Michael Shannon isn't intimidating in person, as many of his characters are. Shannon is far too polite to be intimidating, but he does have a way of somehow combining intensity with a devil-may-care flippancy that, when mixed, is equal parts charming and intriguing.
An example of that dichotomy: Shannon, best known for "Boardwalk Empire," "Take Shelter," "Revolutionary Road" and countless other films, is wearing a nifty suit when I meet him at his Manhattan hotel room. By the end of this interview, that suit will be littered with the fragmented shells of the peanuts that Shannon was eating and then washing down with red wine. Again: devil-may-care.
In Shannon's new fact-based film, "The Iceman," he plays Richard Kuklinski, a man who went by the name "The Iceman," based on his lack of emotion when it came to mob-ordered murders -- murders that could top over 200.
Shannon seems a bit bewildered by the success of his new viral Internet video, in which he reads the now-infamous sorority letter -- a letter he'd never heard of until he was asked to read it. What Shannon doesn't seem bewildered by is hype behind his upcoming role as General Zod in "Man of Steel" -- a movie that he just recently saw and holds in very high regard. So high, his words of praise come off with an intensity that exceeds anything he does in the sorority letter video. In other words, I really have no choice but to believe him.
You've recently become an Internet sensation.
Funny or Die, baby! I've got to thank all of the people at Funny or Die, that was entirely their idea. I was not familiar with that letter at all; I didn't know anything about it. I've never been in a sorority. I never even went to college, really. So it was their idea.
I've watched it four times.
It's the gift that keeps on giving.
Do you like that kind of attention?
I do, although, aren't there a lot of other versions on the Internet now?
Yours is the most famous.
Nice. I've seen people, that they want to see a whole series of actors read it. Like Christopher Walken, Samuel L. Jackson ... who else would be good? Tony Danza. Tony Danza, that would be good.
He'd be great. And he kills it in the new Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie.
It's called "Don Jon."
Oh! The guy addicted to porn on the Internet, right?
I was on a morning talk show with Danza. The VH-1 Big Morning Buzz, I think. I was very starstruck when I saw him.
It's hard not to be. He was a big part of my childhood.
And he's so nice!
He's very nice.
Nicer than he has to be.
I've seen your movie twice.
You've seen "The Iceman" twice?
I saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival and again just a couple of weeks ago.
Oh, cool. Did it change?
Not that I noticed.
Sometimes they'll fiddle with it.
I'm glad I saw it again because I forgot that you dance to Blondie's "Heart of Glass."
[Laughs] Well, that definitely, even though it involves a murder, is probably the funnest scene in the movie. For sure.
"Heart of Glass" is a great song.
It is! And when we filmed that scene, [Director] Ariel [Vromen], wasn't sure he'd get the rights to it. When we were actually in the disco, they played "Heart of Glass," but Ariel said, "I may not get the rights to this song." But he got the rights. And I think it's a good theme song for Kuklinski, because I think he had a heart of glass. Underneath the gruff exterior, I think he was a fragile human being.
This man is obviously an ornery cuss, but the way you portray him, I'm kind of rooting for him at times. I shouldn't be rooting for him.
That's the way I felt when I watch interviews on HBO. To be fair, I saw the unedited interviews, which is much longer and covers a lot more terrain. But, I don't know, the guy possesses, to me -- and I may be completely delusional -- but there's a sweetness to him that comes out every once in a while. Particularly in the segment we replicate in the movie about how much he regrets hurting his family.
The man loved his family.
It's genuine. People describe him as some heartless butcher. I mean, I'm not discrediting or endorsing his decision to be a killer, one way or another.
If he were still alive, would you have wanted to meet him?
Oh, I would have been scared shitless to meet that guy. I talked to somebody who interviewed him once and they said it was one of the scariest experiences of their life ... the person I talked to said they were incredibly uncomfortable talking to him. A lot of people ask me, "What would you want to talk to him about?" I watched a 20-hour interview with the guy. I think he said what he wanted to say. I guess the question I would have asked him, honestly, is, "Look, I'm about to play you in a movie, for better or worse. And you may think I'm nothing like you. But I'm the guy they cast. So, what do you want me to know?"
Your performance in "Mud" is not what I was expecting at all. It's a little wackier than what we see you normally do.
Yeah, I honestly wish I would have even gone a little bit further than that than I did in the picture. There's a character that Jeff [Nichols] likes to put into his movies -- it's in "Shotgun Stories" -- like these Southern fried, punk-rocker types. You know what I mean? I wish I could have shaved my head and had been covered in tattoos or something, but I was basically there for two days while i was doing "Man of Steel," so I couldn't do anything too crazy.
We talked about "Man of Steel" last time I spoke to you for "Take Shelter." I feel that movie has been a long process.
It's a big buildup. I'll tell you, I saw it last Monday -- it's worth it.
The last trailer was great.
It was. It's going to blow everybody's socks off. And I know they're probably pissed off, like I'm jinxing it or something and I shouldn't say that. I'll knock on wood just out of deference to the gods, but the movie is solid. It's gonna get the job done.
This is your first big superhero movie. Was it weird going from being in that odd-looking CGI suit to seeing the final product?
It's exhilarating. It's what Zack [Snyder] promised would happen, you know? Because I remember the first couple of days I was on set, I thought This is ridiculous. I look like an idiot. I don't look anything like General Zod. I'm a total failure. I went over to the screen for playback and it was ridiculous. All of us were wearing pajamas, basically. And there was this neon green set of stairs that was supposed to be our spaceship. So you see us all marching down these neon green stairs in our pajamas and I'm like, "This looks like a Monty Python skit." And he's like, "I know right now it looks pretty silly, but, two years from now, it's going to look like the most badass thing you've ever seen in your life." And he's right.
Do you worry about the diehard comic book fans? They can be vocal.
No. I mean, it is their thing. It's not my thing. I'm not in that club. So, I have a respect for it. To people, it's like a religious experience and I don't discount that. I understand it. We're very sheltered from all that on set. I mean, yeah, if people want to know if it was a high pressure job -- it was very high pressure. And everybody felt a lot of anxiety about getting it right. But, Zack's strategy -- which is very intelligent -- is to keep everything very calm and fun and playful and not get tied up about it. Because if you get overly anxious about pleasing people, you can't make anything. You have to be relaxed and have a good time.
I've become fascinated with Detective Robert Monday.
Oh, "Premium Rush," yeah...
At times I felt like you were in a different movie than anyone else.
I feel that's what Koepp was going for -- the guy who wrote it and directed it, David Koepp. I think that's what he wanted. I mean, I really followed the lead of the script on that one. I mean, the dialogue of the way Bobby talks, was very different from how anyone else talked in the movie.
You seemed to be having fun.
Yeah, you know, anybody who comes up and says, "Why don't you ever do a comedy," or something or whatever, I say, "Well, go see 'Premium Rush'!" I was having a field day. I was cracking jokes left and right. I did improv in that movie. I made up lines and David kept them in. I mean, I was having a blast. I don't know, people are always like, "Do comedy, do comedy." I'm like, "Go see my fucking comedies!" Don't tell me to do comedies. I've done comedies. Did you ever see "Grand Theft Parsons"? That's a fucking comedy. "Did you go see it?" "No." I mean, that's the thing. A lot of the stuff that I'm best known for is the more dramatic stuff. But, you know what? I did three comedic roles for Jerry Bruckheimer! I did "Pearl Harbor," I'm comic relief. In "Bad Boys 2" I'm the fucking comic relief. And then I did "Kangaroo Jack"! Which is, I mean, for better or worse, it's ostensibly a comedy. So, I don't know what people expect. It's just the things I'm best known for tend to be the most dramatic things.
I will say, the end of "Premium Rush" takes a sharp turn when Robert Monday gets shot.
That's a dark scene.
I love that scene!
Why do you love that scene?
I just love Doyer Street. That street is like the most badass street in Manhattan. And I love the guy who shoots me. I love his face. He's got the most amazing face. And I love the visual effect they did of the blood, because that's all visual effects. It's kind of noir -- a noir scene. I love that juxtaposition, then all of the healthy, young, virile bikers come in. And you're like, "What the hell is going on?"
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.