Michael Shannon has just been nominated for a Gotham Award in the Best Actor category for his role as the ruthless real estate agent, Rick, in 99 Homes. I managed to catch him on his day off to talk about the film.
Awards Daily: You said you were surprised when you were offered this role. Why is that?
MS: Rick is a pretty fancy fellow. He’s a sharp talker, the real deal. I haven’t really done that a lot, especially a character like that. So, it was pretty bold of Ramin, who said he saw me in a play where I was playing a producer, and he said, he that’s why he thought I could do this role.
AD: What was it about Rick that resonated with you?
MS: To me, it’s a story about personal responsibility which I’ve always been fascinated by. People create their own realities, and one aspect is whether you look at yourself as a victim or whether you conquer your surroundings. I think Rick, despite some of the dubious decisions he makes, he doesn’t sit around being a part of that victim culture. Instead, he tries to figure out a place for himself in the system where he’s not getting the short end of the stick.
AD: What was it like working with Ramin (Bahrani), who refers to you as “a God among mortals”?
MS: I think he’s just having a good time. He’s a sweet man. He’s very conscientious. He’s deeply concerned about people, our culture, and our society. I think he makes beautiful movies about painful truths. I’d work with him anytime, anywhere.
AD: What did you know about the world of real estate before coming into the film?
MS: I didn’t know anything about real estate. I hate real estate. There were lines in the script that I didn’t even know what they were talking about. I had to get a tutorial. I’ve probably forgotten half of it already. I learned it so I could do the movie. I’m not a house hunter. I have no interest in real estate. I’m more into people working than stuff.
AD: Do you agree with your character where he says, “Homes are like boxes?”
MS: I actually improvised that line.
AD: What’s your acting technique?
MS: There’s not one school I subscribe to. I’ve read them all, but I tend to go by instinct really. I’m influenced by my subconscious to some degree which consists of things that I’ve learned in my own life and the art that I’ve been exposed to. I can be inspired by a piece of music. I can be inspired by somebody walking down the street. It’s not dark based.
AD: You tend to gravitate to these dark characters on screen. Does that darkness stay with you?
MS: It really doesn’t. For me, it’s all about putting it onscreen. I don’t like acting when I’m not on stage or not on camera. I leave it all at work and get the hell out of there.
AD: Is Rick the Gordon Gekko of Real Estate?
MS: He’s different. Rick doesn’t enjoy twirling his mustache and making speeches. He’s more practical. He just wants validation. He knows everybody hates his guts and he’s not oblivious to that. I think he’s lonely and is trying to see that if he shows this young fella what he’s doing, and this young man says, “I understand why you’re doing this,” maybe it will alleviate his guilt or self-doubt.
AD: What were some highlights from filming?
MS: We had so many. Oh man! There were just so many incredible scenes. The eviction scenes. Evicting Andrew’s character was great.
AD: Well, also that opening shot was great.
MS: That’s something I’m proud of, it was one long shot. I’m glad you noticed that. That was a lot of work. We had to do that 17 times to get that version of it. It’s hard to pick one. It was interesting every day. Actually, I liked that scene down at the dock, after the party. I’m smoking that cigar. That’s where that “boxes” line is.
AD: You’re also in Freeheld, which has a message. Is that important for you when choosing a film?
MS: I don’t think about doing movies where a bunch of guys drive around in fancy cars shooting each other. Maybe if somebody paid me $3 million to do it, maybe I’d say, “You know what, give me the gun, let’s do this, let’s make a film.” I can’t say, it’s so fluid. Every decision comes from a particular place. I don’t like to make a set of commandments for myself. I like making movies that seem like people could possibly relate to in some fashion.
AD: What’s next?
MS: Right now, I’m shooting a Tom Ford movie called Nocturnal Animals. It’s a beautiful script. Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams are the stars. I’m such a big fan of Jake. We’ve been itching to do something together. He’s great in everything he does.
I don’t know when it’ll be out, we’re shooting it right now. I’m back to work tomorrow.