Michael Shannon chats about new movie 'The Iceman,' comedy and the sorority girl email
Michael Shannon is a funny guy.
You might not believe that given his proclivity for strange, scary characters -- everyone from the schizophrenic John Givings in "Revolutionary Road" to Prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden on "Boardwalk Empire" and real-life mob killer Richard Kuklinski in the new flick "The Iceman" -- but it's true.
You can see Shannon's sense of humor in even his darkest performances, but for a full taste, check out his recent Funny or Die video "Michael Shannon Reads the Insane Delta Gamma Sorority Letter." The viral vid, which has amassed more than three million views at funnyordie.com, features the 38-year-old passionately performing an angry University of Maryland sorority sister's letter to her fellow Delta Gamma members.
amNewYork spoke with Shannon about "The Iceman," which opens Friday, comedy and more.
Why is Richard Kuklinski a character worth playing? I guess I wanted to understand how somebody could be a killer and a family man at the same time. It seems like such a contradiction and yet he was very successful for a very long time at it. I think his family, no matter how devastated they were by the revelation that he was a killer, they very genuinely loved him and continue to love him. It's very bizarre.
What does his story represent? In the world at large, you can see a lot of examples of people that have very different lives professionally and personally. It's kind of almost a rule that your professional and personal life would be extraordinarily different. This is the most extreme example I could think of, of that.
It seems like killing is just about the only skill he had. I think [Gambino associate Roy] DeMeo gave him a tremendous opportunity in that regard. If he hadn't found Roy DeMeo, hadn't found that opportunity to pursue killing professionally, then he probably would have wound up in prison a lot sooner than he had. I also think if he didn't have a family, he probably would have wound up in prison a lot sooner than he had.
The film avoids the common movie trap of romanticizing mob life. I have no interest in making mob movies or mafia movies. By and large, I think the best mafia and mob pictures have already been made and cannot really be improved upon, so I don't really see what the point is. I actually appreciated, in our picture, how Ariel [Vromen]the director managed to make this life seem kind of dull, really.
Why is that dullness important? Because I actually think it is. I don't think it's as exciting as the movies say it is. I think there's a lot of guys hanging around with each other that are really uncomfortable with each other and don't actually have much of a connection at all.
Your Funny or Die reading of the deranged sorority letter has become a huge viral hit. You've given comic performances before, but do you think your talents in that vein have been fully tapped into? I feel like it's pretty seldom that I do a movie that doesn't have at least a modicum of humor in it. Even in "Iceman," there's some funny moments, particularly thanks to the camaraderie between me and the character Chris Evans plays. I think there's some humorous moments there. I mean they're grotesque, don't get me wrong, and completely wrong in every way, but there's some funny stuff.
Ever thought about a comedy career? It's one thing to be funny in your life as a person and be able to crack a joke now and then, but it's another thing to do comedy professionally. Every once and a while, I have people say, "Oh you should do standup." And I'm like, "Just because I can make you laugh in conversation, what makes you think I could possibly go up on stage for an hour and a half and make a room full of people laugh?"
Having recently completed a play with Paul Rudd, what do you make of his career path? Would you like to do a Judd Apatow film someday? I'd love to work with Judd Apatow. I saw "This Is 40" and thought it was tremendous, and "Funny People." I think the guy's a brilliant director. Any of these people. David Gordon Green. I know ["Anchorman director] Adam McKay from way back in the Chicago days. I know a lot of these people. I'm a member of a little tiny theater in Chicago that's just down the block from Second City, so I would see these people all the time at our little pub in the neighborhood. Upright Citizen's Brigade rented the Red Orchid Theatre back before anybody knew who they were. Adam McKay used to come to our theater and do his show for ten people in the audience.
So is there a future in comedy for you? I'm gonna pursue it with the Funny or Die people. I don't think it's the last thing I'm gonna do with them, because two days after we shot that video, we were having a pitch meeting for other ideas to do other skits. So I think we'll come up with something else. But in terms of a feature length film, I mean I've played the comic relief in some pictures before. Like if you see "Pearl Harbor," I'm ostensibly the comic relief in that movie. Maybe I'm in about 20% of it, but that was my job. Michael Bay literally brought me to set one day and said, "This scene is boring, can you do something funny? Make it funny."
What do you make of the fact that the Funny or Die video is so popular? It's hard for me to say I'm proud of it, because I really ain't got nothing to do with it, you know what I mean? I didn't write that frickin' letter. And I don't know anything about that culture. I never went to university; I've never been to a fraternity or a sorority. I don't know anything about it. I mean half the stuff I'm saying in that video, I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. I've got to give most of the credit to Funny or Die.