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Michael Shannon reconnects with director in ‘Midnight Special’

Chicago's Michael Shannon (left) and young actor Jaeden Lieberher (right) star in writer/director Jeff Nichols' "Midnight Special." | Mike Windle/Getty Images

NEW YORK — For actor Michael Shannon, making another movie with writer-director Jeff Nichols was something of a long-planned reunion. “Jeff told me about the idea for this movie when we were shooting ‘Take Shelter,’ ” said the actor.

Shannon smiled as he explained Nichols originally only said “he wanted to do a chase movie with me. He said it was set at night and it would be very dark — but he didn’t mention anything about the kid.”

That kid is the character Alton, played by Jaeden Lieberher as a young boy who possesses strange powers. A religious cult is convinced Alton is the new messiah. High-level U.S. government officials believe the boy’s powers are extremely dangerous and border on him being some kind of human weapon.

The duality of the screenplay — mixing science fiction elements with faith-based imagery — intrigued Shannon, who immediately liked the finished script when Nichols sent it to him.

“It also continued Jeff’s fascination about the relationship between parents and children. I believe ‘Midnight Special’ is another kind of chapter in that journey for him,” added the actor, who frequently returns to Chicago to appear in plays at his beloved Red Orchid Theatre.

Playing Alton’s father Roy and working opposite Lieberher was something of a journey for him as well.

“Jaeden Lieberher is on a meteoric rise. Heck, he started out working with Bill Murray and Naomi Watts in ‘St. Vincent,’ and because of that he gets more and more opportunities — like this film.”

Shannon noted that Lieberher was central to the entire movie working. “Without the right kid, you don’t have a film. It’s as simple as that. … Jeff had to find the kid who could make you actually buy into this scenario — accepting him as being kind of otherworldly, connected to some other reality and spirituality.”

The actor made the point that “it’s easy to find kids who are cute and can make you laugh. But to find a kid with the kind of gravitas and depth that Jaeden possesses is rare.”

Joel Edgerton plays a state trooper named Lucas, one of Roy’s oldest friends. In the film, Lucas is swept up in the chase aspect of the movie — helping Roy as he’s on the run with Alton, attempting to flee both the religious sect members and the government agents.

Edgerton said he loved the fact “Midnight Special” has a number of sci-fi angles, but “they are not like the way we see them in so many other sci-fi movies. … So often it’s cases where the earthlings have to defend Earth from the evil aliens. I quite like how every now and then a science-fiction movie comes along that says something about the harmony in the universe — that different kinds of people can get along with each other.

“This is one that’s more in the world of ‘The Abyss’ — the idea that there’s something greater out there, that’s not going to try to rip your heads off.”