Michael Shannon embraces the ‘Midnight Special’ mysteries

Every great actor needs the filmmaker that completes him, serving as the yin to his yang, the Martin Scorsese to his Robert De Niro.

For Michael Shannon, accomplished portrayer of tough and strange types, that counterpart is quite apparently Jeff Nichols, his director in “Shotgun Stories,” “Take Shelter,” “Mud” and, now, “Midnight Special,” a sci-fi thriller for families opening in theaters on Friday.

This, of course, raises an obvious question for the 41-year-old Oscar nominee: Is there any part he wouldn’t play on-screen if Nichols asked?

“I could say something funny like, if he wanted me to play a piece of tofu [I would], but that would just never happen,” Shannon says.

Their continued collaboration has less to do with blind trust than it does a shared interest and background.

“He’s so articulate about the ways he sees film and cinema and the levels he’s operating on are so sophisticated,” Shannon says. “We also share a lot in common; we both come from the South and I think we have a common sense of that place. It means something to both of us.”

In “Midnight Special,” Shannon plays Roy, a devoted father protecting his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) and his supernatural gift from outside interests including the United States government and representatives of a religious cult.

The rest of a film that Nichols has likened to ’80s studio pictures such as John Carpenter’s “Starman,” is best left unrevealed.

“When you watch this film, there’s a lot of mystery involved,” Shannon says. “There’s also a lot of mysteries for the characters. There’s certainly a lot of mystery for my character. … There’s no doubt in my mind that there hasn’t been a more significant event in Roy’s life than the birth of his son. His son is everything to him. And yet, his son is also a mystery to him. Which is the way children are.”

Speaking of mysteries, Shannon will next be seen on the big screen tackling perhaps the most elusive and imposing popular figure of all time: Elvis Presley, in “Elvis & Nixon,” a dramatization of the King’s famous 1970 White House meeting with President Richard Nixon.

If there’s any actor ideally suited to dig below the caricature and evoke the real person, it’s Shannon, who has spent his career making strange and otherworldly types seem heartbreakingly empathetic and real.

“I never knew what an interesting person he was,” Shannon says. “I knew Elvis was a helluva performer and definitely one of the major cultural figures of our century. He’s worth a second look.”