Michael Shannon talks last night's 'Boardwalk Empire,' and General Zod's 'cumbersome' costume


Image Credit: Macall B. Polay

Last night’s episode of Boardwalk Empire marked a pivotal turning point for lawman Nelson Van Alden, who has spent the first half of this season trying to keep his baby mama Lucy a secret from his loving wife (to say nothing of his fellow Prohibition agents). We talked to actor Michael Shannon — currently in the midst of a busy year that includes the recent release of the lauded Take Shelter and production on 2013’s Superman reboot Man of Steel — about the big developments in last night’s episode. (As a bonus, he talked a little bit about taking over for Terence Stamp as General Zod, too!)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Van Alden clearly considers himself to be a righteous man. How did he justify his relationship to Lucy to himself? Was his plan to give this baby to his wife?
MICHAEL SHANNON: The idea was that he could somehow get away with claiming that this baby was left on a quote-unquote doorstep. He somehow managed to almost pull it off. If you step away and look at it, it is a ludicrous plan.

He almost feels like a different character this season. Last season, he was Mr. Untouchable; this season, he’s trying to balance bad things and good reasons. Is his character arc all about witnessing his slow corruption?
It’s like he’s underwater, and he’s trying to get back to the surface. It reminds me of this time that I was in Hawaii, and I thought I’d teach myself how to surf. I paddled out on this surfboard, and I turned around, and I noticed that I was very far away from the beach. I turned the board around, started trying to paddle back, and I couldn’t get any closer. Sometimes, when I think about Van Alden, I think about the way I felt when that happened. Like, “Oh my god, I’m just gonna float out into the ocean.”

Last season, he was very focused on what was going on around him: The external. This season, he’s very focused on himself, and trying to salvage himself. He’s really defiled himself. It’s very pathetic and sad.

Is his mere presence in Atlantic City changing him?
I think that’s something that [creator] Terence Winter was going for in regard to all the characters, whether it be Van Alden or Margaret or even Nucky. It’s like you’re mixing colors. Van Alden’s blue, Atlantic City’s yellow, and it becomes green. It does distort you, and change you. On the other hand, if you really are a righteous person, you should be able to be stronger than that. If Mother Theresa went to Atlantic City, I don’t think she’d start playing Blackjack.

Ultimately, I think there was a deficiency in Van Alden before he got to Atlantic City that allowed this to happen. I don’t think he’d been anywhere. He lives in White Plains with his wife. He probably grew up in a very, very small community. Very sheltered, very strict. When he went to Atlantic City… it’s kind of like your kid going to college. I don’t think he’d really ever made his own decisions. He was very happy to believe in everything he believed in. I don’t think he believed in it because he’d discovered it. He believed in it because he was told that’s what you believe in. That’s part of what’s going on this season: He’s discovering who he actually is, underneath all the artifice of his dogma.

The first half of this season, Van Alden’s been very focused on Lucy and on the baby. In the back half, does that continue? Does he get enmeshed in the mob war?
Well, I think anybody who’s had a baby can tell you that once you have a baby, they kind of become the main focus. I don’t think there’s gonna be a lot of room for anything else. It’s not like they have the baby and then the next episode it’s gone.

There’s also a pretty desperate need, in Van Alden’s life, for maybe another person other than the people he’s currently dealing with. Someone to give him some guidance or perspective. He’s really lost. There’ll be some new characters coming into his life that’ll maybe give him a little bit of direction, and maybe a little bit of peace.

Along with Boardwalk, you also have something like five movies coming out in the next year. As a performer, is it nice to go back and forth between being in a movie and a TV show?
The difference is, when you go to Boardwalk Empire, you’re living your life. It’s not just this one story where you know the beginning, and the middle, and the end, and then it’s over. You know that it’s going to continue. After a season of being in Van Alden’s shoes, and worrying about all the various things he has to worry about, it’s nice to go off and put on another costume. It gets to be a little uncomfortable. I sometimes wonder how much more the poor fellow can take.

Was that fun to step out of Van Alden’s shoes and into General Zod’s for an out-and-out villainous role?
General Zod is, I think, a bit stronger than Van Alden. General Zod would not go to the speakeasy and have a shot. General Zod will stop at nothing to get the job done. General Zod doesn’t have a supervisor.

Were you a fan of the Superman comics, or Terence Stamp’s Zod in Superman II?
I don’t read the comic book, although when I got the job, they sent me a giant DC Comics book that weighs about a ton. It’s got the whole history of DC in it. It’s fascinating, actually. I looked at it with my daughter. She’s really fascinated by it.

I remember Terence Stamp doing it. He was phenomenal. I have to try and figure out a way to do something different.

So you’re not saying “Kneel before Zod” while wearing parachute pants?
[Laughs] Yeah, the flowy costumes don’t really…that’s not the style nowadays. Everything’s skintight.

Do you have a costume? A Krypton outfit?
There’s two different modes. There’s something that I have to wear a motion-capture suit for, because if I actually wore it, I wouldn’t be able to move. It’s a very big…thing. I actually don’t know what it’s going to look like, I just know that it’s very cumbersome. There’s another thing that I wear that’s an actual costume. It’s pretty simple. There’s no paisley or anything.

You don’t get to wear a flowing cape or anything like that?
I don’t know. That’s the thing about these movies. I could have an elephant head.

That would certainly be a new interpretation of the character.
Like Ganesh, right? Isn’t that the god that has the elephant head?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Read more:
HBO renews ‘Boardwalk Empire’ for third season
‘Man of Steel’ revealed: Your first look at Henry Cavill in his Superman suit!

Comments (21 total) Add your comment
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  • Laura

    I am actually loving Lucy and Nelson. She brings out a different side of him. His smile upon seeing his daughter was adorable. I don’t see Rose forgiving him any time soon…

    • hrwqe

      My best friend ,she just has announced her wedding with a millionaire old man Ronald who is the CEO

      of a MNC ! They met via —-Agé Min glé.CòM–.- ..it is the largest and best club for men

      date with rich and beautiful women and their admirers to chat online. …you don’t have to be rich

      there ,but you may meet one ,maybe you wanna check it out or tell your friends !

  • kate

    If Michael Shannon hates fan taking photos of him in superman, he is about as bad telling people the storylines to the film when he does interviews

  • James

    So what happens in the end of superman, michael

  • huangzhenwei

    So what happens in the end of superman, michael
    Wow, My best fríènd ,she just has annóuncéd hér wēddīng wīth a rich mān who is a cèlèbrìty !They mèt via~~~~SéêkSúɡárDαd.Сσм ~~~~ ..it is the lārgēst and bēst clúb for rich man with yung and beautiful woman and theìr àdmirèrs to chát ōnlìnè. …You do nǒt hávè to bê rīch ór fāmóùs. ,bùt yōu cān meēt yóùr trùē lòvê , It’s wòrthy ǎ try!

  • Thom0065

    I actually find the hole story line boring and I hope it goes somewhere

  • Mary

    Totally agree with Thom0065

  • Jo

    While I always had viewed Lucy as someone to be pitied and a little bit detestable, I admit that I found myself feeling quite sorry for her in recent episodes and even admiring her strength in getting through childbirth in isolation, not to mention the months leading up to it with virtually no company or support.
    I don’t exactly picture Lucy and Van Alden sitting around having cozy dinners and talking about their days….
    I was touched by her reaction to her own strength while lovingly kissing and nursing her new daughter. Hoping this turns into a new character arc for her…would love to see her balance Motherhood and her “profession” — maybe she’ll even attempt to become and upright citizen…and just maybe Mrs. Van Alden will even help her — lots of interesting variables right now…
    Fantastic show, characters and plot lines and, lest I forget, Michael Shannon is indeed worthy of every accolade!

  • trashytvlover

    awesome episode this week! cannot believe EW stopped re-capping, especially with last weeks “scalping scene’ and this weeks scene with Jimmy in the butcher shop…..PLEASE BRING BACK THE BWE RECAPS!!!

  • Melissa in CA

    Oh sure. The ONE time I don’t watch Boardwalk Empire on Sunday night is the ONE time you actually write something about it. I’ll be back tomorrow.

  • bobby

    my friend’s sister makes $70 hourly on the computer. She has been fired from work for 8 months but last month her income was $8194 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read about it here (NuttyRich).(com)

  • G8rfan

    That meat locker scene was pretty awesome. The best line of the night, maybe even the season, so far.
    Bring back the BE recap.

  • Emoney

    I would also like a BE recap, but preferably by someone who actually likes the show. I know it is sort of a weird show, but I love it and find the characters and actors fascinating.

  • Mary

    Getting fed with Michael Shannon

    Who cares if he gets a oscar nomination, there is more to life than a stupid oscar nomination

    He should be grateful he gets job in the day of age, some actors do not have jobs

  • coachfactoryoutlet

    Thanks for disclosing this research to us. Wowww , real extense article, i found it brief and targeted to the point. I could tell how great you are in your field of interest. You could relate in each detail very well. Thank you for spending a time on sharing such informative writings to us. I will bookmark your page and looking forward to read some more of your writings soon.

  • kat

    Michael Shannon with fake friends (I need that oscar now) (Michael Shannon need to stop hanging to fake people/friends and he does not need a oscar to prove how good an actor he is) with Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Ryan at the Take Shelter premiere, how sad

    None of them look happy to be there

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