Focus on Michael Shannon

Michael Shannon on the Cautionary Tale of ‘Fahrenheit 451’: ‘We Gotta Stop Paying Attention to Trump’

In HBO’s new ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ Shannon plays a version of Ray Bradbury’s truth- and information-silencing Captain Beatty, even more harrowing in the Age of Trump.

When we first see Michael Shannon’s Captain Beatty in HBO’s new Fahrenheit 451 movie, he’s sparring with Michael B.Jordan’s Guy Montag. After trading a few jabs, Shannon’s character knocks Jordan’s to the floor.

In our attempt to make small talk about the scene ahead of what turns out to be a rather heavy interview about Ray Bradbury’s cautionary tale, which resonates uncomfortably in today’s digital age under the Trump administration, we learn something important about the Oscar-nominated actor: He doesn’t very much like small talk.

It must be a nice feather in his cap to be in good enough shape that it looks believable onscreen when he knocks out Michael B. Jordan, we venture, since the actor with biceps the size of Jupiter happens to be reviving his role as a champion boxer in Creed 2 as we speak. “I don’t have a cap,” Shannon says, punctuating his response with deafening silence.

A nice boost to the ego then, maybe? “I won’t say whether I have an ego.” Finally, after that, a mischievous grin.

There’s an intensity to the roles Michael Shannon plays—a trait so demonstrable that fans are campaigning  to cast him as the next Bond villain—that tends to color your expectations when you meet him in person. He has a guarded, sort of wound-up passion that tends to uncoil the longer you spend with him, revealing him to be an incredibly endearing, if slightly odd, character.

Shannon said “For me, approaching Beatty and trying to assimilate Beatty’s point of view as my own, Beatty basically makes the point that people can’t handle knowledge.

All it does is confuse them or upset them. So is ignorance bliss? Why this question never seems to be answered is as much a mystery to me as it is to anybody else.

But I have to say ultimately, I come down on the side that it isn’t,

because if you remain in a state of ignorance you’re going to be subsumed or destroyed by people who are not remaining in a state of ignorance, people who are aware of what is happening”

One of the major themes of Bradbury’s work is the gaslighting of citizens, feeding them incorrect information in order to manipulate them into behaving a certain way. That has been timely for decades. But its resonance certainly escalated intensely in these last two years under this administration.

The stakes are really high right now. I hate to say it, but I feel like there are things happening right now that are going to be unalterable. They’re going to do damage that we’re not going to be able to recover from. In order to keep people’s eyes off that, you’ve got to do a lot of tap dancing. But they’re doing it. They’ve got us all looking the other way. That’s what Captain Beatty says we’re better off not thinking about, I guess.

If you don’t want a person unhappy then don’t give them two sides of a question to think about.” What’s your read on that?

I don’t know what comes first the chicken or the egg, the person or the opinion. I think half the time people just latch onto what they receive. It’s like a fish latching on to a hook and they can’t get the hook out of their mouth. Somewhere in their mind they know this ain’t right, but they can’t get the hook out of their mouth. I feel like I see that all the time. It’s not easy days we’re living in. There’s no two ways about it.

I think there are people out there who are taking some risks and being vigilant about change and about transparency. I just don’t know if there’s enough of them.”


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