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December 15, 2008

Michael Shannon does the math


Michael Shannon isn't saying that major awards for Hollywood film stars are child's play, but he sees a good analogy between actor races and board games.

"The supporting actor categories are more like Yahtzee," he said of their randomness and unpredictability. "And the best actor race is like Battleship."


That's what makes it fun, the New York-based Shannon said today during a brief stopover in Los Angeles to do some interviews and hit the premiere tonight of "Revolutionary Road," the Sam Mendes film that reunites Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet for the first time since "Titanic."

Shannon, who doesn't spend more than 15 minutes on screen, plays a pivotal role in the story, based on a lauded Richard Yates novel, of a 1950s suburban couple on the verge of imploding.

His scene-stealing turn as an emotionally unstable, truth spouting mathematician on a day pass from the rubber room has already won him a Satellite Award and a Chicago Film Critics Association nod for best supporting actor. Next up: Oscar?


Shannon, whose resume has stage plays, Bruckheimer blockbusters like "Pearl Harbor" and "Bad Boys II" and art house indies like "Bug" (pictured at right) nestled side by side, won't pretend he isn't following the awards race, like who's getting noticed, who's being snubbed and which movies are sailing or tanking.

Ah, candor. We'd nearly forgotten what that sounded like.

In fact, he said he turned down a job when he learned that Paramount Vantage was mounting a high-profile awards campaign so he could focus on promoting the period drama and his performance in it. "I'm not a multitasker," he said over a bowl of healthy Hugo's soup. "If I'm going to do something, I have to slavishly devote myself to it. And this may never happen again, so I've made the investment of time."

That includes fielding nosy questions from the likes of Gold Rush. Pity the man, honestly, he had to fish out a picture of his 6-month-old daughter for inspection. Verdict: Adorable! He chatted amiably about the value of gold statues, the person who inspired his "Revolutionary Road" character, and the idea of actually enjoying a grueling awards derby.

GR: What's an Oscar worth? Does it have financial or intrinsic value to you?

MS: Any actor who says he hasn't fantasized at some point about what it would be like to be part of the Oscars is lying. I've been in a zone for a long time, with casting directors knowing who I am, and I've gotten to work with a lot of great people. But there's a point where it stops. I would love to put one foot over the line to see how that is.

An award or a nomination just helps. They'll stick that moniker in front of your name and use it over and over. You could be doing a 'Pokemon' movie and it would still be there. Awards mean something. If they didn't, studios would not be spending tons and tons of money to get them.



GR: So, who's Uncle Charlie?

MS: Richard Yates' daughters came to a screening in New York, and they told me I was playing their Uncle Charlie. That's who the character was based on. I didn't know that before, but they said they recognized him from the movie. They obviously had a fondness for him. Some people think this character is just insane, but I saw him as someone who'd just had a breakdown. The daughters believed he had some form of Asperger's syndrome.

GR: Did you really study math for this part?

MS: I bought a lot of books about math, like 'The Mystery of the Prime,' and 'Zero: What Is It?' They all have these really sexy covers like you're in for the ride of your life, but you really run straight into a brick wall. I also got these dice with equations on them. I used to be pretty good at math. But the truth is, it's so easy to get consumed with what you think you're supposed to be doing, your obligation, and doing research and remembering painful events from your life. But it all comes down to being in the room and paying attention to what's happening. And if ever there was a room to do that, I was in it.

GR: So, you don't seem to be hating the whole campaigning thing.

MS: I think it's important to enjoy yourself in this business. People talk about the difficulty of doing press, and I can see that if you have a movie you're ambivalent about. But I loved this movie, I loved the book. I love walking into a screening at the end and seeing how it sits with people, how it's landing with them. I'm having fun, and then after the premiere I'll be back in Red Hook (Brooklyn) lugging clothes to the laundromat like some big pack animal.

Shannon has a couple of projects in the pipeline, including "The Missing Person," a film noirish drama with Amy Ryan, and a remake of the European thriller "13 Tzameti" with Mickey Rourke, Ray Winstone and Jason Statham. "Revolutionary Road" opens on Dec. 26.



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Oscar Contenders

  • So "The Dark Knight" didn't make it into the final five after all, never mind that critical and popular support. Let's just call the comic-inspired mega-hit "The Biggest Snubee."

    Here are the best picture contenders in a race that, two weeks away from the Oscars, seems to be a foregone conclusion ("Slumdog") unless there's a come-from-behind possibility ("The Reader" anyone?)

    "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett; the politically timely "Milk;" rags-to-riches fairy tale, "Slumdog Millionaire," Holocaust best-seller-based drama "The Reader," and Watergate-era biopic "Frost/Nixon."

    Could "Button" and "Slumdog" split the vote, allowing another film to take the prize? Doesn't seem likely. After having clung to "Button" for months as what we thought would be the Academy voters' top vhoice, our money's now on "Slumdog." Momentum can't be ignored.

    Watch this blog for updates, ephemera and all manner of postulating.

Picture this

  • Mmmmm, chocolate Oscar. Not every star will walk away from the 81st annual Academy Awards with a trophy, but if they hit the high-profile Governor's Ball they can have pastry chef Sherry Yard's gold-dusted candy version. Also on the menu from celeb chef Wolfgang Puck is tuna tartare in sesame miso cones, chopped Chino Farms vegetable salad with ginger soy vinaigrette, Maine lobster and caviar. Serve it up! (Getty Images)

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