Michael Shannon in Boardwalk Empire
  • Michael Shannon in “Boardwalk Empire”

“Mike can have this certain impassive quality to his presence,” filmmaker Jim Sikora says about Michael Shannon, the star of Sikora’s film I’ll Die Tomorrow. “He can say everything with the slightest expression, like guys like Robert Mitchum would do, or dare I say Lee Marvin.”

Shannon is performing tonight with David Yow and members of Pegboy in a fund-raiser and shoot for the film at the Viaduct Theater.

He plays the washed-up singer in a 90s punk band in I’ll Die Tomorrow. It’s a scene he knows. “Some of the most exciting moments in my life were spent in these clubs like Cabaret Metro and Lounge Ax and the Empty Bottle, seeing these bands that blew your mind,” Shannon says. I’ll Die Tomorrow “captures a scene and a period of time that means something to me. It’s different from High Fidelity, a little bleaker, which is more my speed.”

Shannon has seen his star rise in the eight years since he took the part in Sikora’s film, the subject of my movie feature in this week’s Reader.

Shannon got his first lead film role William Friedkin’s 2006 adaptation of Bug. He was nominated for best supporting actor last year for Revolutionary Road, and there’s widespread critical consensus that his performance as manager Kim Fowley is the best thing about The Runaways. Two years ago he moved to Brooklyn with his girlfriend, Steppenwolf ensemble member Kate Arrington.

At the end of May, Shannon was finishing season one of Martin Scorcese’s HBO series Boardwalk Empire, and the off-Broadway remounting of The Hypocrites’ Our Town at the Barrow Street Theatre. And he was prepping for a gig at the Mercury Lounge with his band Corporal, formed with castmates from a 2002 production of Adam Rapp’s Finer Noble Gases at the Humana Festival in Shannon’s hometown Lexington Louisville.

“I’ve been playing music since way before I started acting,” Shannon says. “It’s always been my main passion. But as hard as acting is to get into, I think it’s even harder to make it in the music business. At least with acting, someone else will write the thing and tell you what to do. With music you’ve got to write it and make sure anybody gives a rat’s ass, which they usually don’t.”

Shannon is moving back to Chicago for the next five months with Arrington and their toddler daughter. (Arrington is in Steppenwolf productions of Bruce Norris’s A Parallelogram, opening July 1, and Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit, opening September 9).