Why the actor has a reputation for playing scary, and how his role in Kate and Leo's ''Revolutionary Road'' continues the trend

By Missy Schwartz
Updated January 02, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST

Over the years, Michael Shannon has played so many nasty dudes — the wicked stepfather figure in 8 Mile, the violent ex-con in Bad Boys II, the daddy-killing inmate in Let’s Go to Prison — that an entire thread on his IMDb.com page is devoted to how ”scary” he is. ”I’m not really a mean person,” insists the 33-year-old actor. ”I don’t fight or do drugs or shoot people. I’m pretty civilized. I just think, even when I’m sitting there, staring into space, I look like I’m upset about something.”

That same menacing expression is on display in Revolutionary Road, in which Shannon appears as a self-described ”certified lunatic” unafraid to poke holes in the seemingly picture-perfect marriage of a ’50s suburban couple (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet). His character is hardly a straight-up villain. (”He’s deeply disturbed and has given up trying to be normal,” says Shannon.) But he’s still pretty…scary. And this time, critics have taken notice, singling out Shannon’s performance as one of the best of the year and talking up his chances for an Oscar nomination. After 16 years in the business, that feels pretty damn good. ”It’s like I’ve been standing on the outside of an amusement park and finally somebody’s gonna let me in to go on all the rides,” he says. Maybe we’ll even catch him smiling.