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Fast chat: Michael Shannon, star of '99 Homes'

A movie about the foreclosure crisis sounds, quite frankly, dull as dirt, but when it stars Michael Shannon you're pretty much guaranteed there's some intense drama in store.

In "99 Homes," which opened in Manhattan on Sept. 25, Shannon plays Rick Carver, a shady real estate broker who evicts families from their homes, including Dennis ("Spider-Man" Andrew Garfield), an unemployed single dad who winds up working for Carver as the audience cringes, "Noooo, don't do it, don't do it."

Shannon has built a solid reputation playing intense, complex characters (notably a tough ex-federal agent in "Boardwalk Empire" and off-the-rails chap after a nervous breakdown in "Revolutionary Road"). He'll soon be seen opposite Julianne Moore in "Freeheld," and Kevin Spacey in "Elvis & Nixon" (Shannon as Elvis, Spacey as Nixon). Shannon lives with his girlfriend and their two daughters in Brooklyn.

I gotta admit, I was surprised how gripping this film was.

Well, when you first hear about it, you think, [Shannon's voice turns deadpan], "Oh, a movie about the foreclosure crisis. Wow, I can't wait." [He chuckles.] Thing is, when this crisis was happening, and in the media, it was dealt with in a technical way. I never felt emotionally attached to the story then.

It was all about numbers.

Numbers, rules and silly names like Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac -- like it's a candy store. But this is vital to us, and has been ever since we were Neanderthals in caves. Having your spot, your sanctuary -- it's a primal thing. When Ramin [director and co-writer Ramin Bahrani] was preparing to write this script, he went to Florida for months and spent time with people getting evicted, people doing the evicting . . . he's very rigorous. Those guys on the clean-out crew, who empty out the houses and put all the stuff out on the lawn? That's a real clean-out crew. And the sheriff who comes with me on my evictions -- he's a real sheriff. He's done evictions. He knows how it goes. He's also an actor. How Ramin found this guy, I'll never know.

What was Andrew Garfield like?

He's a very intense, devoted young actor. We were lucky to have him. He's representing people who are disenfranchised, who never get a chance to tell their story, who don't have a voice. He's their surrogate and he took that responsibility very seriously.

Your character, on the other hand, is coooold. A great white shark.

The one overlap with Rick and me is our feelings about real estate. Rick says, "Don't get emotional about real estate," and I kinda feel the same way. I mean, it's a little different now -- when I didn't have kids, I really didn't care where I stayed. I'd sleep at the dressing room in a theater. As long as I wasn't on the sidewalk, I couldn't care less. When I was young, we moved around quite a bit, so I think that's why I don't have a visceral connection with property. Now my eldest daughter, Sylvie, is 7 and very attached to our apartment in Brooklyn -- she said, "I'd live here my whole entire life."

You've played intense characters over the years. Has Sylvie seen you in anything?

She's seen a lot of my plays. I did a play last year (Ionesco's "The Killer") -- about three hours long -- she sat through the whole thing. She loves theater.

What about "Man of Steel," when you played villainous General Zod?

I don't know if she ever saw that. There are little boys in her school who are tickled by it. She did visit me on set and met Henry Cavill [who played Superman]. We were shooting a scene when I had Henry tied to a table. Later she said, "I visited Daddy on set. And Superman was tied to the table." There was a pause, and she said, "Yeah, my daddy tied Superman to a table." She was pretty impressed.

You have a slew of films coming out.

"Freeheld" in October. Very moving, based on a true story. Then I got Seth Rogen's "The Night Before" out in November -- that's a comedy. And more next year.

There's a new combo -- Shannon and comedy.

Everybody's been wondering when I'm gonna do a comedy, so . . . here it comes. Fasten your seat belts. So, yeah, it's a real avalanche of Mike Shannon.

And next spring you come to Broadway with Jessica Lange and Gabriel Byrne in "Long Day's Journey into Night."

It's my favorite Eugene O'Neill play. I'm looking forward to it. My dad used to see Jason Robards do O'Neill on Broadway. He'd always reminisce about it. Unfortunately, he's no longer around to see me in this version. But maybe he'll be looking down. That'd be cool.

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