. I have more songs. Corporal came together for what was for me a bit of a lull. It was important to me, and it still is, but it was important because I didn't have much creative outlet. I want to get back into it, but I'm kind of in an avalanche right now. Once the avalanche settles, I'll probably go back to it.

Can you talk about some of your favorite music? I know you've mentioned Deerhoof and Pavement in the past.

I remember the first time I saw Deerhoof I was going to a Wilco show in Chicago, and we didn't even know who the opening act was. It just stopped me in my tracks. Literally, I'd never seen a band like that. The lead singer has a beautiful voice and plays bass, and their drummer, my god, he's only got a snare and like two cymbals and a bass tom. And he makes like an orchestra sound. It's a dynamite band. I also love Wilco. But I literally have thousands of albums. I like jazz, I like country, I like rock. I like a lot of stuff.

I just got [Pavement's] Terror Twilight on vinyl. I love that album. I have this thing with albums. Naked by Talking Heads is one of my favorite albums. The orchestration and the arrangement on that album is breathtaking. The same thing with Pixies. Trompe Le Monde is my favorite. But everyone's last record seems to be my favorite. I always hear More Songs About Buildings and Food, Slanted and Enchanted, and Doolittle, but for me it's those last albums.

[Man of Steel is in theaters now. Be sure to pick up our current issue to read much more from our interview with Michael Shannon, as well as to see more photos from our exclusive photo shoot with him.]




Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published


Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.