We have to confess, when considering the possibilities as to who might end up playing villain General Zod in Zack Snyder's Superman reboot "Man of Steel," Michael Shannon was never on our list. Not that he's not a fine actor -- he's one of the finest out there right now, one who goes from strength to strength with seemingly every performance. And not that he's resisted studio fare in the past -- indeed, he'll be playing a villain in the Joseph Gordon-Levitt vehicle "Premium Rush" at the start of next year. It's more that Shannon's particular brand of bug-eyed crazy is so very different from the steely fascism embodied by Terence Stamp in the character's last big-screen appearance in "Superman II."
We caught up with Shannon over the weekend in Toronto to talk about the film he has there, Jeff Nichols' "Take Shelter," and the actor let a few bits of info slip on "Man of Steel," most notably that, as you might expect, his take on the evil Kryptonian won't really be influenced by Stamp's seminal turn: "I found his performance so powerful that I would be overwhelmed by it if I tried to incorporate it into what I'm doing. There's no reason to try and replicate it cos it's perfect the way it is. I'm just trying to go down a different road with it, the script's a little bit different than the original script. It's going to have a different look and feel to it, visually. I'm looking forward to really settling into it, and playing with it."
Despite having only filmed one sequence (the actor told us that "The majority of my filming is in Vancouver, and they're still in Illinois right now. So, the lion's share of it is between now and Christmas"), he's clearly already impressed by the scale of the film, by far the biggest he's ever taken on, and a far cry from the indie films he's made his name on. "It's fascinating to watch, the process of making a movie like this, it's very intricate. There's going to be a lot of CGI and whatnot. I think anytime an actor does one of these movies for the first time, they're a little thrown off by it. You always hear actors talking about it, like 'I was wearing this funny suit, nothing I was supposed to be reacting to was really there.' To me it encourages... it's actually very childlike, it's like being in your backyard and imagining you're on a space station or something. It goes back to the original impulse of play, which is pretty funny to think about when you fathom all the money that's involved, hundreds of millions of dollars to do what you did when you were a kid."
Of course, Shannon doesn't just have the massive superhero film on his slate, having been linked since the start of the year to two smaller indie pictures: crime flick "The Iceman" with Benicio Del Toro and James Franco, and Franco's next potential directorial effort, an adaptation of William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying," which was set to shoot this summer with a cast also including Joaquin Phoenix, Richard Jenkins and Paul Dano.
However, it seems like both projects are still a ways off, although they're not exactly dead yet: "Both of those projects are kind of ethereal right now, in the way that low-budget indie film can be. You hear something's happening, and then the next day it's not. Projects like that, it's hard to believe they're actually happening til you're there and the RED cam gets switched on."
A shame, certainly, but with "Man of Steel" tying him up into 2012, it's possible that the delay may prevent him from having to drop out of those pictures. In the meantime, we'll have more from our talk about "Take Shelter," which is currently playing at Toronto, in the next few days, and we'll see how Shannon's take on General Zod works out when "Man of Steel" hits theaters on June 14, 2013. -- Interview by Christopher Schobert