If you had told Michael Shannon a while back that he’d be soon stealing scenes from Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, he’d have shaken his head and laughed nervously.
Well, if “Revolutionary Road” proves anything, it’s that Shannon — in only two scenes, but both are scorchers — may belong in the same league as the aforementioned Oscar nominees.
Shannon, whose character doesn’t put a filter between what he’s thinking and what he says, plays the mentally ill son of Kathy Bates in the Sam Mendes-directed film. Bates is a neighbor of Winslet and brings Shannon to a dinner that erupts into a “Did he really say that?” affair.
“You kind of get all woozy and are surrounded by some of the most formidable talent in the industry,” says Shannon. “They were very warm and friendly and down to earth. They were all nervous, too, in their own way. As a result, we each tried to make everyone as comfortable as possible.”
Just getting the call that he was cast was both exhilarating and petrifying.
“Sam called and says you can do it, and you say to yourself, ‘There’s no way I can do this,’ ” Shannon recalls, laughing.
Mendes was familiar with Shannon’s work on the London stage in the mid-’90s and in the William Friedkin film “Bug.” Shannon says the two worked very well together for “Road.”
“He was meticulous and unafraid. Other directors don’t want to do a lot of takes, feeling that’s where the spontaneity is. Like it’s an accident that’s going to happen,” Shannon explains. “He wasn’t afraid of being thorough, though, which was great for me. I’m from the theater and like
to hammer something over and over again.
“I throw all my trust into the hands of the
director — unless there are extreme circumstances where I think that person has no idea what they’re doing.”
Certainly, in the case of Mendes, who won an Oscar for helming “American Beauty,” that wasn’t the case.
Shannon knew the character of John Givings from the Richard Yates novel from which the film is adapted. Givings is a mathematical genius who’s been institutionalized and given shock therapy that’s dulled his brain.
“He’s so smart that he lost his mind, done too much thinking,” Shannon says.
And so his blurt-it-out approach makes for a “Road” worth traveling.
Coming attractions Shannon will co-star with last year’s Oscar nominee Amy Ryan in director-writer Noah Buschel’s “The Missing Person.”