10 Things You Might Not Know About Michael Shannon

Rich Fury/Getty Images for Canada Goose
Rich Fury/Getty Images for Canada Goose

With critical acclaim for his portrayal of the fish man’s nemesis in Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water and his current turn as a lawman butting heads with David Koresh in the Paramount Network’s Waco, people are increasingly waking up to the fact that Michael Shannon is a national treasure. With his sharply-etched face and looming frame, Shannon’s formidable screen presence tends to elevate whatever project he’s involved with. (The 2017 Bigfoot holiday comedy Pottersville is one possible exception.) Here are 10 things you might not have known about the actor.

1. HE DOES NOT LIKE HIS PERFORMANCES BEING INTERRUPTED BY VOMIT.

Michael Shannon appears at the Golden Globe Awards
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

Shannon got his start as a theater performer and often appears in stage plays between film roles. While appearing on Broadway in 2012 for a play titled Grace, Shannon told the Chicago Tribune that he began to grow irritated when an obvious commotion in the audience broke his concentration. Believing someone might have been drunk, he complained to the stage manager afterwards. The man informed that him someone in the balcony had vomited into the orchestra section, causing widespread panic. In retrospect, Shannon admitted the crowd was “pretty restrained” in their reaction.

2. HIS FIRST FILM ROLE WAS 25 YEARS AGO IN GROUNDHOG DAY.

Migrating from his native Kentucky, Shannon performed theater work in Chicago before trying his luck in Hollywood. His first role was opposite Bill Murray in 1993’s Groundhog Day, where Murray’s character gifts him with tickets to WrestleMania. Shannon was just 18 years old at the time.

3. HE DOES NOT GIVE A SH*T ABOUT SUPERHEROES FIGHTING.

Michael Shannon stands in front of a truck at the 'Man of Steel' premiere
Mike Coppola, Getty Images

One of Shannon’s highest-profile roles to date was the Kryptonian supervillain General Zod in 2013’s Man of Steel. While he did not reprise the role for 2016’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, that did not stop one enterprising reporter from asking if he was picking sides in the fictional superhero faceoff. After explaining that he fell asleep while trying to watch the movie on a plane, he told Vulture that he was “profoundly, utterly unconcerned” with who would win.

“I can’t even come up with a fake answer,” he said. ”I guess I have to root for Superman because he killed me, so I would hope that he would continue his killing spree and become like a serial killer Superman. That’s a new take on Superman. We’d all be in a heap of trouble if Superman was a serial killer. He could just wipe us all out. But then he’d be lonely.”

4. TALK SHOWS WERE AMBIVALENT ABOUT HAVING HIM ON.

With his dry sense of humor, Shannon’s offscreen persona can sometimes have people doubting whether he’d make for a good late-night talk show guest. In 2013, he told The New York Times that his aloof disposition may have cost him an appearance on David Letterman, an invitation he had been coveting since he was a teenager. “How many movies do you gotta do to get on David Letterman?” he asked. “All I’ve wanted since I was 15 freaking years old was to be on David Letterman. I mean, I’m in Man of Steel. I think they all think I’ll be violent.”

Following this interview, Shannon was booked to appear on Letterman's show. No one was harmed.

5. HIS DAUGHTER HAD NO INTEREST IN HIS ACTION FIGURE.

A General Zod toy that resembles Michael Shannon
Amazon

Playing General Zod afforded Shannon the opportunity to have his likeness etched into toy form, from action figures to elaborate and expensive collector's items. Asked whether his young daughter thought that was interesting, Shannon told the The A.V. Club that a diminutive version of her father held little intrigue. “I can’t say she, personally, is terribly interested in them,” he said. “She’s more into the My Little Pony and Tinkerbell thing.”

6. YOU WILL NOT FIND SHANNON ON SOCIAL MEDIA.

Michael Shannon appears at the Toronto Film Festival
Jonathan Leibson, Getty Images

Do not expect Michael Shannon to retweet a particularly poignant cat or dog video. In 2012, he told The A.V. Club that social media is not part of his routine. “I don’t do any of that social media stuff. I have people telling me all the time, ‘You should do Twitter, you should do this, you should get on Facebook.’ Are you insane? I’m not doing any of that crap. I stay the hell off that thing. Every once in a while, I send a business email, and that’s it.”

7. HE WORRIES HIS STOMACH WILL RUMBLE DURING AUDIOBOOK RECORDINGS.

A 2012 photo of Michael Shannon
Mike Coppola, Getty Images

Shannon was invited to read the audiobook for playwright and actor Sam Shepard’s final book, Spy of the First Person. While he felt honored to be asked to be a voice for the late author, Shannon told the Chicago Tribune that voiceover work was not without its hazards. “I spent a lot of time trying to breathe quietly, and dealing with stomach noise,” he said.” They had a little bowl of breakfast bars in the recording studio, and the producer at one point says to me, ‘You should eat one of the breakfast bars.’ And I said, ‘Nah, I don’t like breakfast bars.’ So he says, ‘Well, put a pillow over your stomach, then.’”

8. HE PLAYED A SHIRTLESS TRIBUTE TO DAVID BOWIE ON STAGE.

Shannon’s acting chops are not in question, but not many people know he’s prepared to rock out when the moment presents itself. He formed the rock band Corporal in 2002 and released an album in 2010. For a tribute concert in January 2018 dedicated to the late David Bowie, Shannon threw away his shirt and got on stage to channel Iggy Pop and perform “Lust for Life.”

9. LOTS OF PEOPLE JUST ASSUMED HE’D BE PLAYING DAVID KORESH IN WACO.

Michael Shannon is photographed during a public appearance
Roy Rochlin, Getty Images

With his intense stare and brooding demeanor, Shannon is often invited to portray characters that descend into either lawlessness or outright madness. For the Paramount Network’s Waco, he’s a federal agent trying to outmaneuver religious cult leader David Koresh. As soon as people heard “Waco,” however, they assumed he’d be playing the unhinged one.

"I actually got mad at [film director] Ethan Coen,” he told GQ. “I was on an airplane and Ethan was sitting behind me. He said, ‘What are you doing here?’ And I said, ‘I’m shooting Waco.’ And he’s like, ‘And playing Koresh?’ I’m like, ‘Damn! Why does everybody always ask me if I’m playing Koresh?’ I forgot for a second I was talking to Ethan Coen. I really kind of regretted it afterwards. I should have stifled my irritation.”

10. “SHANNONING” IS BECOMING A THING.

Michael Shannon and Octavia Spencer make an appearance to promote 'The Shape of Water'
Robyn Beck, AFP/Getty Images

On the set of The Shape of Water, Shannon’s penchant for getting things right in a single take did not go unnoticed by the rest of the cast. Speaking with The Verge, Shannon said that his last name became a verb that denotes excellence in performing. “Octavia [Spencer] came up with this term on set, ‘Shannoning,’ where you get something right in one take,” he said. “Every once in a while, after one take, Guillermo would be like ‘That’s perfect!’ and Octavia would say, ‘I Shannoned it!’”

11 Surprising Facts About George R.R. Martin

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Game of Thrones fans know the epic HBO series is based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, but beyond the TV show, how much do they really know about the author? Sure, they know it’s taking him a really long time to finish The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in the series, but what about him as a person? Here are a few things you might not know about the man who brought us the world of Westeros.

1. As a kid, he made money selling monster stories.

The famed author grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey, where his father was a longshoreman. "When I was living in Bayonne, I desperately wanted to get away," Martin told The Independent. "Not because Bayonne was a bad place, mind you. Bayonne was a very nice place in some ways. But we were poor. We had no money. We never went anywhere."

Though his family didn't have the means to travel outside of Bayonne, Martin began to develop a love of reading and writing at a very young age, which allowed him to imagine fantastical worlds beyond his New Jersey hometown. He also learned that writing could be a profitable endeavor: he began selling his stories to other kids in the neighborhood for a penny apiece. (He later raised his prices to a nickel.) Martin's entrepreneurial efforts came to an end when his stories began giving one of his kid customers nightmares, which eventually got back to Martin's mom.

2. He is obsessed with comic books.

In 2014, Martin sat down for a Q&A about his career at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. Though, given his love of fantasy worlds, it might not be surprising to learn that Martin is a comic book fan, he also credits the genre with inspiring him to begin writing in the first place.

"I’m so grateful for comic books because they were really the thing that made me a reader, which in return made me a writer," Martin said. "In the 1950s in America, we had these books that taught you to read, and they were all about Dick and Jane, who were the most boring family you ever wanted to meet ... I didn’t know anyone who lived like that, and it just seemed like a horrible thing. But Batman and Superman, they had a much more interesting life. Gotham City was much more interesting than wherever it was where Dick and Jane lived.”

3. He built a library tower in Santa Fe.

In 2009, Martin bought the home across the street from his house in Santa Fe, New Mexico and turned it into an office space with a library tower built inside. The tower is only two stories tall, because of city building restrictions, but it seems only fitting that the author/history buff would want to be surrounded with books while he writes.

4. A fan letter got his professional writing career started.

Martin's love of comic books is what got his professional career rolling, too. "I had a letter published in Fantastic Four, and because my address was in there I started getting these fanzines and I started writing stories for them," Martin said during the same Santa Fe Q&A. "Funny enough, people writing stories in these fanzines at the time were just awful. They were just really bad, which was good because I looked at these awful stories and knew I could do better than that. I may not have been Shakespeare or J.R.R. Tolkien, but I was certain I could write better than the crap in the fanzines, and indeed I could."

5. A failed novel led to a television writing career.

More than 10 years before A Song of Ice and Fire debuted in 1996, Martin wrote a book called The Armageddon Rag in 1983. Though it was a critical disappointment, producer Phil DeGuere was interested in adapting the project with Martin's help. While that never came to fruition, DeGuere thought of Martin when they were rebooting The Twilight Zone in the mid-1980s and brought him on board to write a handful of episodes. He later did some writing for the live-action Beauty and the Beast series, starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton.

6. Network television standards were not a fit for Martin's style of writing.

Though Martin found success as a television writer, the constant back-and-forth about what they were or were not allowed to show proved to be too much for the writer. "[T]here were constant limitations. It wore me down," Martin told Rolling Stone. "There were battles over censorship, how sexual things could be, whether a scene was too 'politically charged,' how violent things could be. Don’t want to disturb anyone. We got into that fight on Beauty and the Beast. The Beast killed people. That was the point of the character. He was a beast. But CBS didn’t want blood, or for the beast to kill people ... The character had to remain likable."

7. He owns an independent movie theater.

In 2006, The Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe closed its doors, which saddened many locals who were regular patrons, Martin among them. Several years later, Martin decided to give the theater a second life and, after a slight makeover, reopened its doors in 2013. Today, in addition to independent films, the theater holds regular special events—including screenings of Game of Thrones episodes. There's also an onsite bar that serves Game of Thrones-themed cocktails, like the signature White Walker.

8. Martin credits HBO with changing the rules of television.

Network television standards may have been too tame and regimented for Martin's tastes, but all that changed with HBO and The Sopranos, which he credits as paving the way for a series like Game of Thrones to exist in its current form at all.

"I credit HBO with smashing the damn trope that everybody had to be likable on television," Martin told Rolling Stone. "The Sopranos turned it around. When you meet Tony Soprano, he’s in the psychiatrist office, he’s talking about the ducks, his depression and that stuff, and you like this guy. Then he gets in his car and he’s driving away and he sees someone who owes him money, and he jumps out and he starts stomping him. Now how likable was he? Well you didn’t care, because they already had you. A character like Walter White on Breaking Bad could never have existed before HBO."

9. Martin thinks it's important for writers to break the rules.

While he's an admitted fan of William Goldman, Martin has a very different opinion of noted screenplay expert Syd Field. "There is a book out there by Syd and it’s his guide to writing screenplays and it’s probably one of the most harmful things that has ever been done for the movie industry,” Martin said. “For some perverse reason, it has become the bible not for writers but for what we call 'the suits,' the guys at the studios whose job it is to develop properties and give notes to supervise screenplays. They take Syd Field’s course and they buy the book and they start criticizing screenplays like, ‘Well you know, the first turn is supposed to be on page 12 and yours is not until page 17, so obviously this won’t do!'"

"Syd just writes downs these ridiculous rules," Martin continued. "If there really was a formula as he says, then every movie would be a blockbuster. We would just connect A, B, and C and we would have a great movie and everyone would pack the theater to see it. But every movie is not a blockbuster. Many movies that follow his rules precisely actually go down the toilet."

10. He’s a skilled chess player.

"I started playing chess when I was quite young, in grade school," Martin told The Independent. "I played it through high school. In college, I founded the chess club. I was captain of the chess team." Eventually, Martin discovered that he could actually make some money off this skill.

"For two or three years, I had a pretty good situation. Most writers who have to have a day job work five days a week and then they have the weekend off to write. These chess tournaments were all on the weekend so I had to work on Saturday and Sunday, but then I had five days off to write. The chess generated enough money for me to pay my bills."

11. He has a very specific way of writing, which is why he hasn't finished the winds of winter.

Fans have been waiting for a while for the next book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and Martin has been honest about why it's taking him so long. "Writer’s block isn’t to blame here, it’s distraction," he said. "In recent years, all of the work I’ve been doing creates problems because it creates distraction. Because the books and the show are so popular I have interviews to do constantly. I have travel plans constantly. It’s like suddenly I get invited to travel to South Africa or Dubai, and who’s passing up a free trip to Dubai? I don’t write when I travel. I don’t write in hotel rooms. I don’t write on airplanes. I really have to be in my own house undisturbed to write. Through most of my life no body did bother me, but now everyone bothers me every day."

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