EXCLUSIVE: Why Michael Shannon Feels Lucky to Be Hollywood's Most Reliable Supporting Actor

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Michael Shannon can easily be described as Hollywood’s
secret weapon. He’s a reliable working actor whose versatility onscreen has
seen him emerge from Michael Bay’s Pearl
to appear opposite Eminem in 8
, earn an Oscar nomination in Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s
highly anticipated onscreen reunion Revolutionary
and walk away unscathed from Man
of Steel
, in which he played the critically panned blockbuster’s main
baddie, General Zod. He’s repeatedly worked with directors that include Jeff
Nichols, Liza Johnson, Michael Bay, Siofra Campbell and Werner Herzog.

In fact, Vulture even gave him that title in
2016 when he was promoting the back-to-back releases of Nocturnal Animals, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting
actor, and Loving, the latter of
which most fans probably didn’t even realize he was in until the actor suddenly
appeared onscreen as a photographer who captures the story of Richard (Joel
Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) Loving for Life magazine.

and Fire
, Shannon’s latest film in theaters on April 7 and on demand April 4, is a thriller that sees him reunited with Herzog for the
third time following Bad Lieutenant: Port
of Call New Orleans
and My Son, My
Son, What Have Ye Done?
And as with the latter, the actor found himself in
South America -- this time in the salt flats of Bolivia -- playing the CEO of a
company held responsible for an eco-disaster who captures two ecologists (Veronica
Ferres and Gael Garcia Bernal). The film, which deals with issues of climate
change, is being released at a time when Donald Trump, a real estate mogul-turned-reality
star, is president and has made it a priority to undo President Barack Obama’s
climate legacy. “I do believe we’re destroying the world. Particularly right
now; we just named a man who doesn’t believe in climate change as the leader of
the Environmental Protection Agency,” Shannon tells ET, referring to Scott

“What I also appreciate about this movie is that it can
address those issues, but not in a pedantic way,” Shannon says, preferring to
be in Herzog’s bizarrely compelling narrative over a film about Congress. “That
would be boring as sh*t. [Salt and Fire]
is a nice way to reference some things that are going on around the world but also
have some imagination.”

Aside from the story, Shannon found the decision to work
with the prolific filmmaker to be a no-brainer. “I will do anything for
Werner,” the actor says. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s a living legend. I’m
lucky enough to spend time with him.”

And the adoration extends both ways. In an interview with
Marc Maron, Herzog
Shannon to be the best actor of his generation. “There’s no one
like him. I love the man,” he said, adding that the actor’s charisma “comes
from somewhere else and we cannot even name it.”

In fact, that kind of appreciation from directors is not
rare when it comes to the actor. Tom Ford has compared him to Gary Cooper, and
writer Tracy Letts, who has written two plays starring the actor, told
that Shannon has a “mercurial
quality that makes people want to see what happens next.” And when it comes to
Nichols, who has directed the actor five times, he knows when Shannon is a
perfect fit. “I’m a big believer in having the right person for the right
part,” Nichols
Variety. “I’m not
shoe-horning Mike Shannon into all of these roles. I’ve been very specific
about the parts I’ve asked him to play.”

In some ways, Shannon has developed a reputation that
supersedes him. It could easily inflate one’s ego, but the actor doesn’t seem
to indulge it. “Lucky me, you know? Jesus -- a lot of it is about minding your
Ps and Qs. I see some people that have talent and something to offer but they get
in their own f**king way sometimes,” he says, explaining that it’s simply a
matter of mutual respect. “There are
people I really respect. I respect how they work and their reasons for making

MORE: Michael Shannon Happy to See 'Nocturnal Animals' Recognized by the Oscars

Shannon’s role on set, he says, is to be a service to the
filmmakers. “If I think what they're doing is worth a sh*t, I'm there to help,
you know? Sometimes, you can get actors who are not about helping. It's about
them. That's a turnoff.”

That lack of ego -- he had no belief he’d win Best
Supporting Actor over Moonlight’s
Mahershala Ali
at the 2017 Oscars -- is probably also why the actor has no
problem stepping into smaller roles, often coming in for a couple of days to
play a part like he did for both Nocturnal
and Loving and, in some
ways, Salt and Fire, which was shot
in fewer than 20 days. “I don’t really mind it,” Shannon says of becoming
something of the ultimate supporting player, for which he has earned two
Academy Award nominations and a Golden Globe nod. “The smaller the part, the
quicker I get home to my kids. That's the way I look at it. I'm more nervous
about taking the big job and being away for a long time.”

And being away from his family, which includes longtime
partner Kate Arrington and their two daughters, seems to be his only major
deterrent from work. “The responsibility that holds the most significance in my
life is being a father,” Shannon says. “So, honestly, lots of those moments
don’t happen on set. They happen in those brief periods where I actually get to
go home and take the kids to school, pick them up, cook them dinner and put
them to bed.”

MORE: Michael Shannon Recites NSFW Sorority Email

While he’s certainly been on longer shoots and led several
films, his longest commitment to one project was playing Nelson Van Alden on
HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. “I'm not
going to lie, when Boardwalk was
over, I was kind of relieved. I was grateful for the opportunity, but spending
five years on something -- that was about as much as I would want to do,” he

Since the show ended in 2014, Shannon has retreated back to
film and the Broadway stage, earning a 2016 Tony nomination for Long Day's Journey Into Night. Late last
year, it was announced that Shannon is set to return to TV on the ensemble
miniseries Waco, about the 51-day
standoff in 1993 between the ATF, the FBI and David Koresh’s spiritual sect the
Branch Davidians, which eventually led to a raid and fire that killed 76

“I like to change it up and do different stuff,” Shannon
says, as if his four new films -- State
Like Sleep
, Pottersville, The Shape of Water and The Current War -- slated for release
over the next 12 months weren’t evidence enough. “I certainly don't want to get
locked down on a show for years and years and years, even though I know it can
be lucrative.”