The Man of Steel's Michael Shannon Gets Scary in The Iceman
Dressed sharply in a tight-fitting purple three-piece suit, Michael Shannon isn’t as intimidating as you might think. Based on his acting work and the level of intensity he brings, you expect to meet a brooding artist, but Shannon is actually quite shy, unintentionally funny, and full of wonder.
To his surprise, he has become one of the most revered actors working today. Before he plays the iconic Kryptonian super-villain Zod in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, Shannon takes on the role of New Jersey’s most notorious contract killer Richard Kuklinski in the ‘70s crime drama The Iceman (review here) from director Ariel Vromen.
DC: Let’s start at the beginning: Why this film, and had you been knowledgeable about The Iceman before?
MS: No, I didn’t know who Kuklinski was; I’d never heard of him. Ariel [Vromen] was an acquaintance of mine and he gave me the script, and once I read it and said I was curious about the project, he recommended that I watch some of the interview that you can find on YouTube. You can find little pieces of it. Yeah, when I saw [Kuklinski] being interviewed, I thought he was a very fascinating person and it’d be a great challenge to try and play the part.
DC: Are you one of those people who dreads the words “based on a true story” or one who becomes more interested?
MS: I think it raises the level of difficulty a little bit. I mean, if it’s just left to your imagination, it feels, for me anyway, harder to fail because how can you judge my imagination? It’s my imagination. But this is something that actually happened. But what’s even doubly more difficult about it is that it’s based on a true story but no one knows what the true story is. The true story has never really been told, even by the person who it happened to. So that’s what makes it even more fascinating. It’s a combination of docudrama and pure imagination. It’s like a detective story.
DC: Did it bother you playing this role? I know you only filmed for thirty days, but during that time period did you kind of take it home a little bit?
MS: Well, I did a great thing. The house I was staying in, they had these... they’re like the old fashioned video games from the Eighties, but it’ll be one game that has every game from the Eighties on it. It’s got Pac-Man, Galaga, BurgerTime, Missile Command, it’s got like forty different games. So I would shoot this movie all day and then I’d go home and play video games. Arkanoid, Space Invaders... until I was standing there falling asleep and then I would go to bed.
DC: Do you think you’d ever do a movie based on a video game?
MS: I’d definitely do a Space Invaders movie. I’d like to move right to left like that, just all day long, that’s your job. Just standing there with your gun.
DC: How did you and Winona create the chemistry you had onscreen?
MS: That’s always such a mysterious question. When I did Take Shelter with Jessica [Chastain], it’s like, you show up, you’re complete and total strangers, and then the next day you’re married. I think you just go on instinct; I mean you really don’t have much else to go on. You have to make each other feel comfortable and say, 'Look, whatever you want to do is fine by me.' I think that’s the biggest thing with any people acting together is that you’re worried the other person is going to judge you or not like what you’re doing or think you’re letting them down. But Winona, I was nervous to act with Winona Ryder. I mean, she’s Winona Ryder; she’s one of the biggest movie stars of the last twenty years, and I’ve seen her in countless films. Honestly, it blew my mind that she was playing the part. What’s so amazing is when she shows up, she’s so little and fragile and you just immediately want to protect her or take care of her. It’s not like she can’t take care of herself, she’s a very strong person, obviously. My initial instinct was, 'I’ve gotta make sure she’s okay.' Also, she came halfway through the shooting of the movie. We shot all the crime stuff first. We did the Demeo stuff and then the Mr. Freezy stuff so she was kind of new and everyone else already knew each other, and that can be very awkward when you show up and everyone already has a relationship.
DC: Wasn’t he so successful because he needed that facade and she was so good at keeping up that facade?
MS: Exactly. I think if he never found her and didn’t get married, he would have been in jail a lot sooner. She also gave him something to live for. The first time you see him kill somebody in the movie, it’s not even a hit. It’s some dude that pisses him off over Deborah, so you can see how strong... When he finds her, he knows that she is everything to him, that without her... he said this in the interview. She was the only woman [Kuklinski] felt that way about. In a way, as creepy as this whole thing is, it’s kind of romantic.
DC: What you do well with the character is going from zero to sixty with your emotions; you do that with Kuklinski very well. And you also do it really well with that sorority reading of the letter.
MS: Oh, thank you.
DC: Absolutely hilarious. Where do you have to go to get that intensity and bring that kind of performance to the screen?
MS: Well, ultimately you just have to be very thoughtless about it. A lot of times what’ll hang you up when you’re trying to act is your brain. You start thinking, ‘Oh, this isn’t right. I shouldn’t move my hand that way; that’s gonna look stupid.’ And that’s all your brain. You do this long enough and you realize that your brain is your worst enemy when you’re trying to act. So you just have to... you just don’t think about it. I try to literally just be as empty in my head as possible except for paying attention to what’s going on around me. People always think, ‘Oh, I have to write my character’s diary and know what he had for lunch when he was three years old.’ That’s all just intellectual hoo-ha. It’s what’s surrounding you and what other people are doing, and if you’re really paying attention to that, then you can react, and that’s where it comes from.
DC: Could you talk a little bit about your next movie, Man of Steel? We’re all really excited for it.
MS: Well, Superman is about a man that can fly and he’s very strong. And he can shoot laser beams out of his eyes. And that’s about all I can say about it.
The Iceman is playing now in select theatres.
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The Iceman is the true story of Richard Kuklinski: loving husband, devoted father, ruthless killer. He is believed to have killed more than 250 people between 1954 and 1985.
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