A Killer Role — Michael Shannon Brings His Dark Side to Theatre For a New Audience

By Stuart Miller
10 May 2014

Michael Shannon
Michael Shannon
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Michael Shannon chats with Playbill.com about returning to the play The Killer at Theatre for a New Audience.


Michael Shannon starring in a play called The Killer? It sounds like a natural fit.

A couple of caveats: Shannon is not the killer. He plays the lead, Berenger, who has found a utopia. Additionally, one reason Shannon suggested this piece to Theatre for a New Audience artistic director Jeffrey Horowitz is that absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco "had a very child-like spirit in his writing, something that as artists we forget very quickly."

Don't worry — those caveats come with caveats. Shannon, 39, says he "is always looking for the distance in the character's journey" and Berenger goes from "profound joy and discovery... through a labyrinth of different feelings and experiences to come to this sinister, lonely place."

That sounds more like the brooding actor who radiates intensity, anxiety and ever darker emotions on stage (Bug, Killer Joe, Grace) and screen ("Revolutionary Road," "Boardwalk Empire").

"He has a deep understanding of the play," said director and Tony nominee Darko Tresnjak. Shannon first starred in The Killer 16 years ago in Chicago at A Red Orchid Theatre, a company he co-founded. "It's the only time when a play closed [that] I wept because I wasn't going to get to do it anymore," Shannon said.

This part might be vintage Shannon but he doesn't see himself as typecast. "I approach every role as a unique person with a different set up in their minds and hearts," he said. "Nelson Van Alden ['Boardwalk Empire'] and Peter Evans [Bug] are completely different people. They both may cause anxiety if you're around them, but that's irrelevant to me."

Shannon said he's "not in the business of trying to scare people" and added that one of his most placid roles, the stage manager in Our Town at the Barrow Street Theatre, was, to him, one of the darkest. "That play is much more frightening than Bug if you really listen to it," he said, because the show has "all these dead people wishing they were still alive" and everyone in the audience leaves the theatre realizing how lucky they are to be alive and how they should appreciate what they have, "yet, two days after you've seen it, you're out on the street, getting mad at people, flipping them off, saying, 'Where's my latte?'"


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