The ‘Boardwalk Empire’ actor talks shop and Superman, which gives him ‘the shivers.’
Michael Shannon made his motion-picture debut alongside Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” but his career really didn’t take off until 2008, when his supporting performance as the mentally unstable acquaintance of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in “Revolutionary Road” was honored with an Academy Award nomination.
The roles have grown in size ever since, from “Jonah Hex” to two films with the legendarily idiosyncratic director Werner Herzog in “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” and “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done.” The most notable, however, has been his good-guy role as Agent Nelson Van Alden on HBO’s Emmy-winning “Boardwalk Empire.”
Earlier this week, Shannon talked to Gazette about “Boardwalk,” now airing its second season, and the project that threatens to take his star into the stratosphere: the Superman reboot in which he plays the Man of Steel’s Kryptonian nemesis, General Zod.
R&R: “Boardwalk Empire” is really the first time you've worked on a TV series other than a guest shot. Does it feel completely different than being on a movie set or is the level of quality so high that there's no difference?
Shannon: The structure of it's very different. I mean, when you do a movie, you get one script — unless there are going to be sequels or something — but you get the one script and it has a beginning, middle and an end, and you go shoot it and that's that.
But this is ... it's not like you're telling a story. It's like you're creating a whole other world, you know, that moves in every direction. And the story just keeps getting more and more twisted and complicated. I walk away from the end of the season and I have absolutely no idea what to expect. It's very mysterious.
R&R: This is sort of your time right now. I mean, “Boardwalk” is airing, “Take Shelter” is out, “13” is finally coming out on DVD. It's like Michael Shannon week! Did you ever think you would be at this point? I mean, you've worked a long time, but it's only since “Revolutionary Road” that the industry as a whole took notice. Shannon: I've always been happy just to be working, you know. It doesn't really matter for me how many people are familiar with my name or my picture or whatever. I enjoyed living in Chicago and doing plays for little or no money. And I never actually thought that I would leave Chicago originally. I wasn't one of these people that had a plan to pack up the van and drive out to Hollywood. I didn't want to. I knew other people that did that and a lot of them wound up kind of unhappy, so it kind of frightened me.
So the fact that I got to ... I guess to get to this point kind of surreptitiously is really incredibly fortunate for me, because I kind of got this without even necessarily chasing after it. I just kept doing work that I believed in and it kind of led me to this place, but I'm always very reticent to buy into any of the hype, because it goes away in the blink of any eye, you know. And you make one wrong move, you can find yourself back in obscurity.
But it's not something I'm really keeping a lot of attention to. I'm not looking at my star meter or something, you know, how many people are talking about me or something. I just keep working on things I like and hope for the best, hope people enjoy them.
R&R: Then are you prepared for the onslaught with “Man of Steel”? The press on that is going to be outrageous.
Shannon: Honestly, no. I'm not prepared for that in any way, shape or form. It gives me shivers. I'll do the best I can, but ... it's funny because it used to just be that you do the work and the work just spoke for itself. R&R: Right.
Shannon: But when you get on a project like that, obviously, it's almost like half the job is being a cheerleader for the team. You got to go around, stirring up the pot, as it were. But it's hard to do that when they tell you, "Oh, and by the way, you can't say anything about it. And the only thing you should say is, “It's really great. It's really great. I'm having such a great time and everybody's great.” That gets a little frustrating after a while.
I find it kind of funny actually, because if I didn't tell you anything about Superman, but I asked you, “Tell me what happens in Superman,” I bet you could probably tell me the whole story. I mean, it's kind of like saying, “I'm not supposed to talk about the Pledge of Allegiance.” It's kind of silly.
R&R: Has Agent Nelson Van Alden become a favorite character of yours because you've worked with him so long or do you have another that stands out for you more?
Shannon: Well, I get pretty attached to the majority of the characters I play. I mean, I can't help myself, but the thing with Van Alden is, I always look forward to seeing what's going to be next, and that's a very different experience than anything else I've done.
But I do have a lot of sympathy for him. I think Van Alden has a very hard life and I feel for him. And a lot of people will stop me and say, “Oh, I watch ‘Boardwalk Empire.’ I love the show, you're good on it, but I hate your character. He's such as asshole." It’s a little upsetting, so I say, "Why do you think he's a bad guy?" I mean, is it so hard to understand what happened to him or is he too opaque or something?
Because when I look at him, he makes me really sad. He tried really hard to do the right thing and he failed, and then he kind of went off the tracks. But, yes, the character seems to illicit some really negative feelings from people, which makes me a little defensive sometimes.
R&R: What’s next for you?
Shannon: Let's see, I've got the two films out right now, “Take Shelter” and “Machine Gun Preacher,” and “Take Shelter,” I'm really excited about people seeing that, because I think it's pretty good. “Machine Gun Preacher” is all right, too.
Let's see, I did a movie called “Premium Rush” with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, which I think is coming out next summer. But right now, I'm just shooting “Man of Steel” all the way up until February, and then (season three of) “Boardwalk Empire” starts in February, so there's not a lot of downtime there. —Rod Lott
Harjo to be honored with state film award Saturday.
Oklahoma City Museum of Art has a slew of interesting documentaries, both shorts and feature-length, lined up between Thursday and Saturday for its American Indian Cinema Showcase.
If you can attend only one night, why not Saturday, when the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle will honor state filmmaker Sterlin Harjo pictured with an award? Here are the full details in the form of a press release, complete with quotes of things I didn’t really say. (Oh, those PR peeps!) —Rod Lott
Oklahoma Film Critics Circle Honors Sterlin Harjo with Award for Achievement in Film
Oklahoma City, Nov. 1, 2011 — The Oklahoma Film Critics Circle has honored filmmaker Sterlin Harjo with the 2011 Tilghman Award celebrating achievement in cinema in the state.
The OFF will present Harjo with the Tilghman Award in a short ceremony Friday, Nov. 5, after a screening of his most recent works, a series of documentary shorts for Tulsa’s This Land Press. The screening, which begins at 5:30 p.m., will be at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art as part of the museum’s American Indian Cinema Showcase from Nov. 3 to Nov. 5.
Harjo, a 31-year-old member of the Seminole and Creek Nations, has earned international acclaim for films examining contemporary life of Native people. But his feature-length narratives – “Four Sheets to the Wind” in 2007 and “Barking Water” in 2009 – are emotionally rich motion pictures populated by complex characters.
“Sterlin’s films are invested with a humanity and depth of emotion that eludes many of his older, more experienced peers,” says OFCC President Rod Lott. “In a short period of time, Sterlin has really raised the bar for Oklahoma filmmakers. He more than deserves the Tilghman for his commitment to his art.”
OFCC’s 19 member critics choose as recipients of the award those individuals who have made significant contributions to film, advanced awareness of film in Oklahoma or highlighted Oklahoma as the home of talented and productive filmmakers, actors and others in the industry.
Raised in Holdenville and now living in Tulsa, Harjo began his filmmaking career while he was an art student at the University of Oklahoma. He credits a film class of Misha Nedeljkovich there with introducing him to the motion pictures of John Cassavetes and other independent-minded directors.
“It really opened my eyes to foreign films and independent films,” Harjo says. “He (Nedeljkovich) introduced me to all these different filmmakers and … the fact that you could make your own kind of film and it didn’t have to be like the stuff you see coming out of Hollywood.”
After launching into film, Harjo was selected to the Sundance Institute Filmmaker Lab. There he met producer Chad Burris, a Weatherford native, and the pair collaborated on a short film, “Goodnight Irene,” before tackling a larger project based on Harjo’s screenplay.
That resulting work, “Four Sheets to the Wind,” premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. The film tells the story of a young man named Cufe Smallhill (Cody Lightning) who goes to live with his troubled sister after the death of their father. The movie drew strong critical acclaim and earned a Sundance Special Jury Prize for Tamara Podemski, who portrayed Cufe’s sister. The actress later earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for her performance.
In 2009, Harjo wrote and directed “Barking Water,” a haunting road film about a dying man and his ex-lover traveling across Oklahoma to visit the man’s estranged son. The movie also premiered at Sundance and has been screened around the world.
“I just don’t see myself making films about any other place,” Harjo says. “I mainly tell stories about contemporary Native people from specific tribes — usually Seminole and Creek — and the history of those tribes are that they were displaced from their homeland and put in Oklahoma. There’s a whole dynamic there that’s already created; it’s already complex, and it’s already going to influence my storytelling.”
Previous Tilghman Award recipients are documentary filmmaker Bradley Beeseley, Oklahoma City Museum of Art film curator Brian Hearn and Circle Cinema Foundation president Clark Wiens.
The Tilghman Award is named for William Matthew “Bill” Tilghman, widely credited with being the first individual to make a feature-length movie in what is now Oklahoma. He served as a deputy U.S. marshal and police chief in Oklahoma City, among other law-related positions. Tilghman also served as a state senator. In 1908, he made “A Bank Robbery,” which starred real-life bank robber Al Jennings recreating one of his crimes.
It was the first of several films Tilghman set in the state. In 1915, the lawman-turned-filmmaker made “Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws,” again starring actual criminals and the good guys who chased them. He is known for his attempts to deglamorize the outlaw villain and for striving to prove there are no outlaw heroes.
As if the balconies at our local Warren Theatre weren’t nifty enough, the Moore multiplex is introducing “a new way to watch movies”: the upper-level Director’s Suites, starting Friday, Nov. 17.
The two suites combine luxury and technology with “the intimacy of a director’s screening room,” according to a press release. Said Bill Warren, Warren Theatres president, in said release, “If you were a movie mogul, this is where you’d watch a movie.”
Here’s what makes the Director’s Suites special: • a shared private lounge; • heated seats that fully recline; and • full food and beverage service.
Ticket prices are $22 for all shows, and, just like a bar, no one under 21 will be admitted. Period. Maybe that’ll eliminate the annoyances of crying children and texting teens. A man can dream! —Rod Lott
Your forecast for ‘Take Shelter’: sustained tension with a 100 percent chance of palpable unease. Armpit precipitation possible.
Drama Rod Lott
Rain the color and viscosity of fluids found in barrels at Jiffy Lube
falls from the sky in the opening moments of “Take Shelter,” serving as a
dark harbinger of things to come. Right out of the gate, this act of
weird weather alerts the audience that something bad is going to happen,
and the calm before the storm will be anything but serene.
On the menu: the Okie TV travelers’ greatest hits.
Here’s a Thanksgiving treat that won’t affect your waistline: A special edition of the TV travel series “Two Wheel Oklahoma” premieres at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The show is intended to be a “best of” episode, featuring eight clips from past excursions around the Sooner State, including stops in Arcadia, Watonga, Sapulpa, Spavinaw (Spavinaw?) and more. “Two Wheel Oklahoma” follows motorcyclists Brad Mathison and Rex Brown as the head out on the highways and back roads.
Set your TiVo for the Cox Channel (HD channel 703 or SD channel 3). For more information, visit twowheeloklahoma.com. —Rod Lott
Now that holiday season is into full swing, I’m going to start pimping some DVD releases that should not be overlooked for gift possibilities. While not for everyone, certainly there’s somebody on your list who might appreciate such a disc.
We start with the “Official 2011 World Series Film,” which hit stores yesterday. I don’t follow sports, but friends who do tell me this year’s World Series was a big deal, especially if you were rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals. From what I understand, they had one helluva season, and one that began in a less-than-favorable way. But turnaround after turnaround resulted in — spoiler alert! — the team beating the Texas Rangers and walking off with its 11th series championship, a franchise record.
“Official 2011 World Series Film” relives that championship season in a documentary format that features highlights, interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, all narrated by “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm, whose mere voice turns women to Silly Putty.
‘Hugo’ is Martin Scorsese’s love letter to the cinema.
Drama Phil Bacharach
Martin Scorsese loves movies. Anyone familiar with the director of
“Raging Bull” and “The Departed” knows he worships at the altar of film.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that Scorsese would make a love letter
to the art form in which he immersed himself from his days as a sickly
child growing up on New York’s mean streets.