As a past nominee for the Academy Award, Michael Shannon knows what he’s getting into at Sunday’s ceremony. And he’s thrilled to be going.
“Let’s face it, getting an Oscar nomination is just about the highest honor in our business — outside of winning the damn thing!” he quipped in a phone interview.
The entire experience “is pretty mind-blowing,” the longtime Chicago theater actor said. “People you have admired and respected since childhood are there — plus new people who are just coming on the scene, but have done some amazing work.”
Eight years after his first nomination for “Revolutionary Road,” he’s again a best supporting actor contender, this time for playing a police detective in “Nocturnal Animals.” Of the four nominees he’s up against, Shannon already has met — or already knew from past experiences — Jeff Bridges, Mahershala Ali and Dev Patel.
“But I’m really looking forward to meeting Lucas Hedges,” Shannon said. “He sure did a helluva job in ‘Manchester by the Sea.’ ”
Shannon is especially pleased that he’s been nominated for the second film directed by fashion designer Tom Ford. “He’s such a creative individual and he takes filmmaking extremely seriously. We have that in common. … People wonder why Tom’s only done two films so far — with so much time in between. That’s because he devotes a lot of time to making them. He takes a long time writing the script and a long time preparing to make the movie. He’s a perfectionist and is very careful about all aspects of the process. Films mean a lot to him. They are not some casual hobby that he does, just because he can do it. He’s out to make a statement,” said Shannon, pointing out he himself is “drawn to the passion of other artists, like Tom Ford.”
Though he’s known for darker, heavier roles like the two that caught Oscar’s eye — and even his portrayal of Zod in the “Superman” films, his serious police officer in “Freeheld” or the smoothly evil real estate man in “99 Homes” — the actor points to his early work acting and improvising in Chicago as inspiring him to infuse comedic touches even into those more dramatic performances.
“I like to have fun,” said Shannon. “I always try to find comedic elements in everything I’m doing. [In ‘Nocturnal Animals’] my character Bobby has a pretty interesting and bizarre sense of humor. He uses it to get by and cope with all the darkness that surrounds him.”
Shannon was calling from Newcastle, England, where he’s filming “The Current War,” portraying George Westinghouse in the battle with Thomas Edison (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) for control of America’s electricity grid, more than a century ago. The actor laughed as he described his time playing a number of real people in the past couple of years. “It’s really quite a gallery of characters. Of course, they really couldn’t be more different — from Elvis [Presley, in ‘Elvis & Nixon’] to George Westinghouse. But that makes it fun, and worth doing.”
Shannon cites his Chicago professional roots as being key to his success as an actor. “I’ve never been about looking at the ‘big break.’ I can’t say that’s what happened for me. It was more of a gradual, building process. …
“I did some TV in Chicago — some episodes of things like ‘Early Edition,’ and sort of matriculated from that. There has always been a big connection to the theater I do, especially in Chicago,” where Shannon co-founded his beloved A Red Orchid Theatre company. “I really believe it was those theater opportunities — especially doing plays that Tracy Letts wrote and things like that — that ultimately got me noticed and into the movie business. More than anything else, I believe it was those theater performances that opened doors for me.”
A Red Orchid is going to celebrate its 25th anniversary next season. “That’s a big deal for us — to be around for a quarter of a century. We’re trying to come up with some exciting stuff to celebrate that milestone,” said Shannon, who promised he would find some way — “though I’m not sure yet exactly how” — to be part of the celebration.
While Shannon is among the busier actors in Hollywood these days, he does try to get back to Chicago as much as he can. Along with performing at Red Orchid, his favorite local haunts — which he openly shares with filmdom pals who come to town — include making a beeline to the Green Mill to soak up some jazz and hanging out at the Old Town Ale House, “which I’d say is my favorite bar in the world,” he noted.