Michael Shannon is perhaps the standout portrayer of menacing weirdos today, an art he's mastered across everything from "Boardwalk Empire" to "Man of Steel."

In "99 Homes," a drama opening today that's set around the 2008 financial crisis, the actor is a familiarly tough figure, playing a real estate broker hired by the banks to evict homeowners, opposite Andrew Garfield.

amNewYork spoke with Shannon about the film and what it's like for a longtime character actor to finally reach the A list.

Dramas with a social conscience are kind of a lost art these days.

It used to be more prevalent -- very prevalent in the '70s and '80s obviously -- but for me, the value of the movie is that before I read the script, this whole crisis was kind of an abstraction for me. It's something you'd read about in the paper and you felt bad for whoever it was happening to, but you didn't really know who they were, and I didn't really understand what was happening it was so complicated.

Foreclosures are not, perhaps, a flashy topic.

[Filmmaker] Ramin [Bahrani] would be the first person to admit that he doesn't want to make a dull movie, he doesn't want to make a sermon, he's not trying beat people over the head and teach them a lesson and he doesn't have the answer to this stuff anymore than anybody else.

You're also co-starring in "Freeheld," out next week, and next year you're playing Elvis, General Zod, and doing Eugene O'Neill on Broadway. That's pretty surreal, isn't it?

And also being a Prada model, you've got to throw that in there. I didn't really foresee any of this happening, I mean from humble beginnings, as they say, I used to do plays in basements in Chicago and basements in coffee houses where it'd be if I was lucky, 3 or 4 people sitting there who'd pay maybe 5 dollars to watch the play. So I kind of hit every rung on the ladder pretty much. ... I guess because it happened so slowly, I just feel like I'm working, you know?