Filmmaker Michael Tully (Ping Pong Summer) interviewed director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud) and actor Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, Mud). It was followed by a Q & A session. Nichols and Shannon were referred as Jeff and Mike, respectively, the entire time, thus that is how I will refer to them from here on out.
Full disclosure: I have not seen any of Jeff’s films, but I now realize that is one of my life’s greatest errors.
Mike has acted in all of Jeff’s movies. Jeff liked Mike’s acting the first time he saw him, so when it came time to make his first film, Shotgun Stories, he asked for someone like Mike. Nobody he got felt right, so he called Mike out of the the blue. Mike liked the Shogun Stories script and thought Jeff was thoughtful but not arrogant. So he said yes. Shotgun Stories was made for a pretty low budget with help from Jeff’s friends and family; he was afraid he’d run out of film before they were done shooting. Luckily, he finished the film, and it received some pretty darn good reviews, though not tons of money.
Jeff was pretty much broke when he made his next film, Take Shelter, but all of his other planned films fell through (including a sequel to a low-budget horror movie), an he felt he had to make another movie. He was felling so much pressure from taking care of his family, the bad economy, etc. but he channeled all of it into Take Shelter‘s script. Jeff knew Mike had to play the lead character. Luckily, Mike said yes again. For Mike, Take Shelter is his most significant film. He says it has everything he cares about; it’s the perfect script for him. If Mike is frustrated with one thing in the film, it’s that people may think it’s just about mental illness, when it’s not, and he thinks his performance may have contributed to that.
Mud was the first film Jeff had written without Mike in mind for the lead role – that role was written for Matthew McConaughey, who said yes. Jeff cast Mike in a small role, and he wasn’t on set for very long, because he was acting in Man of Steel around the same time. Jeff joked (or maybe it wasn’t a joke), if Mike got hurt on the set of Mud, he’d have to pay for Man of Steel losing him. Mike wants to be in all of Jeff’s movies. He was glad to do Mud because he was sick of lifting weights and doing martial arts for Man of Steel.
When Jeff is writing a screenplay he picks jobs for people, because jobs define the character. Mike says he meets interesting people on Jeff’s films and likes to learn about their jobs because, being an actor, he’s never had a real job.
When Jeff and Mike are shooting a movie, they don’t discuss the characters. Jeff’s only concern is if Mike has the script memorized. Jeff says you can’t jam something into actor’s heads. Mike insists directors are the boss on a movie. Jeff agrees and thinks that’s terrifying. Like a lot of artists, he’s insecure about his own work, but believes he’s gotten better with each movie.
In Jeff’s new film, Midnight Special, Mike is playing the lead again. They played a clip from the film. In it, Mike and Joel Edgerton play two guys “on the run.” They pull into a gas station with Mike’s character’s young son. The son wears blue goggles. At the end of the clip, meteorites start to fall from the sky. No one is sure just when Midnight Special will be released.
Near the end, Mike said the best thing I’ve heard today, “Acting is a service. That’s why actors make good waiters.”