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Michael Shannon Discusses A Little White Lie And Bringing Back Zod For The Flash - Exclusive Interview

Amassing more than 100 credits in his 30-plus years on screen, two-time Oscar nominee Michael Shannon could easily be considered one of the hardest-working actors in showbiz. The great part about Shannon, though, is that while he's done his share of high-profile projects including "Revolutionary Road," "Boardwalk Empire," "Man of Steel," and "Knives Out," he's always made room in his storied career for intimate, character-driven work, including memorable turns in projects such as "Take Shelter," "Nocturnal Animals," "Nine Perfect Strangers," and now, the new comedy-drama "A Little White Lie."

New in select theaters and available on digital video and video on demand, "A Little White Lie" stars Shannon as Shriver, a struggling New York City handyman who is mistaken for a reclusive author who vanished from the public eye 20 years prior. Accepting an invitation from an English professor, Simone (Kate Hudson), to attend her college's literary festival to discuss his legendary novel "Goat Time," Shriver is suddenly saddled with the difficult task of pulling off the ruse. Even more difficult, Shriver struggles with the task of finding his true identity as he attempts to communicate to Simone how he's fallen in love with her.

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Shannon discussed his work on "A Little White Lie," which is written and directed by Michael Maren and also stars Don Johnson, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, and Zach Braff. In addition, Shannon talked about reprising his role as "Man of Steel" nemesis General Zod through the wonders of the DC multiverse in the upcoming superhero adventure "The Flash," and he recalled a recent reunion with his "The Shape of Water" director Guillermo del Toro and the importance of their working relationship.

Looking for the right sort of humor

A great amount of your work has been in dramas, but you've done comedies on occasion, and I'd consider "A Little White Lie" more of a comedy-drama. Do you look for comedies to mix things up a little bit? Or is it by happenstance that "A Little White Lie" just happens to be a comedy because your decisions ultimately boiled down to a great script?

I was drawn to the character ... I thought there was a lot to explore in the character. I thought it was a very complex character, and I do love to be funny, or I like to laugh as much as anybody. Frankly, a lot of the scripts I've read over the years that were presented to me as comedies, I simply didn't find very funny. But this movie has my sense of humor sprinkled throughout it. I guess I have a strange sense of humor; I don't know.

What's interesting is that on its face, you could say it's simply "a fish-out-of-water comedy," but you come to discover as the story unfolds that this is a little more complex than what is presented initially. It almost ends up in this René Descartes "I think, therefore I am" territory, and some serious thinking went into this very clever script. Was that part of the appeal for you, the depth of your character?

Certainly.  I found it delightfully unpredictable, and also the amount of detail in it ... It felt like each of the characters were very fleshed out, interesting people, and it was such a great combination of characters. To get to play with that group of actors was a lot of fun.

Figuring out the psyche of reclusive authors

I love how this movie is rooted in this whole idea of a reclusive author, even though your Shriver might not be who they think he is. I love how popular culture has been so blessed with the mysteries of reclusive authors like J.D. Salinger or Harper Lee, and how they could possibly stay out of the public eye for so long after crafting such legendary literature. Did those mysteries surrounding those sorts of authors pique your interest when it came down to deciding whether you wanted to do this film?

Certainly — I thought about that, particularly Salinger, because I'm insanely a huge fan of Salinger and always have been. That definitely ... I don't know if it was an inspiration or not, because I don't think Shriver takes as good care of himself as Salinger did. But I love that it's like [him]. I feel like more than anything, it's a movie about waking up out of the morass of your life and realizing that no matter how low you sink or how dire your circumstances are, inside, there's a person that's worthwhile. That's a very important, meaningful message.

Shannon hesitates to name his finest work

Looking at your body of work — from "Revolutionary Road" and "Boardwalk Empire" to "Man of Steel," "Nocturnal Animals," and "Knives Out" — would you consider any of your pieces of work to be your "Goat Time," a film akin to the classic novel that Shriver had written in "A Little White Lie"? Something you'd consider to be the type of project you were so proud of that you could have called it a day after it came out, and walked away from the business and been satisfied?

Oh, wow. I hesitate to say any particular project because I don't want to ... they're all my children, as the saying goes. I've been blessed to work with so many beautiful filmmakers and beautiful actors. I've had a blessed career. But I love this movie I made called "Take Shelter." That's probably the movie that's closest to my heart.

An unexpected return to General Zod

I am so thrilled that another one of your children is coming back, one of the meaner ones: a very badass General Zod in "The Flash." The multiverse storylines in comic book films are allowing these sorts of things to happen now. Still, did it take you by surprise when director Andy Muschietti contacted you to reprise Zod for "The Flash"?

I was a little confused. I said, "As memory serves me, I think I died in 'Man of Steel.' Are they sure they got the right guy?" But then they explained to me the whole multiverse phenomenon, which ... I was a little behind the times on that. I can't say that I'm a huge consumer of this genre of films — not that I have anything against them. If I'm going to watch a movie, the odds are it's not going to be one of those, but I sure love making them.

I loved making "Man of Steel," and I love working with [director] Zack [Snyder], and I felt like it was actually, in a way, a fairly important film. It was nice to revisit the character. I wasn't there for a terribly long time. I was in and out in a couple of weeks, so it was a nice way to spend a bit of my summer in England. Andy's a lovely guy and a great artist, visually, and I had a blast.

Did you find an opportunity to tweak General Zod a bit, or did you let Andy guide you in this second chance at this character?

I tried to get back into his skin. He's a little different in this film. He's a little more ... I don't know how to put it. You don't spend as much time with him, so you don't really get to know as much about what he's thinking. It's not necessarily his movie. That's the thing with these multiverse movies — you get a little bit of this and a little bit of that. But it's really Ezra [Miller's] movie.

The shape of a creative mind

One of my favorite films in the last 10 years is Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water," especially since he's on the list of my all-time favorite directors. I can't help but think that since it was such a wonderfully creative film, do you look back at that experience and say, "Man, that was one hell of a creative endeavor"?

Oh, yeah. Guillermo was one of my absolute favorite people I've ever worked with, and I had the opportunity recently ... They honored him at MoMA [the Museum of Modern Art] in New York City, and they have a wonderful exhibit on his film, "Pinocchio," that I highly recommend — I think it's still up [on Netflix]. I got to sit across from him at his table, and he makes me so happy, even being around him and talking to him. He's got so much joy and creativity, and he's so damn smart. He's a beautiful person.

I'm very, very proud of that film. That's what I meant earlier. It's really hard to single out one film. I've been fortunate enough to be in a lot of films that are pretty distinctive, but that one's definitely at the top of the list.

Well, you probably never in your life thought you were going to do a film with an amphibian man, which is one of Guillermo's many brilliant character designs. What an awesome character that was.

Yeah, and here's to Doug Jones. That guy is a saint. I don't how he does it, what he has to put up with physically. That guy's one of the toughest guys I've ever met. He's a great artist too.

"A Little White Lie" is playing in select theaters and is available on digital video and video on demand.

This interview was edited for clarity.