DETAILS: You're currently starring on Broadway in Grace opposite Paul Rudd, who plays the kind of headcase people associate you with. What is it like to be famous for seeming psycho? Michael Shannon: I think if you watch a lot of what I do, you're going to ultimately walk away seeing me. I can't hide—that impression is a personal impression people have of me. Maybe it's weird, considering they think I play these intense characters, but people don't have a problem approaching me. I think most are surprised that I'm really pretty friendly and easy to get along with.
DETAILS: Next year, you'll be onscreen as a real-life contract killer in The Iceman, then as General Zod in Man of Steel. Do you take a comic-book-villain role as seriously as you would an actual human?
Michael Shannon: You can't read a book about being an alien, but I did read a book about Ulysses S. Grant, just to have an idea about being a general. Something like Man of Steel winds up being a lot more work: We're in physical training for months before we start shooting, regardless of the fact that my character is covered in armor and that most of my stunts will be computer-enhanced. You think of the job as all just pretending to lift heavy objects and kicking the air, then all of a sudden you have a line and it's a little jarring, like, Oh, right, this is what I actually do.
DETAILS: Did you get to say "Kneel before Zod!"?
Michael Shannon: No. We went in a different direction.
DETAILS: Do you at least get to say it around the house?
Michael Shannon: No. I got my fill of General Zod. Maybe the whole movie will be playful or comical, but when I was doing it, it was very serious: My planet's destroyed, what am I gonna fucking do?
DETAILS: You've been acting professionally for 20 years. What do you remember about your first jobs?
Michael Shannon: I got my SAG card for Groundhog Day. There were student films and music videos when I was living in Chicago—I was in a Foreigner video for a song called "White Lie" with Nick Offerman, but you can't find it anywhere. I tried to YouTube it the other day.
DETAILS: Are you interested in trying lighter roles, just to avoid being typecast as a freak forever?
Michael Shannon: I auditioned for a romantic comedy and made it to the last round, and then they went with somebody else who had a more extensive résumé in the romantic-comedy field. I don't want to say who—I don't want to twist anybody's nipples. But is that what the world needs, to see me in a romantic comedy? Would that change things?