Things are looking pretty good for Arkansas filmmaker Jeff Nichols. A quick summer shoot for his sophomore offering "Take Shelter" (starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain) lead to it being sold to Sony Picture Classics before even playing the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The quiet, occasionally startling meditation on marriage and fatherhood received rave reviews during its time at both the former festival and Cannes, picking up two prizes from the Croisette on its way out. But Nichols didn't bask in the glory for too long, as he was already busy setting up his third feature, the Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon-lead "Mud."
The "Shotgun Stories" director was kind enough to speak a bit about his upcoming feature with us during press rounds for "Take Shelter."
"We start shooting September 26. I say it's kind of like if Sam Peckinpah directed a short story by Mark Twain," the filmmaker said of his upcoming film. "It's a contemporary [story], about two fourteen year old boys who find this man hiding out on an island in the middle of the Mississippi River. They help him out. He says he killed a man in Texas and he's on the run, but he's kind of likable so they start to help him get things. McConaughey is playing the title character Mud, Witherspoon is playing Juniper, his girlfriend. Tye Sheridan [the young lead] from 'Tree of Life,' and another is a boy named Jacob that we just found in Arkansas [also star]. Ray McKenna's got a part in my new film, too. It's going to be a tricky film to make because all of the stunts and effects are practical. Shotgun shootouts, dirt bike scenes, snakes and water and all this craziness."
As for whether Shannon, star of both 'Shotgun' and 'Shelter,' would complete their unofficial trilogy (or just continue their auspicious working relationship), Nichols exclaimed, "We're trying to get him in it. He's not the lead, but he's an important character that shows up. But he's shooting 'Man of Steel' now so we're struggling to get a few days of work out of him. He'd be the uncle of one of the boys, his character would keep popping up, one that you think is just 'there' but actually ends up being more of a connective tissue in the end." It's a smaller part than their other collaborations, but any Shannon is better than no Shannon.
The "My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done" thespian was also able to drop some knowledge (sporting a Jesus Lizard shirt, no less) on his upcoming role as General Zod in the latest Superman iteration. We already know he won't be channeling Terrence Stamp, the British actor who played Zod in "Superman II," but based on his preparation, Shannon's take on the role is sounding very intriguing.
"I'm going to start from scratch, I'm certainly not going to try to do what Stamp did, because I couldn't," Shannon told us during the "Take Shelter" press day. "My starting point is just the notion of being a general and what that means. What is going through their mind? I started by studying actual generals, I went out and got a Ulysses S. Grant memoir and started trying to get a sense of that perspective and mentality of a general. I read [Sun Tzu's] 'Art of War' a little bit. The military aspect is my starting point because it's not like he's got horns coming out and he breathes fire, he was a general of Krypton, that's what he is, that's his m.o." It's safe to say we were all expecting something along the lines of exploring a certain story arc in the comic books, so this comes as an interesting surprise.
Shannon, however, seems to be taking his turn at Zod seriously. While the recent superhero plague in Hollywood recently has seen everyone and their mother considered for certain roles, that hasn't been the case for the "Boardwalk Empire" actor. "This is the first time for anything like that. I found it hard to believe that I was honestly being considered," he said earnestly. "As many films as I've done and as long as I've been in this industry, I never thought I would get to this level. You know, on a 7/11 cup, the pervasive 'everywhere-you-look' kind of thing. I was pretty shocked when I got the part. So I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself to not let anyone down." Michael, if you're on a gorgeous 7/11 chalice, consider that absurd notion something we're buying into stat.
"Take Shelter" opens September 30th, more to come from our conversations with Nichols, Shannon, and Chastain soon.