Superhero movies are only as good as the supervillains tearing shit up in them. A strong, nefarious foe, such as Terence Stamp's unforgettable General Zod in 1978's Superman and 1980's Superman 2, can transform a summer blockbuster from a Spandex joke into a classic comic book adaptation.

For Zack Snyder's 2013 Superman reboot, Man Of Steel, actor Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire, Revolutionary Road, Bug) has the dual pressure of delivering the evil goods, but also of filling Stamp's black leather space boots as the new General Zod. In a recent sitdown to discuss his excellent upcoming apocalypse paranoia thriller, Take Shelter, I spoke with him about the weight on his shoulders that is this role, his comic knowledge, and how he tried to get inside the mind of his Kryptonian military leader.

Interview by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)

Complex: Terence Stamp's General Zod in Superman 2 is widely considered to be one of the greatest comic book villains ever in movies. When you took the role of Zod for Man Of Steel, did you feel pressure?
Michael Shannon: Oh definitely. Terence Stamp set a very high standard. Before we started filming, my girlfriend actually had Superman 2 on and I saw him—I hadn't seen it in years—and, yeah, it was pretty intimidating. But I think you kind of have to approach it like starting from scratch and it will be different. It's a different take on it; it's not anything I can really talk about in too much detail without getting in trouble. I can say that he's not just a cold blooded villain, you know? In his own way, he's a person just like anybody else and he's fighting for something that he believes in.

Had you read a lot of Superman comics before taking on the role?
Not in a long time. When I was little, I had these two cousins I was pretty close with that had huge comic book collections, and I'd go out and visit them and we would just look at comic books for hours, all different types of comics, and that was a lot of fun. But I hadn't bought a comic book in ages.

Did you have a favorite hero or villain when you were younger?
I liked the Silver Surfer. I thought he was pretty cool, just the look of him surfing through space on a silver surf board.

 

General Zod is not just a cold blooded villain. In his own way, he's a person just like anybody else and he's fighting for something that he believes in.

 

So are you immersing yourself in Superman comics now?
Definitely. Before shooting started, I was talking to Henry [Cavill], who is playing Superman, and he told me about this app you can get at DC Comics, and they've got the whole series you can look at, and he was giving me some recommendations.

Was there anything particular you did to get inside Zod's head and determine your approach to the character?
Well, for me, it always starts with the script; I find most of the clues or the guide posts for the character are in the writing, particularly if the writing is strong, and then you just have to use your imagination and try and figure out you know what the persons up against and what it feels like to be them.

When you're playing somebody like Zod, it's not a lot of hands-on research you can do. It's not like I can go prowling around in a cop car or you know go work at a bar or something and see what it's like. There's nothing to equate [being General Zod] to; it's really in your imagination. I mean, I thought the fact that he's a general is something that I could explore, a way into it looking at other real-life generals, 'cause they all have a pretty intense bearing and a very particular way of being so I looked at generals in the Army nowadays, General Petraeus, people like that, watching interviews with them trying to get to capture that “steely” nature.

Interview by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)