Interview | Michael Shannon on ‘Frank & Lola’ and Noir Romance

Michael Shannon is tired. In 2016 alone, he has appeared in 10 feature films, if you count his cameo as a dead body in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. He has appeared in two different Jeff Nichols films, a Werner Herzog film, and a film wherein he played Elvis Presley. Part of his overwhelming ubiquity continued in Matthew Ross’ noir romance Frank & Lola, an intense and honest drama about a Las Vegas celebrity chef – stoic and simple – who falls intensely in love/lust with a wounded recent Vegas implant. Their romance is interrupted by a series of lies and betrayals that lead to retribution, jealousy, and dark new realizations.

Michael Shannon, one of the more intense actors currently working, it perfectly affable in real life, luckily, and he was kind enough to share a relaxed morning conversation with Crave about working on Frank & Lola, the character of Las Vegas, and the atmosphere it created.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Crave: This was one of the first films I had seen in a while that was genuinely unpredictable. Was that something you detected?

Michael Shannon: Yeah, definitely. I thought it was very authentic. People kind of half-jokingly are always asking me why don’t I do romantic comedies? And I always say, to me, by and large, I haven’t experienced much comedy in my romantic life. To have romance can be, actually, very difficult and frightening. And I liked the fact that this film… I wanted to do something that I considered a love story. Even though it has a lot of darkness in it. Because it seem to me to be more reflective of what people’s actual experience might be like. Not necessarily this extreme, but I felt there’s a lot people can relate to in this movie, and that it deals with a lot of questions that have been bothering people for quite some time.

This is a bit of a “reporterly” question, but how would you describe Frank and Lola?

It’s a tale of romantic obsession, I guess. And personal responsibility. Ultimately, I think it’s probably a fable in a way. It has a moral, I think. Which is that you can’t get carried away by yourself. You have to control yourself.

It reminded me of film noir in a lot of ways. Have you seen The Beat that My Heart Skipped?

Definitely. I can see that. I felt that when we were making it, that it had a noir-ish quality about it. I haven’t seen [The Beat that My Heart Skipped], though. I’ve heard so many people rave about it, but I haven’t seen it. That’s a French movie. It came out a few years ago, right?

What did you and the director discuss about the film’s tone? Was noir part of that conversation?

I think that Matt had a very deeply heartfelt story that he wrote. He was just basically looking for me to have as much empathy for Frank as possible. In terms of the overall tone of the final product, I think a lot of that was created first of all with the way it was shot, and the way it was edited. In terms of performing the material, it was just done in a very matter-of-fact way.

What did you do to prepare with Imogen Poots?

Well, we didn’t get a lot of time to prepare. This whole thing happened very quickly. And I have to say that, in a way, that might have helped it. Because, I think a lot of these thoughts and feeling and issues that are in this movie are fairly accessible to people. You don’t want to overthink it. I mean we didn’t really get to rehearse at all, but we were kind of inseparable during the movie. We would be at work all day long, hanging out… we bonded a lot over music. We talked about music all the time. Imogen is a really easy person, and a really open person. She doesn’t have any airs about her. And she was really enthusiastic about the project. So that openness… it’s just about having a certain openness.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

The setting dictates the story a lot. The open sexuality in the movie floats through the air in Las Vegas. Do you think the location informed the material?

We spent three weeks in Las Vegas filming, and then we did a week in Paris. I’m glad we shot in Las Vegas. I think originally it was going to be in New York, but Vegas has a personality that’s kind of pervasive, you know? You kind of feel like a different person when you’re there. We were staying in downtown, just one of the strangest places on Earth, and I found it kind of inspiring in a strange way. That may sound odd, considering the movie, but it makes you feel playful a bit.

And did you get to look into the weird world of Las Vegas celebrity chefs?

I spent some time in New York with a chef friend of Matt’s, a really close friend of Matt’s. We spent some time in the kitchen, and he showed me the rudiments of things and how things work, so I wouldn’t look like a boob. Then when I got to Las Vegas, I… well I certainly went to plenty of restaurants, but I didn’t really get a chance to go into any of the kitchens. I took all my leads off this guy in New York.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

You say that Las Vegas makes you feel like someone else, but Frank seems unable to be anyone else. In a way, he’s the only wholly honest character in the film.

That’s true, but he’s still… Just because he’s honest doesn’t mean he’s right. Ultimately I think he’s a very simple person. I don’t think he’s a simpleton, but he’s a simple person. He loves his job, he loves to cook, and he loves this woman. And then he kind of crumbles and falls apart. And this is the kind of stuff I think any fella can relate to. When you got a woman or partner you’re head over heels about, and you think there might be some kind of foul play afoot. It’s a brutal situation for anyone to deal with.

You have ten film credits in 2016 alone. Aren’t you exhausted?

Yeah! Yeah! I’m pretty tired. I’m not going to lie. I just finished this job last night in Toronto. So, yeah, I’m pretty tired. But, you know, I’m hoping that eventually… It’s just hard. It’s hard to say “no” to the projects. Particularly the stuff that’s interesting or have talented people associated with it. But I feel that some actors don’t get to work at all, or they don’t get to work as much as they like, so it’s hard to complain about it, really.

Well, I like watching you work, of course. But don’t kill yourself.

[Laughs.] That’s right. I won’t.

Top Image: Jim Spellman/WireImage

Witney Seibold is a longtime contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.