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Michael Shannon on “The Missing Person”

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01222009_themissingperson1.jpgMichael Shannon was nominated for an Oscar today for his superb supporting role in Sam Mendes’ otherwise glossily imperfect period drama “Revolutionary Road,” so the world’s about to be paying him a lot of well-deserved attention. But if you’ve seen him act before, on the screen or on stage, you’ve already noticed him. Shannon’s established himself in the past few years as the guy who can walk away with a film under the noses of established stars — see “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” see the aforementioned Mendes film, or better yet, see the edgier lead roles he’s taken in indies like “Bug,” “Shotgun Stories” or “The Missing Person,” which had its premiere at Sundance this year. Directed by Noah Buschel, the film finds Shannon playing John Rosow, a private eye in the most noir tradition who’s hired to follow a man who turns out to have been reported dead during the September 11th attacks. Delving into this mystery forces Rosow to confront his own trauma related to the attacks, and to return to the city he’d tried to leave behind. I sat down with Shannon in Park City on Monday to talk about the film, New York and his award chances.

How did you get involved with “The Missing Person”? What did you like about it?

I’m friends with Amy Ryan, and she was in a film that Noah made called “Cassady,” about Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac. One afternoon, me and Amy were having coffee, just shooting the breeze and she said, “I gotta go. I was in this movie and the director wants me to see a cut of it. You could probably come, if you wanted.” I like the subject, because I guess all boys have a fantasy about being Jack Kerouac, so I went and saw it on a little editing bay and thought it was incredible, one of the best movies I’d seen in a long time. Neal was having a reading of the screenplay of “The Missing Person,” and he asked me if I would just do it. It was a lot of fun, and a couple months later, he’s like, “Well, I think we’re going to make the movie. You want to do it?”

Did you model John Rosow on the classic noir detectives? There seems to be a lot of that in him, from his suits to his gin-drinking to his ability to take whacks on the head without apparent brain damage.

01222009_themissingperson2.jpgA lot of it was from the outside in — originally in the script, John’s hair is white, so a big point of contention for a long time was about how we were going to turn my hair white, because it’s basically impossible. Even if you pour Clorox all over your head, it still only gets platinum blond. I got the spray-on stuff, and that just looks silly. It was poetic and whatever, but I said “I don’t think it’s going to work.” So we went to a salon in the East Village and there’s this person who makes $200 to cut somebody’s hair standing there, she’s like, “So what do you want?” And [Noah say], “I want Steve McQueen.” As she’s cutting my hair, I’m looking in the mirror, and started the whole process for me. When I had the haircut and I had the suit, it just clicked. I didn’t go out cruising around with detectives. I know this is probably frustrating to hear because it’s not very enlightening, but I usually find most of the inspiration is just in the writing of the script — that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do [“The Missing Person”], the script was so freakin’ good, you’d have to be a moron to mess it up.

A lot of people say “Oh, you’re like Elliott Gould in ‘The Long Goodbye.'” I’m like “I’ve never seen ‘The Long Goodbye,’ but that’s great.” It was very low budget and there were no amenities, as it were, so after 10 hours of sitting around smoking cigarettes, you get to that point naturally.

How stylized would you say John is? I was actually going to be one of those people to bring up Elliott Gould, because they do seem awfully similar — John doesn’t seem to know about cell phones that can take pictures, for instance, he seems a little out of time and place.

The thing about the character that’s revealed throughout the course of the movie is that he’s not so much a detective as he is…I know this is going to sound corny as hell, but he is the missing person. To me, the whole beginning of the story… it’s almost like he could be dreaming this whole thing, that he’s really just some drunk laying in his bed imagining that he’s a detective. Obviously, he’s desperately searching for something to fill the gigantic hole in his heart, [because] his wife worked at the World Trade Center and died there. The style of it is for me is very much like this could possibly all be an illusion to begin with.

01222009_themissingperson3.jpg9/11 has worked its way indirectly into a lot of films, but there still aren’t many that have taken it on directly. You’ve acted in two of the ones I can think of — “The Missing Person” and “World Trade Center.” What’s your opinion on those who’ve made the claim that it’s too soon to deal with it on film?

To me, that’s insulting to the passage of time. To say that Vietnam is more palatable now because it was a few decades ago is just as distasteful to me as saying that something isn’t palatable because it just happened yesterday. These things will always be tragedies. I was just at Machu Picchu in Peru and there were all these people walking around in little tour groups with their guides, taking pictures and looking at the mountains, and I just kept thinking [the Incas] met the most gruesome end imaginable, entire civilizations wiped out, and we’re walking around taking pictures of it. I think what’s important is not so much letting enough time pass so that things don’t hurt as much, but making sure that they still hurt 20 years from now. It shouldn’t be any less…painful maybe isn’t the right word, but it shouldn’t become more palatable because time has passed.

It seems that a lot of the characters you’ve played have undergone some terrible trauma and are still trying to put themselves back together after it. What is it about that type of role that appeals to you?

Well, that’s what life’s all about, isn’t it? Everybody’s constantly being destroyed and rebuilding themselves, some more drastically than others. One of the reasons I got into acting to begin with is that I was trying to figure out how life worked. It was interesting to me to try and follow how other people, real or imaginary, would deal with problems, because I was trying to deal with my own problems. “Revolutionary Road” is seen as kind of relentlessly downbeat, but ultimately I think it’s very uplifting, because you’re getting to watch other people struggle with things that you may struggle with yourself. When you see a struggle that you may be having personally put on a big screen and in a roomful of people, then it makes you feel less crazy or alone, because you’re seeing that other people are dealing with it too. You get to see in this imaginary scenario how people might try and answer some questions or deal with some problems. So I think it’s the most constructive thing that can be done with films, really.

01222009_themissingperson4.jpgDo you get offered a lot of standard roles? Looking over your filmography, you seem to have a high percentage of ambitious projects with great directors.

I’m still not at a point where I’m calling the shots or anything — I do tend to find myself where people want me. There are certain things that I’ll say right off the bat I’m not even interested in, but it’s not like I’m getting scripts in the mail and saying “Not this one.” But, I’ve been really lucky and I’ve had the whole spectrum. Films like “The Missing Person” and “Shotgun Stories” really excite me because they’re from brilliant young writer/directors who have infinite potential and I get to be in on the ground floor. I think 23 years from now, Noah’s going to be the kind of director that people will go to MoMA to watch a retrospective of, and hopefully “The Missing Person” will be in it.

One of the things I liked about the movie is its fondness for New York, for, say, the cab driver playing his music loud and smoking out the window. As someone who lives there, are there aspects of the city you particularly love?

I love my neighborhood. I live in Red Hook in Brooklyn, which used to be apparently practically uninhabitable because it was so dangerous, but now it’s getting very gentrified.

IKEA.

Yeah, IKEA, exactly. I like it because it reminds me of the South a little bit. It’s quiet and not very crowded, it’s just a very easy place to live. I’ve had a lot of fun on Manhattan, it’s an amazing place on earth to go to, but I don’t think I’d want to live there. The thing about New York is, more than any other place I’ve ever been, you run into people on the street that you would never imagine you’d see, old friends, people just like there for a day or two. I find that all the time when I’m walking around Manhattan, running into people that I had no idea were even there.

I feel obligated to ask you an Oscary question — the announcements are on Thursday. If you get a nomination, do you have a pithy quote ready for when The Hollywood Reporter or Variety calls you to ask for a reaction?

Oh man, I don’t know. I’m pretty unprepared for that. It’s something that people have been talking about for a long time, but there’s this avalanche of awards leading up to the Oscars and I’ve been shut out of all of them. So I’m going to need to see it to believe it. I’ll probably say: “Yeah, I’m really happy. Thank you.” And then, you know, go back to my life. [laugh]

[Photos: Michael Shannon in “The Missing Person,” Visit Films, 2009]

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Face Melting Cameos

The 10 Most Metal Pop Culture Cameos

Glenn Danzig drops by Portlandia tonight at 10P on IFC.

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Glenn Danzig rocks harder than granite. In his 60 years, he’s mastered punk with The Misfits, slayed metal with the eponymous Danzig, and generally melted faces with the force of his voice. And thanks to Fred and Carrie, he’s now stopping by tonight’s brand new Portlandia so we can finally get to see what “Evil Elvis” is like when he hits the beach. To celebrate his appearance, we put together our favorite metal moments from pop culture, from the sublime to the absurd.

10. Cannibal Corpse meets Ace Ventura

Back in the ’90s,  Cannibal Corpse was just a small time band from Upstate New York, plying their death metal wares wherever they could find a crowd, when a call from Jim Carry transformed their lives. Turns out the actor was a fan, and wanted them for a cameo in his new movie, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The band had a European tour coming up, and were wary of being made fun of, so they turned it down. Thankfully, the rubber-faced In Living Color vet wouldn’t take no for an answer, proving that you don’t need to have a lot of fans, just the right ones.


9. AC/DC in Private Parts

Howard Stern’s autobiographical film, based on his book of the same name, followed his rise in the world of radio and pop culture. For a man surrounded by naked ladies and adoring fans, it’s hard to track the exact moment he made it. But rocking out with AC/DC in the middle of Central Park, as throngs of fans clamor to get a piece of you, seems like it comes pretty close. You can actually see Stern go from hit host to radio god in this clip, as “You Shook Me All Night Long” blasts in the background.


8. Judas Priest meets The Simpsons

When you want to blast a bunch of peace-loving hippies out on their asses, you’re going to need some death metal. At least, that’s what the folks at The Simpsons thought when they set up this cameo from the metal gods. Unfortunately, thanks to a hearty online backlash, the writers of the classic series were soon informed that Judas Priest, while many things, are not in fact “death metal.” This led to the most Simpson-esque apology ever. Rock on, Bartman. Rock on.


7. Anthrax on Married…With Children

What do you get when Married…with Children spoofs My Dinner With Andre, substituting the erudite playwrights for a band so metal they piss rust? Well, for starters, a lot of headbanging, property destruction and blown eardrums. And much like everything else in life, Al seems to have missed the fun.


6. Motorhead rocks out on The Young Ones

The Young Ones didn’t just premiere on BBC2 in 1982 — it kicked the doors down to a new way of doing comedy. A full-on assault on the staid state of sitcoms, the show brought a punk rock vibe to the tired format, and in the process helped jumpstart a comedy revolution. For instance, where an old sitcom would just cut from one scene to the next, The Young Ones choose to have Lemmy and his crew deliver a raw version of “Ace of Spades.” The general attitude seemed to be, you don’t like this? Well, then F— you!


5. Red and Kitty Meet Kiss on That ’70s Show

Carsey-Werner Productions

Carsey-Werner Productions

Long before they were banished to playing arena football games, Kiss was the hottest ticket in rock. The gang from That ’70s Show got to live out every ’70s teen’s dream when they were set loose backstage at a Kiss concert, taking full advantage of groupies, ganja and hard rock.


4. Ronnie James Dio in Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny (NSFW, people!)

What does a young boy do when he was born to rock, and the world won’t let him? What tight compadre does he pray to for guidance and some sweet licks? If you’re a young Jables, half of “the world’s most awesome band,” you bow your head to Ronnie James Dio, aka the guy who freaking taught the world how to do the “Metal Horns.” Never before has a rock god been so literal than in this clip that turns it up to eleven.


3. Ozzy Osbourne in Trick or Treat

It’s hard to tell if Ozzy was trying his hardest here, or just didn’t give a flying f–k. What is clear is that, either way, it doesn’t really matter. Ozzy’s approach to acting seems to lean more heavily on Jack Daniels than sense memory, and yet seeing the slurry English rocker play a sex-obsessed televangelist is so ridiculous, he gets a free pass. Taking part in the cult horror Trick or Treat, Ozzy proves that he makes things better just by showing up. Because that’s exactly what he did here. Showed up. And it rocks.


2. Glenn Danzig on Portlandia

Danzig seems to be coming out of a self imposed exile these days. He just signed with a record company, and his appearance on Portlandia is reminding everyone how kick ass he truly is. Who else but “The Other Man in Black” could help Portland’s resident goths figure out what to wear to the beach? Carrie Brownstein called Danzig “amazing,” and he called Fred “a genius,” so this was a rare love fest for the progenitor of horror punk.


1. Alice Cooper in Wayne’s World

It’s surprising, sure, but for a scene that contains no music whatsoever, it’s probably the most famous metal moment in the history of film. When Alice Cooper informed Wayne and Garth that Milwaukee is actually pronounced “Milly-way-kay” back in 1992, he created one of the most famous scenes in comedy history. What’s more metal than that? Much like Wayne and Garth, we truly are not worthy.

Lynn Shelton on “Humpday”

Lynn Shelton on “Humpday” (photo)

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If there were a prize for most outrageous premise at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday” would be ahead of the pack. The film follows Ben (“The Puffy Chair”‘s Mark Duplass) and Andrew (“The Blair Witch Project”‘s Joshua Leonard), two hetero friends who on a drunken night out come up with a plan to shoot themselves having sex with each other as a submission to their local alt-weekly’s annual amateur porn festival — it’s art, you see, and neither is willing to be the one to back down when sobered up the next day. For now, though, “Humpday” will have to settle for being Sundance’s early buzz film, its mix of squirmingly uncomfortable comedy, painfully realistic dialogue and bittersweet exploration of the ins and outs of male friendship and adult relationships winning the love of audiences and potential distributors alike. I sat down with the Seattle-based Shelton, fresh off a meeting with one of the latter, to talk about homemade porn and best bromance.

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Sundance 2009: “Moon.”

Sundance 2009: “Moon.” (photo)

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“Moon” has the serious/silly premise you’d expect from a ’70s sci-fi movie, the type that’s meant to make you gasp “Oh, the terrible inhumanity of it all. And yet… that could be us someday!” while not holding up to real examination. (In this case: how could it possibly not be more economical to just bring in workers from China?) But “Moon” also has Sam Rockwell, who gives such a funny, sad, tender performance that the film works as a drama about a man who, thanks to a mixture of high technology and corporate malfeasance, is forced to confront the wrathful person he used to be and the changed one into which he’s grown — to learn to embrace himself, sometimes literally.

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Sundance 2009: “You Wont Miss Me.”

Sundance 2009: “You Wont Miss Me.” (photo)

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“You Wont Miss Me” is all about Shelly Brown, a girl with the kind of problems plenty of 20-somethings dream of moving to New York for the express purpose of having: substance abuse, reckless hookups in her bedraggled Williamsburg apartment with shaggy boys who mistreat her, sudden fights with friends and strangers, an unseen actress mother who doesn’t pay her enough attention, and no job beyond auditioning for roles herself. But the film, the second from Ry Russo-Young, isn’t your average chronicle of dabblings in urban self-destruction, because Shelly, as she’s begun to realize herself, can’t turn down the volume. She’s not crazy — the film is structured around fractions of her exit interview with the psychiatrist tossing from a mental hospital because she doesn’t belong there — but she’s the kind of person who gets called that behind her back, her emotions and moods always slipping out of her control, her intense and frightening need for connection driving away whoever she reaches out to.

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