Shannon brings characteristic intensity to Iceman
THE word on Michael Shannon is that he is intense. Intense to interview. Intense in his preparation for a role. Intense on the set with his fellow actors.
And it was that same intensity that made director Ariel Vroman so determined to land 6ft 4ins Shannon as Mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski, aka The Iceman.
Vroman first pitched the idea to Shannon at an Oscars party several years ago. Later they wound up in the same bar and Shannon agreed to take part in a screen test. The four-minute scene has since gone online with film buffs around the world recognising what Vroman knew: that Shannon is an incredible screen presence.
“It was an opportunity for Ariel to get a little warm-up because he wanted to make this film for such a long time,” Shannon recalls. “I think it was good to get that practice run and see what it was like. And it was a lot of fun.”
For his part Shannon was intrigued by the notion of a killer who would perform the most heinous acts without blinking an eye – and then return home to his wife and daughters.
That stone-faced, deadeyed approach to the role is Shannon’s trademark.
In everything he has done – from an early part in Groundhog Day via support in Jesus’s Son, Pearl Harbor, Revolutionary Road (a one scene performance that steals the show) and the forthcoming Man of Steel as General Zod – Shannon never wavers.
“I guess any time I take a job, I’m not afraid to dig into something, no matter how ugly it may be,” he says bluntly. “To me, that’s where the stories are: that ugly, dark, confused place. Those, unfortunately, for better or for worse, tend to be the most interesting stories. People are fascinated by them.
“Any time that you look at a portrait, it’s just a deeper understanding of whatever it is that you’re looking at. The value of making this movie is to give you some idea of what Richard Kuklinski’s life might have been like. Here’s a fellow that people are intrigued by and want to know more about. Hopefully, we’re giving them that insight.”
Indeed they do. Kuklinski not only kills without feeling, he casually cuts up his victims and stores them in a freezer. It was the part of his modus operandi that led to his nickname in the papers.
Vroman and Shannon together focus not so much on the gruesomeness of Kuklinski’s trade but on his ability to compartmentalise his life. Always a contract killer, he was never a part of the established Mafia families. And as a doting father to his children, he could step away from the day job even after carrying out the most horrendous acts.
Shannon’s on-screen wife, Deborah, is played by Winona Ryder, making a significant screen comeback. The two enjoyed a sparky chemistry with Ryder emerging from the experience as a full-on Shannon fan.
“Winona was fantastic,” says Shannon. ‘It’s a very difficult role she was playing. It’s hard for people to believe that Richard could have kept his violent job a secret from his family. That was something that Winona had to wrestle with. You feel for her every time she is on screen; you feel what she is going through.”
Says Ryder: “Michael has played unhinged characters before, but this is a very interesting portrait. It’s unique and very complicated.”
The Iceman opens today. Man of Steel opens on June 14.
ICE TEAM: Michael Shannon, left, with director Ariel Vroman and costars Winona Ryder and Ray Liotta.