Michael Shannon: the interview

The ‘Take Shelter’ actor is ready to break into a wider, wilder world

Michael Shannon: the interview

Michael Shannon in ‘Take Shelter’. (C) 2011 GROVE HILL PRODUCTIONS LLC All Rights Reserved.

Leaning forward, elbows on his knees, Michael Shannon, 37, wants to get something absolutely right. ‘You just asked me something interesting, and I thought I gave you a really shitty answer,’ he says. (His answer wasn’t shitty at all.) The actor and Red Hook resident, clad in a Jesus Lizard T-shirt, now screws down and almost whispers a clarification.

‘I’m an environmentalist,’ says Shannon. ‘I always have been, since I was a kid. The notion that you could ignore the state of the earth never made any sense to me. If you can’t breathe, can’t drink the water, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got health care or education. How do you take life seriously and care about things, knowing that everything is so fragile?’

Take Shelter, Shannon’s latest, is poetic proof of his convictions, by way of a Twilight Zone–esque nightmare. An unshakable sensation at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, the movie (featuring a showstopping performance by its star) concerns a humble Ohio construction driller and family man, Curtis, who begins to suspect an apocalyptic storm is nearing. His job performance slides, the visions get more intense, and out come plans for a backyard bunker under the sod. But is it all in his head?

‘Jeff’s not crazy,’ says Shannon of Take Shelter’s writer-director, Arkansas-born Jeff Nichols, a previous collaborator on 2007’s Shotgun Stories. ‘He’s a very normal, down-to-earth guy who was simply experiencing some anxiety about moving on to the next phase of his life: getting married, having kids, being a man. So to think Curtis is just someone suffering with mental illness, I think, sells the story short.’

And still, the thought might cross a sensible viewer’s mind, as birds coalesce into hypnotic patterns on the horizon and a sympathetic wife (The Tree of Life’s Jessica Chastain) cracks with worry. There’s also the echo of Shannon having made his breakthrough with an Oscar-nominated performance as John, the sympathetic but unwell decrier of suburban coziness in 2008’s Revolutionary Road. ‘Yes, they can’t express themselves and they’re alone in their condition,’ the actor concedes. ‘But I think if it were up to Curtis, he wouldn’t be having these dreams. I think John kind of enjoyed his affliction.’

Shannon, meanwhile, seems to be taking his skyrocketing career in calm stride. ‘Nothing really feels like it happened too quickly,’ says the 20-year stage veteran of Ionesco, Beckett, Tracy Letts and Theater of the Absurd; his future includes at least another season on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and a plum part as General Zod in the forthcoming Man of Steel. (‘Yes, I know what happens,’ he says coyly.)

As for that night at the Oscars, even the memory of a nonwin makes him giddy. ‘You look across the aisle, and there’s Brad and Angie. And they shake your hand and ask you if you’re having a nice time.’

Take Shelter opens on March 24. Read our four-star review

By Joshua Rothkopf
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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