Will Michael Shannon win an Oscar for his villainous role in “99 Homes“? When it comes to the Academy Awards, it usually pays to play heroes. Just consider the sympathetic roles that won Oscars for Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club“), Julianne Moore (“Still Alice“) and Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln“). But every once in a while, Hollywood likes to break bad.
Shannon frequently plays dark, intense, often villainous characters (“Man of Steel,” “The Iceman,” “Boardwalk Empire“), and “99 Homes” is no different. He stars as Rick, an unscrupulous real estate agent taking advantage of Florida homeowners after the housing crisis that launched the Great Recession. One day he evicts a young man (Andrew Garfield) from his home only to later take him under his wing, teaching him how to game the system.
Villains tend to be especially prevalent in the supporting race where Shannon will be competing for “99 Homes.” Just last year J.K. Simmons won Best Supporting Actor as a vicious music teacher in “Whiplash.” Other recent supporting champs that chomped at the bit: Christoph Waltz as a Nazi in “Inglourious Basterds” (2009), Mo’Nique as an abusive mom in “Precious” (2009), Heath Ledger as the sociopathic Joker in “The Dark Knight” (2008), Tilda Swinton as a corrupt lawyer in “Michael Clayton” (2007) and Javier Bardem as a remorseless killer in “No Country for Old Men” ( 2007).
Go back a little farther and you’ll find a Best Actor winner who played one of the most iconic villains in movie history: Anthony Hopkins as serial killer Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991). And let’s not forget Denzel Washington‘s 2001 victory for his leading role as a corrupt cop in “Training Day.”
So why do villains often prevail in an industry that usually sides with the good guys? Let’s call it the Macbeth Principle: an actor can get away with playing an unlikable role if he gets to sink his teeth into it with real Shakespearean gusto. Nobody likes Macbeth, but actors often love to unleash their inner demonic brio in such a role on stage or screen, so watching other actors sink their teeth in can be vicariously thrilling.
That may be one reason why antiheroes like Walter White (“Breaking Bad“) and Tony Soprano (“The Sopranos”) have taken such a hold at the Emmys. And of course we’ll also get to see if the Macbeth Principle takes literal effect at the Oscars this year as Michael Fassbender plays that role opposite Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth in an acclaimed adaptation.
However, Shannon doesn’t necessarily agree that his “99 Homes” character is a villain. As he told us in our recent webcam chat (click here or watch below), “I think Rick is deeply aware of how disliked he is by the general public, particularly the people he evicts. But if I don’t like a character, I probably won’t play him.” He added, “I think Rick is desperate to make some sort of connection … I think Rick’s a very lonely person.”
Nevertheless, Rick profits from the hardships of others and corrupts his protege so much that it threatens the young man’s family. But while viewers may certainly dislike Rick, they may admire Shannon in the role. The academy has already shown they’re fans of the actor, who was a surprise Best Supporting Actor nominee for “Revolutionary Road” in 2008. And this role has already made an impact on the awards scene: Shannon picked up a Best Actor bid for “99 Homes” at the Gotham Awards. Do you think Shannon will be nominated for an Oscar next?
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Photo: “99 Homes.” Credit: Moviestore Collection Ltd/REX