News Column

In 'Man of Steel,' Michael Shannon Is a Long Way From Home

June 14, 2013


This weekend's big summer superhero blockbuster movie finds Lexington native Michael Shannon in an unusual place: the middle of a big summer superhero blockbuster movie.

Shannon, who first cut his acting teeth at Actors Guild of Lexington and other Central Kentucky stages before heading to Chicago and the silver screen, usually shows up in smaller independent films like "Mud" and "The Iceman."

But in "Man of Steel," he plays Superman's chief nemesis, General Zod, in a film that aims to launch the iconic superhero back to cinematic prominence next to "Batman" and "The Avengers."

Just don't expect fanboy giddiness about the gig from Shannon, 38. During a phone interview in April, he was characteristically cool.

"I don't know," he said, "in terms of the hoopla around it, I keep my head down; try not to pay too much attention to it. I'm honestly so busy with other things, working on 'Boardwalk' (the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire"), I've got a play this summer, I've got a family, I just don't have time to sit around and get too excited about any of it. I've got to keep working."

And work Shannon has, with a number of films hitting the theaters lately. He still has time for stage work with a production of Sam Shepard's drama "Simpatico" at Shannon's A Red Orchid Theatre in Chicago in July and August.

Shannon's unimpressed veneer should not be translated as disdain. This is not an art-house snob who deigned to do a potential blockbuster.

In fact, Shannon says one of the reasons he wanted to do the movie was to work with director Zack Snyder, known for his work on "Watchmen" (2009), "300" (2006) and "Sucker Punch" (2011).

"He's got a phenomenal visual sensibility that I really appreciate," Shannon says. Before seeing the "Man of Steel" finished product, Shannon said, "I think the movie's going to look incredible, at the very least. And I think the rest of it will be pretty strong too."

The superhero franchise film is unfamiliar territory, but Shannon is in a familiar role: the bad guy. In fact, an article in the current issue of Rolling Stone calls Shannon "Hollywood's go-to villain," citing his recent performances as a contract killer in "The Iceman" and a disgraced government agent in "Boardwalk Empire." He earned an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor in 2009 for playing a troubled man in "Revolutionary Road" with searing insights in the lives of the lead couple, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The winner that year in his category was the late Heath Ledger for playing The Joker in "The Dark Knight," one of the rare times a superhero film has taken home a major Oscar.

In Zod, "Man of Steel" has Shannon playing one of Superman's fellow Kryptonians, a man who believes they should unite in an invasion of Earth.

Shannon said making the movie was fun, but "it's still a lot of hard work, training and staging fights and whatnot. So it's serious fun."

If "Man of Steel" lives up to box office expectations, it should seriously raise Shannon's profile.


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