From writer/director Matthew Ross, the psychosexual noir thriller Frank & Lola explores themes of love and sex, obsession and betrayal, and revenge and redemption. When up-and-coming chef Frank (Michael Shannon) meets aspiring fashion designer Lola (Imogen Poots), they fall hard and fast for one another, until Lola’s past becomes part of their present and jealousy pushes them to the edge of self-destruction.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actor Michael Shannon talked about how Frank & Lola first came to him about eight years ago, why the film appealed to him, how the script didn’t really change over the years, getting into the mind-set of a chef, and finding a way to make things feel less weird when you’re in front of the camera. He also talked about how he got involved with The Shape of Water and what it was like to work with director Guillermo del Toro, as well as why he wanted to be a part of Horse Soldiers.
Collider: How did this film come to you?
MICHAEL SHANNON: I was out in Los Angeles for the Oscars, the year I was nominated for Revolutionary Road. While I was there, my agent said there was a young man who wanted to meet with me about a project called Frank & Lola. So, Matt Ross came to my hotel and we talked about it, but that was awhile ago. That was about eight years ago. He had to really go through a lot to get the movie together. I just always am very touched when people struggle like that and refuse to let go of their dreams.
When you have a project like that, where nothing comes of it and years go by, and then another actor gets cast as Frank before a scheduling conflict made that fall apart, were you surprised that it came back to you, or had you been drawn to the character and story enough that you were happy to have it come back your way?
SHANNON: I assumed it wasn’t going to happen, to be honest, because several years went by. And then, when I got the call that they were putting it together, I was pretty up for doing it. It’s a great romantic story, and I was looking to do something like that.
Was it still pretty much the same script that you had first read, or had it changed in the time since you first read it?
SHANNON: It hadn’t changed a lot, no. Matt, before we ever met, had already worked on the script for a few years. This project, for him, is the culmination of a decade of work. It didn’t need to change. It changed in the editing of the movie, which is, in and of itself, a writing process. But in terms of what we shot, it was pretty much the same script. The story is very authentic, very deeply felt and very personal. I’m not saying that Matt is Frank, but he drew on a lot of life experience and observations.
Matt Ross has said that he had a friend named Frank, who he named the character after, and he made the character a chef because his friend is a chef who signed on as the chef consultant and trained you for the role. What did you learn from that, that helped you in playing and understanding this guy, as a character?
SHANNON: There’s a real ego thing involved with being a chef. It’s funny, when a chef is showing you how to do something, usually no matter what you do, you’re doing it wrong ‘cause they’re the only ones who really know how to do it right. It’s a very demanding profession, and it’s an obsession. You read about chefs where everything they do is for their restaurant. They’re out shopping for the restaurant, they’re working on recipes, they’re preparing food, and they’re there for 18 hours a day. That obsession and the romantic obsession that Frank experiences are a double whammy.
It’s interesting to watch as Frank becomes much more successful in his obsession with food, while he simultaneously becomes much less successful in his obsession with his romantic life.
SHANNON: Right. It’s very volatile. I think most people, in life, don’t get to have everything they want at the same time. Part of your life will be going well, or you’ll be getting something that you want, and then, there’s some hole or emptiness somewhere else. But that’s really about taking responsibility for yourself, which I think Frank understands, by the end of the movie.
This film is dark, violent and sexual. What were the biggest challenges for you, in finding the truth that you look for in a story and character?
SHANNON: The way I look at it is that it’s always weird to walk in front of a camera and say the lines that somebody wrote down somewhere else. It never stops being weird. But, there’s also a lot of common sense involved. It’s about using your experience of the world and observations you’ve made, and having a certain awareness of the other people you’re working with and what they need. It can make it less weird, if you do that.
(Spoilers) Lola hasn’t really processed the trauma that she’s experienced, which really affects the dynamic between her and Frank. Do you think that there’s any way these two people could have worked their shit out and succeeded in their relationship with each other, or was it just doomed for them?