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The Sunday Conversation: Michael Shannon can be such a bad guy

Actor Michael Shannon's recent high-profile run of villains turns to Superman's nemesis, General Zod, in Warner Bros.' "Man of Steel," opening June 14. Shannon, 38, lives in Brooklyn with actress Kate Arrington and their daughter, Sylvia.

Do you consider General Zod a bad guy?

No, I don't consider him a bad guy. He's a general just trying to do his job. Ask any general what their purpose in life is and it's to defend whatever people they happened to be aligned with. He's aligned with Krypton. It's his mission, plain and simple.

What made you want to do the role, other than what I assume to be the paycheck?

It's always nice to be paid, but it wasn't the paycheck at all. I had been a fan of [director] Zack [Snyder]'s for a long time, particularly the "Watchmen" movie. I thought that was probably the best movie, other than maybe the "Dark Knight" series, that I had seen in the genre of comic book films. I've just been intrigued with his visual sensibility, and I was excited to be a piece of his canvas. Also, because it's "Man of Steel." It's one of the most significant stories in our culture. It's 75 years old now, and it seemed like to be a good thing to be a part of, the anniversary that celebrates its momentousness.

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Of course, there have been many General Zods, most notably Terence Stamp in the Superman films. How did you put your own stamp on him?

No pun intended. I just put on my blinders and went about the business of creating my own character. I had a lot of help from Zack, who told me from the get-go that he wanted people to understand Zod and what made him tick. I feel that with the original version, the one Terence did, his motives weren't exactly clear, why he was so into destroying everything.

In the beginning of the film, when Zod is attempting a coup on Krypton, you say, "Lawmakers with their endless debates have led Krypton to ruin." Does that resonate for you in any other galaxy perhaps?

Yeah, it really does. I have a lot of favorite scenes, but that is one I was really looking forward to doing. I couldn't believe that I was actually going to get a platform to say something like that, even though it's in the context of this outer space council.

In your recent film "The Iceman," how did you create a screen interpretation of a real-life hit man, the late Richard Kuklinski?

I just went to the source, really. There are very extensive interviews that he did, they showed them on HBO. I got an unedited copy of one of these interviews that's hours and hours and hours long.

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How did your viral Delta Gamma sorority letter video come about?

The people at Funny or Die have been wanting to work together on something for a while, and it just timed out perfectly. I just happened to be coming to L.A. the weekend that that letter went out on the Internet, and when I Ianded in L.A., my publicist took me over to the producer's house, and they had the letter written out on cue cards. I just banged it out. It was very fast. We had to do it before somebody else did it.

Do you have any interest in doing comedy?

I've done comedy in the past. I've done a lot of improv in Chicago. I'd be totally game for doing a comedy if someone cares to give me one. I'd have to think it's funny. I can't say that there's a lot that I see nowadays that I think is terribly funny. I don't think it's one of the golden ages for comedy.

Can you tell us anything about federal agent-turned-criminal Nelson Van Alden's travels in the next season of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire"?

Well, we're about halfway through shooting Season 4, so that's six episodes. I'm in half of those, so I'm batting about .500. I'm still in the Midwest and still rubbing elbows with both [gangsters Dean] O'Banion and [Al] Capone, and a healthy tension is developing there. I think if I said anything more than that, I'd probably be shot and killed.

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What about the real you would surprise audiences who are familiar with your twisted characters?

I'm really kind of a goofball when you meet me in person. I'm not overly intimidating in any fashion, I don't think. I'm very considerate of others, I feel like. This whole notion of me being some scary individual is kind of mystifying.

I've read that both of your parents were married five times. Is that why you've avoided marriage thus far?

Could be, probably. I certainly got to the point where I stopped taking it very seriously as an institution. But every once in a while, I think there might be something to it. I was reading something today, it was an interview with Portia de Rossi talking about getting married to Ellen DeGeneres and how that really changed their relationship. It made me think, "Oh, maybe I should get married." So I haven't totally given up on it.

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