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Why Michael Shannon ‘Latched Onto’ Director Jeff Nichols

Jeff Nichols, director of Berlinale competition screener “Midnight Special,” a supernatural thriller about a boy with extraordinary power who is being hunted by the U.S. government, cited not only the beloved films of his youth as inspiration for the film, but also, as a father, the feeling of dread that most parents feel when they realize the fate of their children is ultimately out of their hands.

Describing it as a “sci-fi chase film,” Nichols said at a press conference in Berlin on Friday that it was movies like John Carpenter’s “Starman” and Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” that inspired his latest work, his fifth collaboration with actor Michael Shannon. The director cited Spielberg’s works and their “sense of mystery that leads to a sense of awe,” which he sought to capture in his own suspenseful drama. But it was a fateful trip to the hospital with his son that formed the core idea for the film of a desperate father trying to do everything he can to save his child.

“Jeff tells so many different types of stories, but they are always heart-based,” noted producer Sarah Green.

Shannon, who plays the boy’s father, and Joel Edgerton, who plays the father’s close friend, both praised the director and expressed their desire to continue working with him. Both actors star in Nichols’ upcoming drama “Loving,” about an interracial couple who are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married.

“I’ve latched onto this director since he started, since his infancy,” said Shannon. “We came together in an almost mystical way.”

Edgerton added, “Jeff has a very clear vision. He’s very specific about the pieces he collects to realize that vision and he does it in a very elegant way. As an actor, he makes you feel very much part of that vision — he’s one of the most collaborative directors.

While Nichols has penchant for working with the same actors in his films, he added, “I’m a big believer in having the right person for the right part. I’m not shoe-horning Mike Shannon into all of these roles. I’ve been very specific about the parts I’ve asked him to play, and that goes for Joel as well.”

Commenting on his films’ sparse style, Nichols said “Midnight Special” was “the culmination of a narrative experiment that started with [2007’s] ‘Shotgun Stories.’”

In an effort to improve his first feature, Nichols said he began to remove unnecessary information “to the point of possibly endangering the movie itself. It was a calculated decision to remove as much exposition as possible. It’s a narrative idea that I’ve been wrangling with my entire career.”

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