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Michael Shannon Tells It Like It Is: How the Actor Played a ‘Broken Down Angel’ in ‘Nocturnal Animals’ — Consider This

The two-time Oscar nominee explains his attraction to playing hard-to-crack characters and why it took Tom Ford seven years to make his second film, "Nocturnal Animals."

Michael Shannon Nocturnal Animals

Michael Shannon in “Nocturnal Animals”

Merrick Morton/Focus Features


Eight years have passed since Michael Shannon’s first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, picked up for his performance in 2008’s “Revolutionary Road,” and in that time Shannon has become one of the busiest actors in Hollywood, starring in more than 35 feature films.

Shannon recently earned his second Best Supporting Actor nod for Tom Ford’s 2016 dramatic thriller “Nocturnal Animals,” which sees the actor playing a chain-smoking detective named Bobby Andes who’s tasked with investigating a horrific crime.

READ MORE: ‘Nocturnal Animals’ Review: Tom Ford’s Ambitious Second Feature Is a Two-Hander With Bite

Shannon’s Andes exists in a story within a story, as “Nocturnal Animals” revolves around a manuscript sent to a wealthy art gallery owner named Susan, played by Amy Adams. The movie shifts back and forth between the events of Susan’s actual life and a live-action depiction of the contents of the manuscript. Adapted by Ford, “Nocturnal Animals” is based on the 1993 Austin Wright novel “Tony and Susan.”

The role of Andes required Shannon to assume the hard-nosed instincts of a Texas lawman trying to bring criminals to justice, while also showing compassion for a grief-stricken husband and father, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. In the film, Gyllenhaal’s character Tony watches his wife and daughter get kidnapped right before his eyes.

Michael Shannon and Jake Gyllenhaal in “Nocturnal Animals”

Merrick Morton/Focus Features

“I could relate to the plight of that character,” Shannon told IndieWire in a recent interview. “As a father myself, I sometimes wonder if I was in a situation like that, what would I do? You want to think that you would be the hero, and yet you’re not necessarily sure until it actually happens. I was just very moved by that part of the story.”

An added challenge for taking on the character of Andes was inhabiting his unique nothing-to-lose mindset, as Andes has his own tragic backstory that informs nearly every decision he makes. “Bobby kind of comes in almost like a broken down angel to help this poor man deal with what’s happened to him,” Shannon said.

Ford’s second feature film, “Nocturnal Animals” comes seven years after the designer-turned-director’s 2009 debut, “A Single Man.” The much-anticipated feature bowed at last fall’s Venice International Film Festival, where it picked up the Grand Jury Prize. For Ford acolytes, it was worth the wait. Shannon felt the same way.

“People ask why it took so long for him to make a second feature, and it’s because he’s making a tremendously complex and difficult narrative,” Shannon said, adding that he likes taking on particularly challenging roles.

“Except for some silly stuff I’ve done, most of the major work of mine is playing very complex people that are hard to crack and hard to figure out how they operate,” he said. “Challenge is a good thing definitely, but rarely if ever do I read something and think, ‘this is going to be a piece of cake.'”

Michael Shannon and Karl Glusman in “Nocturnal Animals”

Merrick Morton/Focus Features

Aside from wanting to challenge himself, Shannon said his process of choosing roles is very simple. “It’s about people,” he said. “Do I want to spend time with this person and do I think this person is going to do something truly original?”

Though Shannon has enjoyed acting in studio movies like “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and indies like Liza Johnson’s debut “Return,” he said he’s no longer willing to work on under-budgeted projects that make it even harder to deliver a performance.

“I’m not going to be on some panicky, jumpy set where people are saying we’re not going to make our days,” he said. “I’m basically fed up with that and I’m not going to condone it anymore.”

READ MORE: ‘Nocturnal Animals’ New Clips Depict Tom Ford’s Criminals and Lovers — Watch All Three

Shannon faces some steep competition for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, as fellow nominee Mahershala Ali has won roughly two dozen best supporting actor awards this season for his performance in Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight.” The other nominees include Jeff Bridges for “Hell or High Water,” Dev Patel for “Lion” and Lucas Hedges for “Manchester by the Sea.”

Fortunately for him, Shannon is not the kind of actor to pin his hopes on accolades.

“I kind of follow the bridge that is built in front of my feet,” he said. “I just wait to see who calls me next.”

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