Michael Shannon - Superman's new nemesis slips into the costume

Michael Shannon is evil General Zod in the new Man of Steel. James Mottram meets the actor who wowed critics in Take Shelter

Spare a thought for Michael Shannon. If there was one major oversight during this year's awards season, it was his shut-out for Take Shelter. While Shame star Michael Fassbender might feel aggrieved at missing out on an Oscar nomination, Shannon got overlooked at the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes and the Baftas. There was just a solitary nod at the Independent Spirit Awards – though several of the more discerning US critics organisations saw fit to award him Best Actor. Trade paper The Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, claimed there was "possibly no more mesmerising American actor" working today.

Not that Shannon is griping when we meet. The past year has been insane for him, work-wise. A series regular on the epic Martin Scorsese-produced Boardwalk Empire – he plays the increasingly conflicted FBI agent, Nelson Van Alden – he also popped up in Machine Gun Preacher, as Gerard Butler's junkie pal. On the way is thriller Premium Rush, in which Shannon terrorises Joseph Gordon-Levitt's bike-messenger, but it's the role he that has just wrapped that will send him stratospheric: as Superman's nemesis, General Zod, in the forthcoming reboot Man of Steel.

So does he feel like it's his time? "Ah, gee," he says, almost bashfully. "I don't see what more could be happening. Put it that way. Unless I receive a medal from the President! But you're always reluctant to get too proud of your accomplishments in this business. It can all go south in the blink of an eye."

Admittedly, that doesn't seem likely with the 37 year-old Shannon, who has more than paid his dues since he made his feature film debut as a groom in 1993's Groundhog Day (none more so than playing punch-bag to an excitable marsupial in Kangaroo Jack).

In some ways, his position is nigh-on perfect. And as much as he'll hate to hear it, he's a natural-born scene-stealer too – none more so than in Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road, in which he played the sage-like neighbour to Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio's warring couple.

While that won him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, Shannon was swiftly forgotten in the rush to anoint Heath Ledger with a posthumous award for playing The Joker in The Dark Knight. Rather like after his Take Shelter omission this year, Shannon wasn't bothered. "For me, you're either working or you're not."

He is not above admitting he suffers from anxieties, if not quite as violently as Curtis, his character in Take Shelter, who begins to unravel psychologically as he becomes plagued by visions of the apocalypse. Much of this anxiety, he admits, comes from the economic hardships many are facing. It's one of the key themes in Take Shelter, which sees Curtis's meltdown chime with the global recession.

"It's hard to feel settled nowadays," he says. "My mama has a mortgage like that, one of those crazy mortgages that have been bringing everybody down." In the past, Shannon has told me he has "a very complicated relationship" with his mother, a lawyer named Geraldine Hine. "There's been animosity, tension". She and Shannon's father, Donald, an accounting professor, split when he was young. Perhaps it's no coincidence, then, that he seems destined to play out familial discord on screen.

In his new film, Return, in a story that's almost the reverse of Take Shelter, he plays Mike, husband to Linda Cardellini's US army reservist Kelli, who is failing to readjust to her life in a drab Midwestern town after serving a tour of duty in the Middle East.

"It's an interesting opportunity to get to play both sides of it," says Shannon. "Obviously, what Linda's character is going through is a little different to what Curtis is going through, but they're both coming undone in a way. Then there's Mike and [Curtis's wife] Samantha trying to pick up the pieces." Return differs from the usual "coming home" sagas, in that it's far less hysterical or melodramatic. "I think Return is a highly personal story," he adds. "It manages to tell Kelli's story without indicting the military. I can't imagine that people wouldn't be moved by it."

There's something very loyal about Shannon. He stuck with Return for years while director Liza Johnson got the financing together. And he has just returned for a third outing with Jeff Nichols, who directed him in 2007's Shotgun Stories before they did Take Shelter. Their new film is Mud, a tale of two boys who encounter a fugitive (played by Matthew McConaughey).

"I was only able to do a small cameo, because I'm shooting Man of Steel right now," he says, talking about the Superman movie as if it's a small independent that nobody has ever heard of. Directed by Watchmen's Zack Snyder, with a story devised by Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan, Man of Steel is unquestionably the biggest film of Shannon's career, meaning "a whole new set of anxieties", as he puts it. For starters, he's got to measure up to a titanic Terence Stamp, who played the villain in Superman II. "I find that pretty intimidating, honestly. I think he pretty much nailed it. My girlfriend [actress Kate Arrington], had it on. She was watching it out of curiosity. And I saw it and said: 'You've got to turn it off. I can't watch that. I'm not worthy!'"

Shannon knows he must deal with the difficulty of playing such a fan favourite – not easy when, apparently, you're not much of a comic-book aficionado. I ask if he's got a big stack of them by his bedside right now, and he practically blanches. "Oh, no, Jesus!" he yelps. "I can't read comic books. They don't make any sense to me. I find they're very hard to follow. I'm never sure which panel to look at, and then I just get confused."

Then there is the "silly suit" (a motion-capture costume, so his character's clothes can be added digitally). "It's kind of embarrassing," he says. "It's nothing I would wear under normal circumstances!" Despite all this reticence, you can tell he's secretly delighted to be given this chance. "Well, it had to happen eventually, right?" he laughs. "Either that or fade into obscurity! It's good to do something like this. It's good to take on that kind of responsibility, be a grown up, be able to feel that pressure and be OK with it. And, let's face it, it's not neuroscience!" Maybe he's not so angst-ridden after all.

'Take Shelter' is on DVD and Blu-ray from 19 March. 'Return' opens on 6 April

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?