It takes a while for Michael Shannon to bring up Trump. He’s doing interviews for “Nocturnal Animals,” the second film from fashion god-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford (“A Single Man”). The prolific character actor, who’s in a ton of movies this year alone (please, please see his take on The King in “Elvis & Nixon”), plays a Texas detective who comes to the aid of a man (Jake Gyllenhaal) whose wife and daughter were raped and murdered by a group of derelicts who have avoided jail time. This whole thread, by the way, is a story-within-a-story: A novel written by a man who sends it to his longtime ex-wife, played by Amy Adams.
But just like his performances, Shannon is unpredictable. During our chat, he’s prone to loopy jokes and strange stories and, eventually, going off on how America just screwed itself.
You’re in a lot of films this year. Some people have said it’s 10, but it’s probably more like seven or eight.
Yeah, 10 is dubious. It creates the illusion that I’m taking over the world or something. But that’s not true.
I’m not sure if your appearance in “Batman v Superman” should even count. I think you’re on a screen on a video monitor, and you’re just lying there. You don’t have any lines.
Yeah, that really shouldn’t count. To be honest, I never went to the set of that movie ever. I did some ADR, I recorded some lines that Zack [Snyder, director] wasn’t even sure he was going to use — like, creepy s— I’d be saying to Lex Luthor in the spirit world or wherever. I don’t even know if it’s in the movie or not. I do seem to recall a giant, rubber, naked version of my body.
They actually made a naked version of you?
They couldn’t pay me enough money to take my clothes off.
The way Snyder had you record lines that he may or may not use makes it almost like a Terrence Malick movie.
I think he actually gave some of the lines to Terrence Malick for his history of the world movie [“Voyage of Time”]. Every once in a while you’ll hear General Zod saying, “And your spirit will be crushed.”
That must be in the longer, non-IMAX version of the movie.
Yeah, the 10-hour version.
So, “Nocturnal Animals.” It’s set in really desolate parts of Texas. You’re from Kentucky, and I’m not even sure if the two states are comparable.
Yeah, Kentucky’s different. There’s really nothing like Texas. Texas is its own thing. We keep trying to claim it’s a state in the United States, but it’s really its own ball of wax. West Texas, particularly. There’s nowhere really like it.
Do you have much history with Texas?
When I moved to L.A. from Chicago, I drove across the country. I drove about the widest you possibly can, from the eastern-most point, up around Texarkana, to the western-most point. I wouldn’t claim to be an expert from that one experience, but I definitely got a feel for it.
What kinds of things did you see?
Texas was the site of my near-fatal car accident. I had been driving for so long that, when I was coming off an exit ramp, I realized a little too late that the ramp was almost ending, and I had not decelerated in any way, shape or form. [Laughs] I was going 60 miles per hour through this stop sign. Thank god there was nobody coming in any direction, so I survived. But if there had been a car coming I would have been toast. I had that desert vision where I had been looking at nothing for too long.
That sounds intense.
I was trying to drive it in one day, but it was too much. Around Midland-Odessa, I decided to find a motel and go to sleep. I really, really wanted to go for a walk, because I had been sitting all day long. I parked the car, got my keys to the room, and I said, “Oh, I’ll see if there’s a little bar to get a beer or something.” I started walking down the street at night, and this frickin’ car pulls up, going really slow, all tinted windows. It pulls up alongside me. No one rolls down the window, there’s no exchange. Eventually the car speeds up a little and drives away. That was enough to put the fear of god in me. I just went back to the motel, locked the door and went to sleep.
That’s so creepy. Maybe they were terrified of you, this guy from Kentucky.
[Laughs] Well, that’s what I do: I inspire terror in countless people, apparently.
You really think people are scared of you?
That’s what I’m always hearing. “You’re so scary, evil, creepy, fill in the blank.”
You play a very, very nice character in “Loving,” as the Life photographer who visits Richard and Mildred Loving and creates an amazing, intimate photo spread of them.
Well, that guy was such a great guy, Grey Villet. Those Life photographers are some of my heroes. It’s a real brief sequence, but he changed those people’s lives by taking those pictures, and he changed the country by taking those pictures. That’s back when pictures really meant something, not just people goofing off with their frickin’ phones.
That said, you’re scary again in “Nocturnal Animals,” which involves you helping Jake Gyllenhaal’s character enact vengeance. I’m not someone who would ever do that in real life, but I think movies about revenge can be therapeutic.
Oh yeah, there’s a catharsis involved, definitely. Oh, I could use some vengeance right now, boy oh boy. We’re going to need a lot of vengeance movies in the next four years.
Yes, the election is all I’ve been thinking about. How are you holding up?
I’m on tenterhooks here. I have two young children. Basically this man is probably going to destroy the earth and civilization as we know it. It’s kind of terrifying.
I’ve been alternating between feeling energized, stoked to fight against everything he and his supporters stand for, and utter despair, because I’m not convinced anything I do can actually effect change.
That’s the thing: These protests are so moving, but ultimately what are they going to accomplish? I’m so glad these kids on the campuses everywhere are going ape s—, but at the end of the day the guy’s still going to be president. Maybe you need a civil war or something.
I was going to avoid talking about this, but I suppose it’s unavoidable.
No, it’s unavoidable. It should be talked about constantly. It should be the only thing anyone talks about.
There’s not even a way to talk to the other side. You may want to share something on Facebook, but the algorithms only allow people to see the news they want.
The wall isn’t between the U.S. and Mexico; the wall is between people who voted for Trump and people who didn’t. And we’ve got to do something about it. I don’t want to live in a country where people voted for Trump. I want to live in some other f—ing country. But I don’t want to run away. So we’re just going to have to bust this thing up.
I’m not even sure how to bust things up. We have to invent a new way.
There’s a lot of old people who need to realize they’ve had a nice life, and it’s time for them to move on. Because they’re the ones who go out and vote for these assholes. If you look at the young people, between 18 and 25, if it was up to them Hillary would have been president. No offense to the seniors out there. My mom’s a senior citizen. But if you’re voting for Trump, it’s time for the urn.
My parents voted for Trump and I’m still not sure how to talk to them about that.
F— ’em. You’re an orphan now. Don’t go home. Don’t go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Don’t talk to them at all. Silence speaks volumes.
Do you have relatives who voted for him?
Thank god no one in my immediate family would ever remotely consider voting for Trump.
That’s odd, since Kentucky went for Trump, and how.
That’s the tragic thing about Kentucky: There’s two cities in Kentucky that are filled with intelligent, vibrant people. And then there’s the rest of it. But my mom is a super cool and intelligent lady. She was a pollster; she was helping people vote. She told me about this old woman who walked in and needed help voting. My mom had to stand there and watch this woman vote for Trump. Then she turned around and said, “How do I make sure my vote gets counted? I want to make sure. I don’t want this conspiracy to happen.” Because that’s the ironic thing: On that day there were so many Trump voters who were saying, “I voted for Trump, but it doesn’t make a difference because they got it rigged anyway.” Yeah, they sure f—ing do, don’t they? F—in’ A, man.