Michael Shannon is both an actor and a musician, having been nominated for Academy Awards for his roles in Revolutionary Road and Nocturnal Animals. He is most known for his on-screen versatility, having taken on roles in both drama and comedy genres. He is also known for his role as Nelson Van Alden on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Michael Stuhlbarg is an actor whose career has spanned across many genres. He’s played Andy Hertzfeld in the biopic Steve Jobs, Arnold Rothstein in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, and Nicodemus West in Doctor Strange. Both are playing Colonel Richard Strickland and Dr. Robert Hoffstetler respectfully in The Shape of Water, which is out now in theaters.
Screen Rant got a chance to talk with Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg on press day, where we discussed how the film was pitched to them, how Michael Shannon found ways to make his antagonistic character nuanced and human, and how beneficial it was to interact with practical sets and practical effects.
SR: When this film was pitched to you and you sit down and listen to it, what are your first initial thoughts?
Michael Stuhlbarg: I got a phone call saying that he was interested in and my playing this particular role and then I got to read the script. And it’s amazing to have somebody hand you something where they actually thought of you in the writing of it and the construction of it. So it makes you want to believe that you can do what they’re asking you to do and in my case I had the Russian to learn and it was sort, of you know, there’s no way he would have known that I could do that or not, but I leapt at the opportunity and I was just dazzled really by the combination of different styles that the piece was in. The sense of humor behind it, and. his spirit is, you know, he’s a remarkable spirit, and remarkably creators, and yeah. I just, I was dazzled and I leapt at the opportunity.
SR: And then even Michael, for your character, I mean obviously he’s kind of the antagonist, but in a lot of ways in the early 1960’s. You know, he’s the modern American male. He has his family. There’s a lot of pressure on him. What was the complexities of bringing out that in that character?
Michael Shannon: Yeah. Why I think that was kind of summed it up there. I mean, I think that what Guillermo was going for. I think that’s why he puts the character in there in the first place. Yeah. You know, it’s interesting because I guess if you look at if they would have made this movie or a movie like this, a B-movie like this back in the day, in that era, that Strickland would have been like that hero So, burning that is kind of smashing the whole notion of heroes and villains that smithereens in a way, I think.
SR: You know, one thing about Guillermo is he’s more of a throwback filmmaker to me. There’s practical costumes, practical sets. How does that advantage work in the in favor of you guys is like acting and playing those parts and living in that world?
Michael Stuhlbarg: It saves you from having to play or scenes with a green screen, which is wonderful, you know? If you can actually just sort of be in the space with the creature in this case. It’s real and it’s right in front of you and he swimming around, and he’s reacting, and you know, it’s it makes everything all the more immediate and connected, I think in a way that our imaginations get stretched when we have to imagine read such creatures in front of us.
SR: How about for yourself, Michael (Shannon)?
Michael Shannon: I remember when I was doing Man of Steel in the scene where like, so this is looking out the window of a spaceship, and his planet as it explodes and he realizes a civilization is gone forever. I was looking at a green screen with a piece of orange tape on it and the orange tape was my home planet. (Laughs) It’s a close-up. Just like, That’s all I got. I’m sorry. But yeah, it’s easier when there’s real stuff there, you know?
SR: What do you guys what audiences to take away from this film, because it could be interpreted in a lot of different ways, but it personally what would you like the audience to take away?
Micheal Shannon: I just hope it puts a brief respite from all the relentless chaos and bad news it seems to be hurtling at us every single day, you know? It’s so hard to even look at a newspaper nowadays. So you know, that’s one of the great things about what someone like Guillermo does, is he provides you another place to go and he fills it with light, and beauty, and good things.
Michael Stuhlbarg: He calls it a fairy tale for troubled times and these are troubled times and. And it gives us a magic in our life again and makes us think upon beautiful things for a while, which is a wonderful, wonderful thing that these movies or his movie can do.
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