With critical acclaim for his portrayal of the fish man’s nemesis in Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water and his current turn as a lawman butting heads with David Koresh in the Paramount Network’s Waco, people are increasingly waking up to the fact that Michael Shannon is a national treasure. With his sharply-etched face and looming frame, Shannon’s formidable screen presence tends to elevate whatever project he’s involved with. (The 2017 Bigfoot holiday comedy Pottersville is one possible exception.) Here are 10 things you might not have known about the actor.
1. HE DOES NOT LIKE HIS PERFORMANCES BEING INTERRUPTED BY VOMIT.
Shannon got his start as a theater performer and often appears in stage plays between film roles. While appearing on Broadway in 2012 for a play titled Grace, Shannon told the Chicago Tribune that he began to grow irritated when an obvious commotion in the audience broke his concentration. Believing someone might have been drunk, he complained to the stage manager afterwards. The man informed that him someone in the balcony had vomited into the orchestra section, causing widespread panic. In retrospect, Shannon admitted the crowd was “pretty restrained” in their reaction.
2. HIS FIRST FILM ROLE WAS 25 YEARS AGO IN GROUNDHOG DAY.
Migrating from his native Kentucky, Shannon performed theater work in Chicago before trying his luck in Hollywood. His first role was opposite Bill Murray in 1993’s Groundhog Day, where Murray’s character gifts him with tickets to WrestleMania. Shannon was just 18 years old at the time.
3. HE DOES NOT GIVE A SH*T ABOUT SUPERHEROES FIGHTING.
One of Shannon’s highest-profile roles to date was the Kryptonian supervillain General Zod in 2013’s Man of Steel. While he did not reprise the role for 2016’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, that did not stop one enterprising reporter from asking if he was picking sides in the fictional superhero faceoff. After explaining that he fell asleep while trying to watch the movie on a plane, he told Vulture that he was “profoundly, utterly unconcerned” with who would win.
“I can’t even come up with a fake answer,” he said. ”I guess I have to root for Superman because he killed me, so I would hope that he would continue his killing spree and become like a serial killer Superman. That’s a new take on Superman. We’d all be in a heap of trouble if Superman was a serial killer. He could just wipe us all out. But then he’d be lonely.”
4. TALK SHOWS WERE AMBIVALENT ABOUT HAVING HIM ON.
With his dry sense of humor, Shannon’s offscreen persona can sometimes have people doubting whether he’d make for a good late-night talk show guest. In 2013, he told The New York Times that his aloof disposition may have cost him an appearance on David Letterman, an invitation he had been coveting since he was a teenager. “How many movies do you gotta do to get on David Letterman?” he asked. “All I’ve wanted since I was 15 freaking years old was to be on David Letterman. I mean, I’m in Man of Steel. I think they all think I’ll be violent.”
Following this interview, Shannon was booked to appear on Letterman's show. No one was harmed.
5. HIS DAUGHTER HAD NO INTEREST IN HIS ACTION FIGURE.
Playing General Zod afforded Shannon the opportunity to have his likeness etched into toy form, from action figures to elaborate and expensive collector's items. Asked whether his young daughter thought that was interesting, Shannon told the The A.V. Club that a diminutive version of her father held little intrigue. “I can’t say she, personally, is terribly interested in them,” he said. “She’s more into the My Little Pony and Tinkerbell thing.”
6. YOU WILL NOT FIND SHANNON ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
Do not expect Michael Shannon to retweet a particularly poignant cat or dog video. In 2012, he told The A.V. Club that social media is not part of his routine. “I don’t do any of that social media stuff. I have people telling me all the time, ‘You should do Twitter, you should do this, you should get on Facebook.’ Are you insane? I’m not doing any of that crap. I stay the hell off that thing. Every once in a while, I send a business email, and that’s it.”
7. HE WORRIES HIS STOMACH WILL RUMBLE DURING AUDIOBOOK RECORDINGS.
Shannon was invited to read the audiobook for playwright and actor Sam Shepard’s final book, Spy of the First Person. While he felt honored to be asked to be a voice for the late author, Shannon told the Chicago Tribune that voiceover work was not without its hazards. “I spent a lot of time trying to breathe quietly, and dealing with stomach noise,” he said.” They had a little bowl of breakfast bars in the recording studio, and the producer at one point says to me, ‘You should eat one of the breakfast bars.’ And I said, ‘Nah, I don’t like breakfast bars.’ So he says, ‘Well, put a pillow over your stomach, then.’”
8. HE PLAYED A SHIRTLESS TRIBUTE TO DAVID BOWIE ON STAGE.
Shannon’s acting chops are not in question, but not many people know he’s prepared to rock out when the moment presents itself. He formed the rock band Corporal in 2002 and released an album in 2010. For a tribute concert in January 2018 dedicated to the late David Bowie, Shannon threw away his shirt and got on stage to channel Iggy Pop and perform “Lust for Life.”
9. LOTS OF PEOPLE JUST ASSUMED HE’D BE PLAYING DAVID KORESH IN WACO.
With his intense stare and brooding demeanor, Shannon is often invited to portray characters that descend into either lawlessness or outright madness. For the Paramount Network’s Waco, he’s a federal agent trying to outmaneuver religious cult leader David Koresh. As soon as people heard “Waco,” however, they assumed he’d be playing the unhinged one.
"I actually got mad at [film director] Ethan Coen,” he told GQ. “I was on an airplane and Ethan was sitting behind me. He said, ‘What are you doing here?’ And I said, ‘I’m shooting Waco.’ And he’s like, ‘And playing Koresh?’ I’m like, ‘Damn! Why does everybody always ask me if I’m playing Koresh?’ I forgot for a second I was talking to Ethan Coen. I really kind of regretted it afterwards. I should have stifled my irritation.”
10. “SHANNONING” IS BECOMING A THING.
On the set of The Shape of Water, Shannon’s penchant for getting things right in a single take did not go unnoticed by the rest of the cast. Speaking with The Verge, Shannon said that his last name became a verb that denotes excellence in performing. “Octavia [Spencer] came up with this term on set, ‘Shannoning,’ where you get something right in one take,” he said. “Every once in a while, after one take, Guillermo would be like ‘That’s perfect!’ and Octavia would say, ‘I Shannoned it!’”