Michael Shannon on The Runaways, Kristen Stewart's Sophistication, and Getting Picked Up By James Franco

Earlier this decade, you acted in a lot of big Bruckheimer movies with tracking cameras and explosions. Is that the sort of trial by fire you needed to get used to acting in front of a camera?

Yeah, those certainly were eye-opening experiences. Working on something like Pearl Harbor, it was an incredible experience because we were in the actual place it happened, recreating it for a month. Every day, something would blow up and planes would fly around. I tried to remind myself, "Remember this, because this is a truly unusual experience you're having right now, and not just as an actor, but as a person. This is so bizarre and kind of sad and beautiful at the same time." Yeah, once you've been on a set like that, you've got a little bit more confidence, maybe, the next time you go to work. You've seen the boundaries of what it can be.

Well, tell me about the set of The Runaways. You were directed by a woman and virtually every one of your scenes is opposite women. Did that give things a different kind of energy?

Hmm. Yeah, it was kind of different. It's weird, because before you asked me that, I don't know if I'd thought about it that way. I remember there was a scene that had a man in it, and it was kind of weird. It was like, "What are you doing here? I'm so used to being with the women." I don't know, I'm not a real gender separatist. I think men and women have more in common than we give ourselves credit for, particularly when it comes to something like making a movie. We want the same thing, which is to tell the story. Look at Kathryn Bigelow directing Hurt Locker -- I don't think she was standing on the set the whole time thinking, "Oh, I'm a woman!" She just wanted to tell the story. For a movie like The Runaways about such a freewheeling subject matter, rock and roll, it was really kind of serious how we tried to get all the details right.


Kim has to say some pretty nasty stuff to these girls. Did you ever feel bad about some of the berating you had to do?

No. I mean, I think the thing I really appreciate about Kim and what is hard to imagine unless you try to do it, is that it's hard to walk into a room full of people -- particularly young people, or young women -- and tell them what to do and boss them around. To have some sort of authority in that situation is...I mean, before the take would start, I wouldn't think, "Oh, I'm about to say something risque to these young girls," I'd think, "I have to make them, like, listen to me and do what I tell them!" It's not something they're preordained to do -- when you tell a young person to do something, they say, "No. No, I won't." So how do you do that? That takes a lot of authority, and it's not authority that I'm sure I have. And they never seemed that disturbed by it, anyway.

They've probably heard worse from paparazzi.

I mean, it's Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning. They've seen a few things in their day. [Laughs] It probably would have been different if they'd gone out and found two unknowns who'd never done this before, but they're so sophisticated, the two of them.

Before we finish up, I wanted to ask you how you got involved with Franco and his short film.

That movie came about in the weirdest imaginable way. I was in the train station in Boston -- I think I had gone down there to do some press for Revolutionary Road. This guy in a baseball cap and sunglasses and a beard walks up to me with this goofy grin on his face, like, "Hey Mike." And I'm like, "Who the hell is that?" He's like, "It's James Franco." What? "What are you doing in the Boston train station? "And he says, "Oh, I'm getting a Hasty Pudding award from National Lampoon. Anyway, I'm gonna make this short film out of this piece of poetry I really like. Do you think you'd be interested?" And I'm like, "Uhhh, OK! Sure!" And he says, "What's your email?" So I gave him my email and then he walked off and got on his train.

And this is someone you'd literally never met before?

I think so! I mean, I'd seen him in stuff, and he'd seen me in stuff, but for the life of me, I couldn't remember meeting him before. It was a very, very surreal experience. Then he got back to me and we shot it in Virginia, a three- or four-day shoot. James took real good care of everybody, I was staying in a really nice hotel there. We had a blast. James is very, very creative, and I look forward to him making a feature because he's got great ideas and he's able to take advantage of the landscape he's in. He thought on his feet a lot -- he had a plan, but he also knew when to change it and do different things. He's a smart guy.

Good thing you were in that Boston train station that day.

Yeah, yeah. Fortuitous.

[Photo Credit: Jeff Vespa/Getty Images]

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