Michael Shannon gives one of the most intense and gripping performances of the year in director Ramin Bahrani’s new drama, 99 Homes. Shannon plays Rick Carver, a Florida real estate agent who makes a killing by flipping foreclosed homes and doesn’t care about the devastation wrought upon the families who are being evicted. When Carver evicts a family led by single father Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), he sees something in Nash that he likes and offers the unemployed construction worker a job – grooming Nash as his protégé even as Nash begins to realize that he’s selling his own soul.
Carver is a monster: a man so consumed with his own greed that he is the perfect embodiment of the heartless and ethics-challenged banking and housing industry that nearly caused the economy to collapse in 2008. He sees opportunity in the hardship of others and acts mercilessly on it. And yet, thanks to Shannon’s complex portrayal, he is also charismatic and persuasive. Rick Carver joins a long list of unforgettable Shannon performances in movies and TV series like Revolutionary Road, Take Shelter, Boardwalk Empire and Man of Steel, and Screen Rant was more than happy to talk with him about it.
Rick Carver has to be one of the great screen monsters of the year. How did you find a way to get inside this guy and empathize with him so you could play him?
For me it was about the puzzle of it. I think Rick looks at it kind of like a puzzle. It’s like, there’s this situation where, if you’re not careful, you’re going to lose, you’re going to be taken advantage of by the system. But if you think about it and you look at it a certain way, you can figure out how to use the system to your advantage. It’s hard not to admire somebody a little bit for doing something like that, because the alternative is just to sit around and say, “Oh, I’m a victim, nobody cares about me and why are people so mean,” you know? That’s not going to get you very far in life.
You spent some time down in Florida with a broker?
Yeah, I did, a little bit. I’m kind of sworn to secrecy, but I guess I can say that much, at least.
Did you go out on an eviction?
I went to a couple of sites. I never actually kicked someone out of the house or something, that would have been terrible. But I saw some places where there had been people who had been evicted. I saw some pretty sad stuff. There was one place – some newlyweds, they had been foreclosed on, and they had just left everything. And there was a photo album on the floor, and it was pictures from their wedding, and it was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen in my friggin’ life. It was crazy.
Talk about working with Andrew and the love/hate dynamic that develops between these two men.
Andrew was really, really into it. He did a lot of preparation as well. He went down to Florida and met the people that were in Dennis’ position. I think he even worked on some construction sites, you know. He really tried to totally immerse himself in the role and I respected that a lot. There were some stressful days sometimes. That relationship is intense, you know, and it was hard for him to keep track of, you know, “At this point is Dennis succumbing completely or is he still holding on…” Because that’s really the journey of the film, is watching Dennis kind of make these discoveries and discover who he’s going to be and what he’s going to do. So it was a real tightrope, you know.
So what about this story that you were wearing flippers on your hands on the set of Batman V Superman (as General Zod)?
Flippers? I think that might be a prime example of my scatological humor. People ask me a lot about Batman v Superman and I really don’t have anything to say about it, so sometimes I just make up stuff, which I’m sure Warner Bros. is really happy about.
We saw you in the trailer in a body bag. Are you just in the body bag or do you get to do something cool in the movie?
I run for President (laughs). Uh, no, you know, I think it’s better left unsaid. I mean, when does the movie come out?
Yeah, I don’t want to spoil it for anybody. Yeah, no comment.
99 Homes is now playing in select U.S. theaters.