Michael Shannon is, by several measures, one of the truly great actors working in the business today. As the star of movies such as Man of Steel, The Shape of Water and, more recently, Rian Johnson’s smash hit Knives Out, Shannon has cemented himself as a versatile, in-demand talent. In his latest movie, The Quarry, Shannon once again gets the chance to shine in a gritty crime drama.
Directed by Scott Teems, The Quarry centers on a fugitive drifter who assumes the identity of a preacher he murdered. He then becomes the new cleric of a small-town church. After winning over the congregation, the police chief (played by Michael Shannon) starts to link the mysterious stranger to a violent crime.
I recently had the chance to speak with Michael Shannon in honor of the movie’s recent On Demand release. We discussed his long-running friendship and work with his co-star Shea Whigham, how he selects his projects these days.
Thank you so much for doing this today.
Michael Shannon: No problem.
So we’re here to talk about The Quarry, which I have seen, and I also got to talk to Scott Teems about it. I really liked it. Can you tell us how this movie came your way and how you came to be a part of it?
Michael Shannon: Yeah, I think Scott is kind of buddies with Jeff Nichols who I’ve worked with a bit, and so Jeff brought him to my attention, that Scott was worth taking a look at. I read the script a while ago actually. The first time I read it, it actually didn’t come together because these things just really are hard to make. But it came back around, when it came back around Shea Whigham was attached and that really kind of pushed it over the edge for me because I really wanted Shea to play this part, because I just thought he would be phenomenal in it.
In the movie, you play Chief Moore. In my mind, he could be best described as morally ambiguous. What does it take for you as an actor to put yourself in the shoes of a guy like that, who almost certainly shares views that you don’t share? But you’re able to embody that so well.
Michael Shannon: We’re all products of our environment, where we come from, how we were raised. And the tricky thing in life is to try and overcome that. Some people do and some people don’t. I don’t even know that Chief Moore is particularly aware of that fact. At least at the start of the movie I don’t think he is. But I think part of the journey for him as a character throughout the story is that he becomes more aware of the fact that maybe some of his beliefs or ideas about life aren’t as sacred as he thinks they are.
You mentioned Shea, who I think is an excellent actor. He’s so good and you guys particularly have excellent chemistry in this movie. You two work really well together. Was it just your history together? Or was it just one of those things that once you guys got together on set, it just really worked out?
Michael Shannon: Oh thanks! Yeah, I’ve known Shea, I don’t know, about 20 years. I mean the first movie we did together was Tigerland, the Joel Schumacher movie that introduces Colin Farrell to the U.S. That would have been back in, I don’t know, 2000. Maybe ’99. And of course, we were on Boardwalk Empire together, and he’s in Take Shelter. We did some weird little movie On Fire Island once that I don’t think anybody ever saw. I’ve known Shea a good long while, he’s one of my favorite people really that I’ve met in this business.
boldYou’ve worked with a ton of amazing directors, and you’ve had a pretty impressive career. But at this point, I imagine you get offered a decent bit of stuff. How do you decide what to take on now? And how do you decide what to commit your time to?
Michael Shannon: I don’t know. I guess I’m kind of looking for a story that I think will be thought-provoking and maybe relevant in some way. I don’t want to be proselytizing or preaching to people. I’m not interested in making sermons or anything, but I do think the world is a pretty tricky place right now. I gravitate towards material that I feel highlights that and contemplates that in some fashion. But it’s also a lot about the people. I want to work with people that I like and that challenge me. And I’m very susceptible to, if a director or filmmaker comes to me and says this is their passion project. Their dream. They’ve been trying to do this for a long time, and it means the world to them. I’m kind of a sucker for that too, I guess.
That’s kind of a noble quality to have, especially for someone in your position. That’s really cool.
Michael Shannon: Well, I mean, I can’t look at it like a job, you know? I mean, there’s some people… I don’t want to show off for anything, but I’ve gotten some calls where they’re like, “Okay, we’ll pay you a large amount of money to come do this big thing. It’s gonna be really popular and whatever.” I can’t. If my heart is not in it I just can’t do it. It doesn’t matter how much money It is. It doesn’t matter how many people that will watch it. I just think it’s silly. I can’t get it.
That’s also kind of an admirable thing because a lot of people in a position where they get offered these things, It’s hard to turn that stuff down. I think that’s cool.
Michael Shannon: Who knows? I’m probably going to regret it when I look back and wish I had $100 million in the bank. I don’t know how rich people think I am, but I ain’t.
Sort of touching on stuff that you’ve done before. I find you to be extremely funny. For me, The Night Before, which you did with Seth Rogen, I thought was way overlooked and I loved it. I loved you in that. Do you want to do more comedy? Is that just something that doesn’t get offered to you that much? Because I would like to see you do more comedy, personally.
Michael Shannon: Well that was a unique opportunity. Honestly, the genre of comedy, I find it very confusing. It seems to be diminished somehow. I remember 10, 15, 20 years ago, comedians would start these films, they would be franchises. The kind of movie got Adam Sandler or Chris Farley would make. It would be a lot of those kinds of movies, and now, not so much. They’re not as prevalent. I’m a big fan of just finding what’s humorous in any situation. I think even in The Quarry there’s humor. I think some of the best humor, at least some of the humor I find the most effective personally, can arise out of a very dark, complicated situation.
The Quarry, definitely, maybe not laugh out loud moments, but there is very much what I would call some gallows humor moments in that movie, for sure. That’s how I felt about it.
Michael Shannon: Yeah, yeah.
The Quarry is available now via On Demand from Lionsgate, with the Blu-ray/DVD release set for June 16.