Michael Shannon On ‘Nocturnal Animals,’ ‘Loving’ And Guillermo Del Toro’s Pitch [Interview]

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TORONTO – Michael Shannon has been everywhere this year. Over the past nine months he’s had nine movies either debut at a film festival or hit theaters (and we’re not even counting his corpse cameo in “Batman v Superman”). Earlier this month he took some time after the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of “Nocturnal Animals” to discuss Tom Ford’s latest directorial effort, Jeff Nichols’ “Loving” (which also screened at the festival) and more. Shannon is very well aware of his bountiful 12 months. Before we even sat down to formally start the interview he volunteers, “I’m very fortunate to have films here I’m very fortunate to be associated with.”

READ MORE: Love Finds Justice In First Trailer For Jeff Nichols’ ‘Loving’ With Joel Edgerton & Ruth Negga

Based on Austin Wright’s novel “Tom and Susan,” ‘Animals’ follows two related narratives. The first – in present day – centers on Susan (Amy Adams), a well off museum curator whose longtime husband (Armie Hammer) is running out of money and cheating on her. Her Hollywood Hills world is disrupted after her first husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) sends her his latest manuscript. She can’t stop reading the novel that centers on Tony (Gyllenhaal again), a man is powerless to stop his wife and daughter (Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber) from being kidnapped right in front of him by some West Texas thugs (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Karl Glusman). Shannon plays Bobby Andres, a police detective assigned to Tony’s case.

The performance is one of Shannon’s best, but before we tackle that I have to start the conversation by asking about the 2016 Karlovy Vary Film Festival this past July. It was my first year there and Shannon was a surprise presenter during the event’s televised closing ceremony (his film “Complete Unknown” also screened there).

READ MORE: Secrets Don’t Die For Amy Adams & Jake Gyllenhaal In The First Trailer For ‘Nocturnal Animals’

Gregory Ellwood: So what did you think of that incredible closing ceremony? [You can watch a video of the opening number embedded in this post]

Michael Shannon: Oh my god. With the horses? That was f–king nuts man. Me and Kate, we were just slack jawed. That is unbelievable. That puts everything like the Academy Awards to shame. It’s a production. I had a blast. I really loved it. I wasn’t there very long. I mean, it was a weekend getaway for us, but yeah, I like going to festivals. It’s fun.

It was one of the more amazing events I’ve ever seen at a film festival, but let’s talk about “Nocturnal.” How did Tom pitch you the role? Or did he just send you the script?

He sent a script and then I met with him in New York. He didn’t have to twist my arm. Right when I read it Bobby just jumped off the page at me. There are just certain parts that for whatever reason you have some sort of harmonious convergence with. And it’s strange because I’m not really anything like that guy. But I just felt like I understood him and I definitely wanted to play him. He did not have to twist my arm.

The story you are part of is sort of an allegory or part of Amy’s character’s imagination of what had happened in the past between her and Edward. When I chatted with Aaron earlier today he said the character is supposed to be a metaphor for Armie’s character. Does that hold true for Bobby? Who is the detective? Is he supposed to represent anything?

The way I look at Bobby is he is kind of an angel. He’s like Clarence in ‘A Wonderful Life’ where he comes down to basically take Jake’s character by the hand and try to lead him out of the forest of this hell that he’s endured. But what’s so lovely about it is that he doesn’t seem anything like an angel at all. He’s sort of a decrepit hard ass. Grumpy pants. But that’s the way I look at it. I don’t’ think he actually has an analogous character in the real lives of Amy and Jake’s characters.

Y’know the book is not just Susan’s experience with it, but it’s also what Edward wrote in order to heal himself. So, Bobby is that thing we all wish we had. He’s the thing Tony whishes he had when he was watching his wife and daughter walk away in that car. So, Bobby’s gonna be hard to find an analogous person for. Most people are just not Bobby.

He’s fearless. He’s not afraid to die. The one thing he might be afraid of is his relationship with his daughter. That’s the crux of the issue in at least the story that unfolds in the book because I have kids and I sometimes imagine, daydream, ‘What if we were in a perilous situation like that? What would I do?’ Everyone likes to say, ‘I would die for my kids,’ but how many of them really mean it.

There was that movie a couple of years ago, ‘Force Majeure,’ where a man runs away from his family because there is an avalanche in the distance because he thinks it’s going to kill him and then there really is no avalanche. But, he’d abandoned his family thinking only of himself. These situations can be quite telling.

I think like most good stories it’s an elemental concern. It speaks to a lot of things in a lot of people.

There’s a fantastic scene in the movie where you are interrogating Karl’s character and you are so into his face up you can feel the discomfort in the audience. Was that in the script or was that a suggestion from Tom?

Its just Bobby doing his job, man. In the script the lines are there. I think the notion that Bobby is not being very nice to him are there, but in terms of what you see in that shot? That’s just the dance. Turn the camera on and see what happens. And Karl is very game for it and a good scene partner. We f–ked around a little bit. I mean, that ‘owl’ line isn’t in the script either. I just f–kin’ said it. (Laughs.)

Aaron said that because the picture shot on real film Tom would let you all f—k around sometimes to get to the end of the reel. Were there any moments that got into the movie because you screwed around for a bit?

No, no. Not so much. I think it might have been different for [Aaron and Jake] because they were really trying to create a different kind of chaos [in their scenes], that kind horrifying chaos. And I think Bobby is pretty efficient. He’s not showing off. He just wants results. There wasn’t anything like that [with me], but with Aaron’s energy in the film and what he’s trying to capture it was wise of Tom to give him some opportunities. Trying to get into the head space of someone like [Aaron’s character] is very, very difficult.

One of my other favorite scenes in the movie is when Bobby and Tony go and find Aaron’s character in a compromising position on a toilet in the middle of nowhere. In theory, Bobby is thinking, ‘Oh, he’s in this horrible place. I’m gonna come in and be in control,’ but Aaron’s character really pushes back.

It’s how it’s written, but I think Bobby is a pretty cunning guy. I don’t think the correct way to deal with that situation is to yank Ray off the toilet but then you have nowhere to go. Y’know what I mean? And what Bobby wants is information which is hard to get. So, he’s willing to string Ray along a little bit and play his little game because what he really wants is to get him to the scene of the crime and then have Edward/Tony confront him.

You’ve had an incredible year with great turns in ‘Midnight Special,’ ‘Frank and Lola’ and ‘Complete Unknown,’ and even small roles in movies such as ‘Loving’ which must have been  just a couple of days shooting right?

That was a day. We shot all that in a day. We shot it in order. The order you see it in the movie. I got there early afternoon. We shot the scene outside with the car. We shot the scene at the dinner. We shot the scene with Mildred at the sink. We shot the TV scene and that was it.

Having shot so many films over the past few years is there anything that pops out? Any moment? Or…

…is it a blur? Well, it’s also that the order in which you make these things is not the order that they tend to come out. If you look at something like ‘Midnight Special’ I made that quite awhile ago and Warner Bros. for some mysterious reason kept it in a closet for a year. With ‘Frank and Lola,’ there is a Vegas part and a Paris part. And the Vegas part was like three or three and a half weeks and then we went to Paris for a week. But ‘Elvis and Nixon’ was also coming together, so what we did was we went to Vegas shot the meat of the [‘Frank & Lola] story, did ‘Elvis and Nixon’ in its entirety and then did the Paris portion of ‘Frank and Lola’ afterward.

It would seem like that sort of schedule would f–k your head up. It’s not like you’re playing a character you can just create in ‘Elvis’ you’re playing this iconic guy.

Most people who are playing Elvis…I mean, when Joaquin played Johnny Cash or Jamie played Ray they are like, ‘I took a year and devoted my life’ and I basically had Christmas break. I was watching ‘Viva Las Vegas’ a couple of times thinking, ‘Uh, I hope this works out.’ But, yeah, that was a run of…but you know what happens is you meant people they want to work on something. You give them a handshake agreement or whatever, but they don’t have their financing so it’s this nebulous ‘Let’s see what happens’ and then all of a sudden three of them will get their money at the same time and are all like, ‘O.K., we’re ready!’ And that’s what ends up happening. This insanity of, ‘What movie am I in?’ So, I don’t want that to be the normal thing. I’m becoming a bit more fastidious about it.

It seems that even your one day showing up in ‘Loving’, which by the way is a very poignant moment in the film because you’re character is the eyes to show them to the world…

He changed their lives. That picture of them lying on that sofa watching TV is a masterpiece.

I can do it for Jeff. I mean, I feel very safe with Jeff. I trust him. I did my homework before I went in. For me that was like a haiku. I studied the guy, Grey, a fascinating guy and I was like, ‘This makes sense.’ And it was really well written that segment and it kind of just quickly encapsulates the story in a very efficient way which is sort of Jeff’s forte. Oftentimes when you just have a day or two on a movie it can be very awkward feeling like ‘Oh, everyone knows each other.’ It’s like the new kids at school feeling, but because I knew Jeff it didn’t feel that way. Plus I already knew most of the crew from his other movies.

I think your next project is Guillermo Del Toro’s new movie and I’m sure you’re under a cloud of secrecy, but is there anything he pitched you that got you excited or was it just the overall project itself?

We sat down and met in California and he said, ‘I’ve written a movie with five actors in mind.’ And he told me the five actors and I was one of them and he’s like, ‘This movie means so much to me. I’m going to move heaven and earth to get it down and I wrote this part and I really want you to do it.’ Done, yknow? I was very flattered.

“Loving” opens in limited release on Nov. 4. “Nocturnal Animals” opens in limited release on Dec. 9.

For more industry insight and Oscar buzz follow Gregory Ellwood on twitter @thegregorye

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