At Monday’s Awardsline screening for Broad Green’s 99 Homes, actor Michael Shannon continued to find himself in a similar situation he’s been experiencing throughout the film’s press tour: Audiences actually mistake him for his character in 99 Homes, real estate shark Rick Carver. It’s just another indication of how transcendent Shannon’s turn is, a performance that earned him a best actor Gotham Award nomination this morning.
“People come to me and say they’ve been foreclosed on or they know people who were victims of real estate scandals; they’re giving me their business cards. It’s important to remember that I am not a real estate broker,” exclaimed Shannon to Deadline’s Dominic Patten. “I have a tendency to defend Rick because I played him, but I don’t mean to discount the situation. It’s my job (as an actor) to not be judgmental of people, but to understand them.”
Set against the 2008 real estate bubble bursting, when a number of homeowners were thrown to the streets because they defaulted on their mortgages, 99 Homes follows hardworking construction guy Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) who along with his family gets booted from his home by Carver. Despite the hardship, Dennis winds up doing a favor for Carver. This earns the young guy a spot on Carver’s realtor crew, literally turning over homes and kicking people out in what becomes a very lucrative, high stakes game.
Shannon first met the film’s director and co-writer Ramin Bahrani at the Venice Film Festival in 2009 through their mutual friend, director Werner Herzog. Bahrani’s short Plastic Bag was playing at the fest in which Herzog provided the voiceover to a plastic bag.”He has a deep social conscious,” said Shannon about his 99 Homes director.
Expounding on Rick’s motivations, particularly as he reaps a fortune off of others’ misfortunes, Shannon said, “I think he’s a survivor; a person who took advantage of the system rather than being taken advantage by it.”
“Rick just wanted to be a real estate broker. It’s like during the Bubonic plague. He’s like the guy who had to drag all the dead bodies away; this is a responsibility that was thrown in his lap. I don’t think he’s the devil,” added the actor, who was previously Oscar-nominated in the supporting category for his turn in 2008’s Revolutionary Road.
In prepping for 99 Homes, Shannon spent time with a man in Florida, who turned over defunct properties and evicted people from their homes. “He was fragile,” said Shannon about the guy’s sensitivity toward kicking people out of their homes. Likewise, Shannon mentioned that Garfield spent time with those who suffered through the real estate burst. “He felt a responsibility to represent these people and be their surrogate,” said Shannon.
“The real villain you don’t even see in the movie,” exclaimed Shannon about the duplicitous lenders who were the architects behind the real estate boom, “All Rick wanted to do was sell houses, and then this happened.”
Talking about his process, which is typically shies away from, Shannon explained, “A lot of it is instinct. It’s made up from everything you’ve read, what’s in your head and your present experience. It’s a switchboard you plug into.” The Lexington, Kentucky native cut his teeth in the Chicago theater scene with one of his early mentors being the casting director-drama teacher Jane Brody. When asked by an audience member what his preferred technique was, Shannon revealed “Meisner. Because he was trying to get actors to listen to each other.”
99 Homes debuted at the Venice, Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals last year with Broad Green snapping up the film for $3M. The film is currently in release and has made $1.3M at the box office. The title recently won the grand prize at the Deauville Film Festival.