Michael Shannon is an actor who approaches his characters with the tenacity of a bulldog, a driving, ruthless edge that fit his intense characterizations in films like 99 Homes, Man of Steel and Premium Rush. But there are other sides to Shannon’s screen persona, as seen in his Oscar-nominated performance as a brilliant but mentally-damaged mathematician in Revolutionary Road, and now in the science-fiction thriller Midnight Special.
Shannon’s character in Midnight Special, Roy, is a caring, loving father struggling to come to terms with the unexplainable powers of his eight-year-old son Alton, while risking everything to protect him from the various forces that want to capture the boy.
Midnight Special reunites Shannon with writer-director Jeff Nichols, with whom Shannon worked previously on the films Mud and Take Shelter, and both director and star were influenced by their own experiences as fathers.
In this interview exclusive interview with We Got This Covered, Shannon talks about his identification with the relationship between Roy and Alton, why he loves the film Starman and why Nichols, with whom Shannon is currently working with on another film, a period interracial drama called Loving, has turned into his favorite collaborator.
Check it out below and enjoy!
What attracted you to Midnight Special?
Michael Shannon: I loved working with Jeff Nichols on Take Shelter and wanted to work with him again. I was drawn to Midnight Special, as was Jeff, because I’m a parent, which is something that’s very important to me and Jeff. Roy is someone who loves his son and will do anything to protect him, which is how I feel and how Jeff feels. It’s also a new kind of movie for Jeff, in a new genre.
How would you describe the relationship between Roy and Alton, father and son, in the film?
Michael Shannon: Alton is the most important person in the world to Roy, like my children are to me, but Roy is not sure who Alton is. He created this child, as his father, but Alton has powers and abilities that seem to come from some alien source, and Roy doesn’t know what’s going on with his son. There’s an inherent love Roy has for Alton but there’s also a sense of astonishment towards his son and mystery.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during the filming?
Michael Shannon: The hardest part was playing a character who takes a journey into the unknown. He’s a father trying to protect his son, but as the story unfolds, he is not sure what he’s saving, and he’s frightened of the unknown, the mystery of the unknown, and I start to question whether my son, whether his power, comes from a place of benevolence or malevolence. It’s an ongoing mystery.
How did you approach this challenge as an actor?
Michael Shannon: Jaeden [Jaeden Lieberher], who plays Alton, was an extraordinary kid to work with and is a great young actor, and I loved being with him. Roy is blinded by his love for his son, as I am, and every parent can identify with being surprised by their children, in big and small ways. Sometimes you discover that your children have abilities and gifts that you don’t possess, which can be a shocking discovery for a parent. This is taken to an extraordinary degree in the film.
What’s your favorite scene or sequence in the film?
Michael Shannon: There’s a scene near the end of the film, when Alton and Roy are hiding on an overpass, and our group is about to unleash the final plan in the story, and Roy says to Alton, “I can’t stop worrying about you,” and Alton tells him, “You don’t need to worry about me.” That’s the moment in the film that really got to me the most and will probably stay with me the most when I look back on the film.
Jeff Nichols cited Starman as one of the main genre influences he brought to this project. Are you a fan of that film?
Michael Shannon: Yes, very much so. Starman was a film that I saw as a kid, and it was one of the first films I remember seeing as a kid that I found to be truly remarkable. What impressed me the most was Jeff Bridges’ performance, which was amazing, and I loved the beautiful melancholy that exists in the movie, especially towards the end.
What is it about Jeff Nichols, as a writer-director, that makes you want to keep working with him, and what do you think he brought to this film, Midnight Special, that’s unique from other directors who might’ve tackled this project?
Michael Shannon: Every director I’ve worked with is unique, and Jeff is a very careful director who sets a very high standard for himself, which begins during the writing process. I like his direct, simple approach; he has a delicate approach, and he doesn’t like histrionics and doesn’t want to hit the audience over the head with his films. He’s always searching for the truth in his films – the simple truth.
That concludes our interview, but we’d like to thank Michael very much for his time. Be sure to check out Midnight Special when it hits theatres this Friday!