CATEGORIES Movie NewsThe last thing you expect to hear when you're heading to interview Michael Shannon, the intense actor from "Boardwalk Empire," "Premium Rush," and "Revolutionary Road," is his singing. This is especially true given the movie we're here to talk about: "The Iceman," a grim, based-on-real-life thriller about Richard Kuklinski, a mafia-affiliated hitman who claimed to have murdered dozens of people in his career. (His story was infamously chronicled in two "Iceman" HBO documentaries that aired in 1991 and 2001.)
It turns out that Shannon had been up until 6 a.m. (you read that right) the night before, and was feeling agreeably loopy. During much of the interview, the actor was trying to free a pair of gummy bears that had been lodged at the bottom of a tiny glass jar. At one point, he got up to get a spoon so that the gummy bears could finally be his.
All this made for an interesting conversation that covered, "The Iceman" (of course), wetting one's pants in reaction to "Man of Steel" (where he plays another villain: General Zod), who would win in a fight between the Iceman and Iron Man, and the surprising role that "Starman" played in his life.
Moviefone: So the first question is, did you watch that HBO documentary of Kuklinski? Michael Shannon: Did you watch it? How old were you?
I don't know, 13. Were you scared?
Yeah, but even back then I felt like he wasn't exactly telling the truth. Did you believe everything that he said? No. If you pay attention, he contradicts himself left and right. Everyone thinks that he didn't care about what he did. But I think that people who think that aren't paying very close attention. I think he suffered a great deal.
He says in the interview he killed between 100 and 200 people. What are you supposed to do with that information? At the end of the day, what difference does it make? If he killed one person, he's a killer. If you kill somebody, you kill somebody. Nobody should kill anyone. Its one of the Ten Commandments.
What informed your performance? I thought he was an unfortunate human being. It was a lot of rage, anger, and violence, surrounding a core of genuine tenderness. And I found that heartbreaking. There was a shred of decency within him. People call him a sociopath but I don't think he was without morality or awareness. I would never exonerate his behavior. In one sense he's a total creep. But I don't think it was easy for him. I think he really sweated bullets most of his life.
Getting that humanity across must have been hard. It was uncomfortable. It was painful. It was a very difficult shoot. There was never a day when I went into work and I thought, 'Thank God I don't have to do anything hard today.' Every day, I had to do something difficult. But I was happy to do it because I felt like the story was important. People say that there shouldn't be movies that have violence in them or that we're informing the youth culture how to behave this way. I don't really buy it. Our movie is successful in that it doesn't glamorize violence. It shows how excruciating this lifestyle is.
It's fun to see who pops up. Did you warn these actors? They were all game for it. Stephen Dorff, me and him go way back. It was a good thing we play brothers because we kind of have that relationship. And he's such a great guy. He came in and was banging his head against the window so hard he had this big huge knot on his head. They literally couldn't do anymore takes. That's how passionate he was about connecting with the material. Thankfully the first take he did was absolutely perfect and we didn't need to do anymore.
What is your approach to villains -- Iceman is a villain, Zod is a villain. Did you approach these in similar ways? To me, there's very little similarity between Kuklinski and Zod. The only similarity is that they're both willing to kill. Zod is very orthodox and upright. Zod is not a warmonger, he's not a hitman. He's just somebody who loves Krypton. That's who he is. His favorite thing in the universe is Krypton and he's spent his whole life defending Krypton. All he thinks about, day and night, is Krypton -- I want Krypton to be great, what can I do to help Krypton? Kuklinski is like a lone gunman. All he's trying to do is kill enough people so he can pay his bills.
Have you seen "Man of Steel" yet? I saw it a week ago.
What'd you think? I was wetting my pants I was so excited. It was one of the most bad-ass things I've ever seen in my life. It actually took my mind off the fact that the world is ending. Which is huge, because I'm always thinking about how the world is ending.
What was so cool? I'm not telling you. When you see it you'll say, "Oh, I remember Shannon said it was the coolest thing at the Astoria." And you'll be like 'Yeah, he was right.'
You're in Jeff Nichols's "Mud," and you're going to be in his new movie, "Midnight Special." Do you know who you're going to play? I'm playing the Bruce Boxleitner role. Like "Scarecrow and Mrs. King" but on a different level. It's going to be me and Kate Jackson... Actually I can't say anything about this movie because it's super-duper secret but it involves cooking.
Well he says it's inspired by "Starman." Did he say it's inspired by "Starman?"
Yes. I haven't said this to Jeff, but "Starman" was the first movie I saw that I realized what acting was. It was the first time I sat in a movie theater and watched a movie and thought the people in the movie were doing something special. I didn't take it for granted and say, "Oh, that's Princess Leia and Chewbacca." I thought, "That guy isn't really an alien and what he's doing is really special." I was in Valparaiso, Indiana. I'll never forget that as long as I live.
How old were you? I never remember that. I never know how old I am or what year it is. I barely remember what year I was born.
Did it inspire you to become an actor? When I was a little boy it was the farthest thing from my mind. I was actually into music a long time before that, and I thought I would become an architect. But it was the first time I noticed acting. That these people were doing something. That I wasn't just watching Princess Leia; it made sense to me that this is hard. That what they're doing is difficult. It takes effort.
You're doing John McNaughton's new movie. That's cool. Yeah, he deserved another whack at it. He's a very sweet man. I admire him hugely. I'm from Chicago, basically, and I was in Chicago when "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" came out. He's a Chicago legend. So when they called up and said, 'John McNaughton wants to work with you,' it was a no-brainer. Even though he hadn't done anything in a while.
Your movie opens on Friday. Another movie with the word "man" in the title opens on Friday. Who would win in a fight: Iceman or Iron Man? I should make the delineation between me and the actual Kuklinski. He would strike fear into the heart of anyone - he was huge, he was massive. Kuklinski would definitely kill Robert Downey Jr. The difference between Downey is that there isn't really an Iron Man. I mean, I could get Kuklinski in to sub for me. He could put the iron on, but Kuklinski would still kill him.
"The Iceman" hits theaters in limited release Friday, May 3.