A true star emerges from the shad­ows

Is Michael Shan­non the finest Amer­i­can ac­tor since Robert De Niro? Film Critic Tony Earn­shaw on Hol­ly­wood’s best kept se­cret.

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - FILM -

TWO years ago Michael Shan­non was de­servedly nom­i­nated for an Os­car as best sup­port­ing ac­tor for his role in Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Road.

The film was no­table for be­ing the on-screen re­union of Ti­tanic lovers Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet, play­ing a war­ring mar­ried cou­ple. But it was Shan­non, as a neigh­bour re­cently re­leased from the funny farm, who acted as the film’s un­com­fort­able con­science.

It was a stand-out por­trait. Shan­non ap­peared in just three key scenes but stole all of them. The award went, posthu­mously, to Heath Ledger. Such are va­garies of the busi­ness: you can’t com­pete with a corpse.

Those in the know have long claimed that 6ft3ins Shan­non has been one to watch. Like Paul Gia­matti his pres­ence in a movie is a guar­an­tee of qual­ity – not nec­es­sar­ily about the movie, but cer­tainly from the ac­tor con­cerned. What­ever “it” is, Gia­matti has it. So does Shan­non.

Still only 37, Shan­non has amassed an im­pres­sive re­sume of roles in big films with big­ger stars: Pearl Har­bor with Ben Af­fleck, Vanilla Sky with Tom Cruise, Bad Boys II with Will Smith, World Trade Cen­ter, and Bad Lieu­tenant, with Ni­co­las Cage, and Ma­chine Gun Preacher with Ger­ard But­ler. All of them head­lin­ers. All of them good-look­ing above-the-ti­tle lead­ing men. Yet Shan­non could well eclipse them all.

The Ken­tucky na­tive has been de­scribed as hav­ing the qual­i­ties of Steve Mc­queen but none of his looks. Harsh, but prob­a­bly fair. Shan­non, in re­al­ity a pleas­ant and af­fa­ble man, does not pos­sess a face that hints at nor­mal­ity. Thus his ca­reer, like Johnny Depp’s in the 90s, has been built on the quirky, the ec­cen­tric, the idio­syn­cratic and the down­right weird.

Now, af­ter 20 years in TV and film he is on the cusp of a main­stream break­through thanks to re­cent work for Werner Her­zog (as a ma­t­ri­ci­dal ac­tor in My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done and in Bad Lieu­tenant), in The Run­aways, a biopic of the 70s all-girl punk band in which he played rock ‘n’roll grotesque Kim Fowley, the wacked-out Sven­gali who moulds the girls, and a trio of new projects.

He’s cur­rently to be seen in HBO hit Board­walk Em­pire as the strait-laced Agent Nel­son Van Alden op­po­site Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thomp­son and in the doom-laden Take Shel­ter. Com­ing up is Man of Steel, yet an­other re­boot of the Su­per­man fran­chise. Things are about to change in a big way.

He ar­rived in the UK to at­tend the Lon­don Film Fes­ti­val last month fresh from shoot­ing the $175m Man of Steel. In the film Shan­non plays über vil­lain Gen­eral Zod, pariah son of Kryp­ton and an­other in his grow­ing gallery of movie mon­sters. He takes over from Ter­ence Stamp who played him in the 1970s. Those are big boots to fill. Shan­non smiles a crooked smile.

“Def­i­nitely, yeah. Very in­tim­i­dat­ing. I’ve been pur­pose­fully not watch­ing the old ones be­cause it’s just too much pres­sure.”

Shan­non has been at the heart of block­busters be­fore – seek out Pearl Har­bor as ev­i­dence. But this time he’s not so much a by­stander as a build­ing block. Man of Steel will be his en­tré to global au­di­ences. Yet, like con­tem­po­raries such as Philip Sey­mour Hoff­man, he ap­pears hap­pier in quasi in­die fare like Take Shel­ter, a sig­nif­i­cant hit at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val.

“The char­ac­ter I play, Cur­tis, is hav­ing dreams or night­mares about a storm. There’s no ev­i­dence that there’s ac­tu­ally a storm com­ing, but he keeps hav­ing them night af­ter night and even­tu­ally he can­not ig­nore them any more.

“The dreams that Cur­tis is hav­ing are a po­etic metaphor for this gen­eral sense of uncer­tainty and in­sta­bil­ity that it seems like a lot of peo­ple are hav­ing to deal with, you know? And how do you ac­cept that and not let it over­whelm your life?” Take Shel­ter is not your com­mon or gar­den dis­as­ter flick which, one as­sumes, is what drew Shan­non to it. He nods.

“A lot of films about the apoc­a­lypse or the end of the world are very sen­sa­tion­al­is­tic. Like the aliens are com­ing down and there are peo­ple run­ning around with guns try­ing to stop them. They are usu­ally set in very big cities. This is set in a very small ru­ral area.”

Shan­non and Take Shel­ter keep ev­ery­one guess­ing. Is the storm real or in his mind? Is he mad? Where will the jour­ney take him?

“[The end­ing] is def­i­nitely a head-scratcher, yeah,” he smiles. “The end­ing can be frus­trat­ing for peo­ple. But it will give you a lot to think about...”

Take Shel­ter (15) is on na­tion­wide re­lease from to­day.

ONE TO WATCH: Michael Shan­non’s ca­reer is “on the cusp of a main­stream breakthrough”.

THOUGHT-PRO­VOK­ING: Michael Shan­non in a scene from Take Shel­ter, “not your com­mon or gar­den dis­as­ter flick”.

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