‘Salt and Fire': Michael Shannon on Working with Werner Herzog

     April 6, 2017

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From writer/director Werner Herzog, the dramatic thriller Salt and Fire is about a mysterious hostage-taking that involves a scientist, the head of a large company, and an ecological disaster in South America. Deliberately stranded with two blind boys in an area of gigantic salt flats, Laura (Veronica Ferres) must asses what Matt Riley’s (Michael Shannon) true intentions are, so that they can unite to avoid a disaster.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Michael Shannon talked about why he never passes up the opportunity to work with Werner Herzog, why he felt this environmental story was important to tell, getting to work on salt flats and stay in a hotel made out of salt in Bolivia, and how he viewed this character. He also talked about playing George Westinghouse opposite Benedict Cumberbatch’s Thomas Edison in The Current War, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, playing Hilary Swank’s brother in What They Had, not believing Guillermo del Toro when he said that he’d seen every one of his films, and why he wanted to sign on for the Waco mini-series.

Collider: What was the draw of this for you? Was it Werner Herzog or was it the script?

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Image via XLrator Media

MICHAEL SHANNON: It started with Werner. This is our third movie together. To say that Werner is a unique individual is a massive understatement. And who knows how much longer we’ll be able to enjoy his company, so I always take advantage. I hope it’s a long time, but you never know, so I take advantage of the opportunity to spend time with him. But I also liked the story in the movie a lot, as it pertains to the environment and what we’re doing to the world, and how we’re destroying the world. There’s never enough movies about that, and I think we should be reminded of that, as often as possible.

This is a movie that certainly gets you to think about environmental ramifications and the dangers of that.

SHANNON: Yeah, and the landscapes in the film are so stunning. Werner always goes to such interesting places. He’s like the best tour guide. He’s taken me places I would have never seen otherwise.

What was it like to actually get to go to Bolivia and shoot on the Uyuni Salt Flats?

SHANNON: It’s very peaceful. It was nice to get away from all of the chaos here. I was able to take my little brother with me, and I think he felt the same way. He loved being there. It’s very serene out there. You have to be careful about the elements and make sure you don’t get sunburned, or things like that. Other than that, it’s very peaceful.

You’ve said that you even stayed in a hotel that’s made out of salt, that claimed to be “The Premier Salt Hotel in the World.” How does that even work, and what is that like?

SHANNON: I don’t know. Not everything there is made out of salt. There’s wood and furniture, and things like that. But the ceilings were made out of these huge stalactites of salt, dripping from the ceiling. It reminded me of Werner’s film about the caves. It was a very nice hotel and very comfortable. I don’t know if I would ever go there again, but I would highly recommend it. I should go back for a vacation, someday. 

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Image via XLrator Media

This is a very interesting character because Laura might see Matt Riley as the villain of this story, but he also seems like he’s just a desperate man who needs someone to fully understand what’s going on. How did you view him?

SHANNON: I feel like the story of the movie is like a fable. In a way, it feels like a character in a story, and the way in which the screenplay is written accentuates that. It’s not meant to seem like a totally normal, everyday, hum-drum person. There’s certainly a style to it. It’s a theme that I’ve dealt with in a few films that I’ve worked on, where it’s hard, nowadays, to take care of yourself and make a living without screwing someone else over. There are so many people who make their fortunes of the misfortunes of others. I don’t know if it’s because the world is too damn crowded, or what, but it’s something that I’ve been noticing for awhile and I feel like it’s definitely something that this character is struggling with.

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