Michael Shannon: Herzog, 'Harvey' and punk rock

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Michael Shannon talks about his weird and wonderful new film, 'My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done?' with David Jenkins

Michael Shannon, who will soon appear in both the rock biopic ‘The Runaways’ and Werner Herzog’s surreal ‘My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?’, is the Kentucky-born actor who has been starring in films, theatre and television since the early ’90s. He rose to prominence after being Oscar-nominated for ‘Revolutionary Road’.

How did you first come into contact with Werner Herzog?
‘I actually don’t think I was the original choice for this part. I don’t want to say who it was, because I think there was some drama involved. They needed to find somebody pretty quickly and the producer was on the internet looking people up and, legend has it, he saw a short snippet of me doing an interview and said, “That’s the guy, get that guy!”’
 
Do you know what he saw in you?
‘I don’t know. He said it was fear. He said you have a wonderful fear in your face. I’m obviously misquoting, but it was something about fear.’

Were you familiar with Herzog’s films?
‘I wasn’t particularly well versed. I met him at his house in LA, and he was telling stories about movies he’d made. He’d be like, “Do you remember that scene in ‘Kaspar Hauser’...?” And I’m like, “No,
I never saw that.” So I ran to Amoeba Records and bought a box set of every film he’d ever made, and found myself rocking my daughter to sleep every night and watching “Cobra Verde” in the dark.’
 
The eccentric tone of ‘My Son, My Son…’ reminded me of ‘Twin Peaks’ – and David Lynch is credited as the executive producer on this film.
‘I should clear something up: I think people presume that Werner and David Lynch had a sleepover or something and decided to do this movie together. This couldn’t be further from the truth. And if you asked Werner, “Has Lynch influenced you?” he might throw something at you. “I influence Lynch. He doesn’t influence me!”’

There’s a scene in which you and Chloë Sevigny are in Tijuana and the film slips into documentary mode.
‘It’s true. We’d finished shooting the scripted portion, and we were sitting there drinking beers, and Werner all of a sudden became obsessed with a Mariachi band and started filming. There are a lot of things you’ll see in the movie that are a result of Werner’s enthusiasm. Like the whole thing with me walking around the market in Asia; that was just something he wanted to put in the movie. We flew to China for 48 hours to film that sequence. He said, “Michael, for years and years I’ve always wanted to put this shot in a movie. I feel like maybe it’ll make sense here.” So we did it.’

You’re also in ‘The Runaways’ as legendary rock entrepreneur Kim Fowley. Did you meet Fowley?
‘Yeah, on my first day of filming we had dinner. Me, Kim, Kristen Stewart and Joan Jett all went to a Denny’s and the guy serving was so nervous that he kept dropping our food. There were all these photo albums and newspaper clippings, and Kim made a presentation of his life. I saw him after shooting and he said he felt he was adequately represented.’

Do you remember what your first ever acting gig was?
‘It was in “Harvey” in high school, I played Dr Chumley. I love playing older people. Then after that, “The Taming of the Shrew”, where I played the father. It was a wild west version so I wore a big fake moustache and leather chaps. I recently saw a photo of it from 20 years ago. It was so weird.’
 
Hopefully it’ll leak on to the internet.
‘I may put it out there myself.’

Read our review of ‘My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done'

Author: Interview: David Jenkins



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