Michael Shannon biography
Born on August 7, 1974, in Lexington, Kentucky, actor Michael Shannon's parents divorced when he was young, and he redirected an angry childhood into an acting career that began at age 16. He found a mentor in playwright Tracy Letts, and starring in Lett's plays led to career success. Shannon, who's been described as the heir to actor Christopher Walken, was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Revolutionary Road (2008), began a recurring role on the popular series Boardwalk Empire in 2010 and has played General Zod in the Superman saga.
Michael Corbett Shannon was born in in Lexington, Kentucky, on August 7, 1974. (His middle name is a hat tip to his paternal grandfather, renowned entomologist Raymond Corbett Shannon, who left his life's work on the malarial mosquito and other insect research to the Smithsonian Institute.) Shannon is the youngest of three children and only son born to Geraldine Hine, a lawyer, and Donald Shannon, a professor of accounting at DePaul University. His parents divorced when he was very young, and the future actor split his time between Kentucky and Chicago, Illinois, during his youth.
Shannon admits to feeling angry and wounded as a child. Not keen on therapy in his younger years, Shannon once trashed the office of a psychiatrist to whom he was sent. Joining the speech team in junior high school helped, and he subsequently turned his focus to acting, but Shannon never attended drama school. It was a natural step to start his career in Chicago, where, as a child living with his dad, he dreamed of being an architect or a jazz musician.
In his first review, a 16-year-old, 6'3" Shannon, bursting with passion but no technique, was accused of over-acting—specifically, of "flapping" his arms and frequently rubbing his eyebrows. Following this first critique, he began taping his arms to his sides. Luckily, Shannon found a mentor early on in actor/director/award-winning playwright Tracy Letts (August: Osage County), with whom the young actor began doing a lot of stage work. Today, Shannon often advises aspiring actors to hook up with a great writer and respect their talent.
In addition to his stage work, small film roles began to trickle in: Michael Shannon's unmistakable face can be spied in a cameo appearance in Groundhog Day with Bill Murray, and he had a small part in the 2001 blockbuster Pearl Harbor, starring Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale. But when he did Letts's play Killer Joe, first in Chicago, then off-Broadway on New York, his career began to take off. Shannon followed the same trajectory with Letts's stage version of Bug (1996, 2004, 2006), but also got to play the lead in the 2006 film. That same year, the actor said he felt humbled to play one of the firefighters in Oliver Stone's World Trade Center (2006).
From there, Shannon's distinctive looks and laser-focused talent landed him a succession of roles, notably an Academy Award-nominated (best supporting actor) performance as in the Kate Winslet/Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle Revolutionary Road (2008). He later shared the Screen Actors Guild Award for best ensemble via playing Nelson Van Alden on the popular HBO series Boardwalk Empire—a recurring role that he began in 2010.
Of his acting technique, Shannon has said, "I guess if there's one thing that might surprise people about me, it's that I'm very obedient. I'm kind of like a dog. I look at acting as kind of a service industry. You're there to serve the writer and the director. I don't really look at it as an act of self-expression, like I'm going to say what's on my mind. Because you're not saying what's on your mind, you're saying what somebody else wrote, and you're doing it the way someone else tells you to do it."
The standard assumption in Hollywood is that when the blockbusters come calling, you know you've made it: In 2013, Shannon played General Zod in the Superman saga iteration Man of Steel.
The actor continues to take roles across the income spectrum. Recently, some questioned why he chose to play Mafia hit man Richard "The Iceman" Kuklinski in the 2013 Ariel Vromen-directed film The Iceman. In a May 2013 interview with the Star Tribune, Shannon explained that he feels it's his job to find the humanity in damaged people: "Kuklinski's an exaggerated version of a lot of people, actually," he said. "People who do things that have detrimental effects on other people to make money. They know that while they're doing it. They do it anyway and take a paycheck. Then they go home to their families. ...I did [this movie] because it's a parable, a story that's important for people to see right now."
Shannon and longtime partner, sometime stage mate and fellow Steppenwolf Theater member Kate Arrington had a baby girl, Sylvia Grace, in 2009. He and Arrington began dating in 2008—the same year that Shannon lost his father to a long battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (November 2008).
"When you become a father, it's hard not to feel like you are out of your league," the actor has said. "A father is a position of great responsibility, and a child is such a vulnerable little thing, little person, and you feel this nerve forming inside you, and the thought of anything ever happening to the child is more than you could possibly bear."