Michael Shannon might be leaving his comfort zone.
Despite roles in a handful of high-profile films — “Vanilla Sky,” “World Trade Center,” “8 Mile” — and parts in episodic TV, Shannon has mostly been under the radar when it comes to public attention. That all could change in December.
Shannon plays a character who is “so smart, he’s lost his mind. He’s done too much thinking,” the actor says when describing his role in Sam Mendes’ anticipated “Revolutionary Road.” Pic teams Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio for the first time since their coupling in “Titanic.”
Early buzz has Shannon being talked up as a possibility for an Oscar nomination.
Growing up in Lexington, Ky., Shannon often hung around the U. of Kentucky campus but, unlike fellow thesp Ashley Judd, was never absorbed by the Wildcats sports program (“My stepdad was a jock — it bugged the crap out of me”) and instead eventually shifted his focus to acting.
He received glowing notices as the lead in indie “Shotgun Stories” last year, and the film received strong reviews. He also appeared in Sidney Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” and became interested in “Revolutionary Road” after his girlfriend gave him the Richard Yates novel as a gift. He was immediately hooked.
“I was flipping through Variety and saw they were making the movie and told my manager, ‘I’ve got to get in there for an audition,’ ” he says. “I was so passionate about the book.”
Mendes was familiar with Shannon’s work on the London stage in the mid-’90s. After the actor sent in an audition tape and chatted with Mendes, the director told Shannon he wanted him for the role.
Some might consider landing the job the hard part, but then Shannon was faced with working on a level with a trio of actors (Winslet, DiCaprio and Kathy Bates) who have 11 Academy Award nominations between them.
He says the challenge was daunting but hugely rewarding. “You get all woozy being surrounded by some of the most formidable talents in the industry,” he explains. “What we had in common is that we were all extremely interested in making this.
“Everyone was nervous in their own way, and Kate was so sensitive to how nervous I was.”
Depending on how he handles fame, Shannon’s anxiety level might go up if he finds himself in the awards maelstrom, but that’s something he’s more than willing to endure.
“It would be extremely exciting to receive any accolades,” he says. “It’s the daydream of most people in this profession.”
An actor should always: “Try to enjoy themselves.”
Lucky break: “Meeting Tracy Letts (actor and writer of “Bug” and the Tony Award-winning play “August: Osage County”). He was the one who led me down this path. Without him, I wouldn’t be an actor.”
Favorite film character: Rupert Pupkin in “The King of Comedy.”