Born in Kentucky in 1974, Michael Shannon began his acting career as a teenager. He found a mentor in playwright Tracy Letts, and it was through his work in the Letts plays Killer Joe and Bug that he began earning more opportunities in Hollywood. Shannon first garnered widespread attention with his Oscar-nominated performance in Revolutionary Road (2008), and he followed with a recurring role on the acclaimed HBO series Boardwalk Empire. The actor later was tapped for the part of Superman nemesis General Zod in The Man of Steel (2013) and its sequel.
Michael Corbett Shannon was born 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. The only child born to social worker Geraldine Hine and Depaul University accounting professor Donald Shannon (though he later ended up with several half-siblings), the future actor split his time between Kentucky and Chicago following his parents' divorce.
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 overacting—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/award-winning playwright Tracy Letts (August: Osage County), with whom he began doing a lot of stage work. Shannon has since advised aspiring actors to hook up with a great writer and respect the craft.
Small film roles began to trickle in: Michael Shannon's unmistakable face can be spied in a cameo appearance in Groundhog Day (1993), with Bill Murray, and he appeared in the Keanu Reeves action flick Chain Reaction (1996). However, it was following his stage work in the Letts play Killer Joe, first in Chicago and then off-Broadway in New York, that his career really began to take off.
Shannon went on to score parts in the films Pearl Harbor (2001), Vanilla Sky (2001), 8 Mile (2002) and Bad Boys II (2003). Having originated the role of Peter Evans in Letts's stage version of Bug, Shannon reprised the character for the big screen in 2006. That same year, he played a heroic marine in Oliver Stone's World Trade Center.
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 in the Kate Winslet/Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle Revolutionary Road (2008). He later shared two Screen Actors Guild Awards for best ensemble by playing Nelson Van Alden on the popular HBO series Boardwalk Empire, which aired from 2010 to 2014, and also earned accolades for his lead role in the 2011 dramatic thriller Take Shelter.
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 Zack Snyder-directed Superman reboot, 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 "Iceman" Kuklinski in the 2013 Ariel Vromen-directed film The Iceman. 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."
In 2015, Shannon appeared in the drama Freeheld, about a lesbian couple's fight for shared pension benefits, and the thriller 99 Homes, for which he garnered a Golden Globe nomination. He portrayed Elvis Presley in Elvis & Nixon, a 2016 comedy-drama about the King of Rock 'n' Roll's meeting with President Richard Nixon in 1970. He also prepared to reprise the role of General Zod for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, set for a 2016 release.
Michael Shannon lives with his longtime partner, occasional co-star and fellow Steppenwolf Theater member Kate Arrington in Brooklyn, New York. They have two daughters together: Sylvia was born in 2008, and Marion followed in 2014.
"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."
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