Michael Shannon can seemingly do it all. The two-time Oscar nominee has dated Eminem’s mom, gone head-to-head with Superman, been Seth Rogen’s drug dealing angel, and worked with Al Capone. But there’s one thing he was convinced he couldn’t do: play a spy.
That thought is exactly why Shannon decided to sign up for AMC’s adaptation of John le Carré’s 1983 novel The Little Drummer Girl. The Boardwalk Empire alum admits he isn’t a particularly big fan of the espionage genre, but he became intrigued by the passion of director Park Chan-wook and the challenge of taking on the role of Israeli spymaster Martin Kurtz.
“I didn’t think I could do it at all; I guess that’s why I was intrigued by it,” Shannon tells EW. “If I thought I could do it then I probably would have been bored. It seemed like a big challenge to me because it’s very far away from my own life experience. I have not done or seen any of the things that Kurtz has done or seen, so it gave me a lot of opportunity to use my imagination and to contemplate some events that I hadn’t really thought so much about before.”
To try and understand the mindset and motivations of this man who was very foreign to him, the 44-year-old actor began putting together the character’s history, trying to figure out how he got to where he is.
“I didn’t really go talk to a lot of people about it. I did it mostly myself, just based on reading and private contemplation,” said Shannon. “One of the thrilling things of the job is that you get to time travel and travel all over the world and kind of expand your own perspective on things. With the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it was always something that I was aware of but I had never really considered it as much as I did working on this show, and that’s a great opportunity and motivation to be aware of things and dig deeper than you might usually do otherwise.”
The six-episode miniseries follows Charlie (Florence Pugh), a brilliant young actress, who, while on vacation in Greece, meets a mysterious stranger named Becker (Alexander Skarsgård). The handsome man turns out to be an Israeli intelligence officer in the employ of Kurtz (Shannon). The men have sought out Charlie to recruit her for her most challenging acting gig yet — going undercover with a Palestinian terrorist group.
Just like their characters in Little Drummer Girl, the three actors worked very closely together, allowing Shannon to reunite with Skarsgård, and, for the first time, work with Pugh.
“He’s a dynamite actor and he’s a really good person,” Shannon said of his costar in 2010’s 13. “I really was looking forward to collaborating and making this relationship with him. It’s a fascinating relationship that these two have. There’s a kind of a mutual respect there, but also on [Becker’s] part, he’s trying to distance himself from this world and Kurtz is trying to pull him back into it, which is always an interesting dynamic.”
Meanwhile, Shannon calls Pugh, who stars in Netflix’s Outlaw King and in next year’s high-profile Little Women adaptation, an “overnight sensation.” He adds, “She’s been working nonstop for a few years now, but I think that this is really going to be something that gets her out to a larger crowd, because she’s sensational.”
The Little Drummer Girl will serve as a three-night event for AMC, airing in two-hour installments on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.