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

By Stuart Miller
10 May 2014

Darko Tresnjak
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

In person, the 6'4'" Shannon seems a bit reserved yet a far cry from his characters. He plays in a rock band called Corporal that recently performed in New Orleans. And he has a wry sense of humor and an ample dose of self-awareness — he has parodied his reputation several times through Funny or Die and after an answer to a question ends with him on the topic of all the children suffering around the world he smiles and says, "that's me, Mr. Upbeat."

Still, it's obvious what draws him to those characters when he acknowledges having a "pretty intense world view" and follows up with, "Life in general is pretty treacherous."

That stems from a childhood which sorely lacked stability. His parents split early and each remarried five times, moving him numerous times, mostly around Lexington, KY and Chicago. In Chicago, as a teen, he began channeling his angst into acting, impressing with his raw compelling talent before he developed any technique. He was on his own and had "completely lost interest in school. The Chicago theatre scene wound up being my education."

One of his first connections there was with Tracy Letts, who later wrote Bug and Killer Joe; he has also worked repeatedly with Craig Wright, turning Mistakes Were Made into an Off-Broadway tour-de-force and making his Broadway debut in Grace.

"To me it all boils down to the writing," Shannon said. "As an actor, with Tracy and Craig, it's like being their servant, they are such masters — though it's not like I'm doing their laundry." (However, he did he joke that he'd be willing to do a load for them between matinee and evening shows.)

Before rehearsals start, he talked about his relationships with and love for partner Kate Arrington and his two daughters (one just born in January) while sipping wine and noshing on hummous at Blue Ribbon in the Village. As he talked about how playing with his daughters "has reinvigorated my imagination," it almost sounded like he's softening around the edges.

"I don't think I'm mellower," he reassured. "What would I have to offer then? An Evening the Mellow Mike Shannon?"

He switched to an emcee patter, saying, "Hey guys, how's it been? Did you have a nice day today? Me too. I'm feeling totally mellow." He then scowled and added, "Who would want to watch that? God forbid I got mellower."

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