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Rich Fury/Getty Images for Canada Goose

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!’”

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women
gutenberg.org
gutenberg.org

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.

1. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE LITTLE WOMEN.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”

When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.

2. LITTLE WOMEN TOOK JUST 10 WEEKS TO WRITE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.

3. THE BOOK AS WE KNOW IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TWO PARTS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.

4. MEG, BETH, AND AMY WERE BASED ON ALCOTT'S SISTERS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.

Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.

Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.

Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.

5. LIKE THE MARCH FAMILY, THE ALCOTTS KNEW POVERTY.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.

When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.

6. ALCOTT REFUSED TO HAVE JO MARRY LAURIE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.

7. THERE ARE LOTS OF THEORIES ABOUT WHO LAURIE WAS BASED ON.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.

How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”

8. YOU CAN STILL VISIT ORCHARD HOUSE, WHERE ALCOTT WROTE LITTLE WOMEN.

Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.

9. LITTLE WOMEN HAS BEEN ADAPTED A NUMBER OF TIMES.

In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.

10. IN 1980, A JAPANESE ANIME VERSION OF LITTLE WOMEN WAS RELEASED.

In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.

Additional Resources:
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography; Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Journals; Little Women; Alcott Film; C-Span; LouisaMayAlcott.org.

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Tribeca Film Festival/Screenvision Media/Universal Pictures
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Scarface is Returning to Theaters for Its 35th Anniversary
Tribeca Film Festival/Screenvision Media/Universal Pictures
Tribeca Film Festival/Screenvision Media/Universal Pictures

Pop culture history was forever altered on December 9, 1983, when Scarface arrived in movie theaters across America. A loose remake of Howard Hawks's classic 1932 gangster film, Brian De Palma's F-bomb-laden story of a Cuban immigrant who becomes the king of Miami's drug scene by murdering anyone in his path is still being endlessly dissected, and quoted, today. To celebrate the film's place in cinema history, the Tribeca Film Festival is teaming up with Screenvision Media and Universal Pictures to bring the film back into theaters next month.

Just last month, Scarface screened at New York City's Tribeca Film Festival as part of a 35th anniversary celebration. The film's main cast and crew—including De Palma and stars Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Steven Bauer—were on hand to discuss the making of the film and why it has endured as a contemporary classic. (Yes, that's the same conversation that left the panel momentarily speechless when moderator Jesse Kornbluth asked Pfeiffer how much she weighed during filming.) That post-screening Q&A will be part of the upcoming screenings.

"Scarface is a timeless film that has influenced pop culture in so many ways over the last 35 years. We're thrilled to partner with Universal Pictures and Tribeca Film Festival to bring it back to the big screen in celebration of its anniversary," Darryl Schaffer, executive vice president of operations and exhibitor relations at Screenvision Media, said in a press statement. "The Tribeca Film Festival talk was an important commemoration of the film. We're excited to extend it to the big screen and provide fans a behind-the-scenes insight into what production was like in the 1980s."

Scarface will screen at select theaters nationwide on June 10, June 11, and June 13, 2018. Visit Scarface35.com to find out if Tony Montana and his little friend will be coming back to a cinema near you.

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