Why Man Of Steel's Michael Shannon Doesn't See General Zod As A Villain
Any story can be drastically changed being looked at through the eyes of the antagonist. What might be seen as an apocalyptic attack that kills millions from one point of view could be an attempt to save millions of lives from another. This is the riddle that any actor has to look at when taking on an antagonist role. And when Michael Shannon took on the part of General Zod in Man of Steel and saw the story through his perspective he came to the conclusion that the rogue Kryptonian actually isnít a villain at all.
I recently had the chance to sit down with the Oscar-nominated actor to talk about his latest role and delve into the mind of character. Check out our conversation below, in which he talks about not only the ďvillainyĒ of Zod, but also the collaborative process with Zack Snyder, and the wave of top tier stars moving to the superhero genre.
Warning: There are some minor, minor spoilers in this interview. We please ask that you judge your own sensitivity.
I have to say that I think that this take on General Zod is a really interesting one from a psychological standpoint. Itís kind of a big question, but Iím curious if you see him as a villain?
You donít! Why?
Well, on Krypton, heís a hero. I mean, heís a legendary warrior, guardian of an entire civilization. All heís trying to do is his job.
Do you think he has any doubts within his own mission or is he purely mission-driven and there is no second option?
Well, he certainly doesnít seem to have any doubt. I suppose you would think there would be a moment where he would look out the window of the ship and think, ďOh, maybe I shouldnít be doing this,Ē but it doesnít seem to be within the confines of the movie. I just donít think he can really help himself. We Earthlings, we like to think of ourselves as the most important thing in the universe, but you know, weíre not, and you know, if a lion runs up to you in the jungle and eats your ass, itís not like, ďOh, that evil lion,Ē because itís what a lion does.
Totally. And I think it also brings up an interesting question, because the thing about this take on the character is the fact that heís not only alien, but he also happens to be genetically engineered Ė this is what he was born to do. He was born to protect the race of Krypton. So, when you are approaching this character, just from a mental point of view, how were you implementing that element into your performance?
Well, it just sets up the matrix of the consciousness of the character. For example, it eliminates any notion of doubt, like you were mentioning earlier, because itís just not available to him, because of who he is. Yeah, itís funny, I didnít really honestly think about it very much when we were shooting it, the fact that heís genetically engineered. It didnít really pop into my mind very much, but it is something that Faora talks about.
I think it gives a really interesting twist on the morality of Zodís action. The lion metaphor you used to very apt. Itís a matter of perspective.
You see examples of it in our own world, people who are actually, you know, Earthlings, making collateral damage, as they call it. Theyíll have a purpose or goal or some sort of mission in mind and they know that in the process of attempting to fulfill that mission, theyíre going to wind up hurting perhaps innocent people and they do it anyway and thatís our own race doing that to our own race. So, I honestly find those people a lot more suspect than someone whoís not even from this planet.
You said that you didnít really think about the fact that he was genetically altered - what kind of stuff were you thinking about when you were approaching this character? How to win. How to be successful at my mission, like any good general would, you know? Heís very single-minded. Zod doesnít daydream. Heís always focused on what heís trying to accomplish. He obviously has, I mean, in a way, this is the most significant mission of his entire career. Heís never done anything more important than what heís trying to do in this movie.
You could almost say that he was born for this exact purpose.
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