In real life, Michael Shannon can be an imposing figure, especially when all 64 of him is standing tall. But the slow-talking 38-year-old actors natural voice is soft, and his eyes are kind of sleepy, so its easy to soon relax around him. Still, the roles hes best known for the racist and sexist FBI agent Nelson Van Alden on Boardwalk Empire, Kim Basingers nasty lout of a boyfriend in 8 Mile, the damaged goods next door neighbor John in Revolutionary Road (for which he was Oscar nominated) tend to put most viewers on edge. His portrayal of Kryptons military leader General Zod in Man of Steel might knock some people right over that edge. Gone is the cartoony flamboyance that Terence Stamp gave to the part in the Superman films of the 70s and 80s. This Zod is patriotic and concerned for his people, but hes also angry and extremely dangerous. This time around, Shannon is definitely an imposing figure on the screen. He recently spoke about his role as Supermans foe as well as starring in the new film The Iceman, the true story of the vicious hitman Richard Kuklinski.

You have quite a presence as Zod. Hes a big, scary guy who knows how to fight.

Yes, but the important thing to remember is that, on Krypton, Zod does not have any superpowers. Hes just a general. Hes been training for a long time, whoopin butt for a long time there on Krypton. When he comes to Earth, he goes through a similar thing that Kal-El goes through when he gets here. Basically its just acclimatizing to the environment. Zods probably been doing those moves since he was a little boy.

But he comes across, at least at some points, as evil. How do you go about finding evil as an actor?

I go to Satan. I get my bucket, and then I go down to the well and ask, Satan, are you down there? Ive gotta be evil today. I lower the bucket down into the well, the lava comes back up, I drink it, and it hurts. No, I really dont know. Zod couldnt be any further from who I actually am. Im kind of just a tall, lanky, goofy person.

You could say the same thing about Kuklinski in The Iceman. Hes a cold-blooded killer who also happens to be a loving family man. Was it a challenge to play those two sides of one guy?

The order of the filming was actually split up into those two components. We started with all of the crime elements, the parts with Ray Liotta and Chris Evans. And then once we got that out of the way, Winona Ryder (playing his unsuspecting wife) arrived, and we concentrated on the family side of it. So it wasnt like I had to go back and forth a lot, which was very helpful.

So do you enjoy playing evil characters?

I dont ever necessarily think of it as evil. I keep wracking my brain. Why do people say Im evil? Is the character I play in 8 Mile evil? And some people say, Van Alden is so evil. Im like, Look at all the other men on Boardwalk Empire. Now, youre telling me that Van Alden is the most evil person on that show? So I just dont know.

OK, then lets get back to you as a fighter. There are some great battles in Man of Steel between you and Henry Cavill as Superman, and you and Russell Crowe as Jor-El. Not to mention the one you have with Eminem in 8 Mile when you rough up his mother.

In terms of a choreographed punch, its no secret that Im much stronger than Henry is. I think there were a lot of ice packs back at the hotel for Henry. But Russell really kicks my butt in this movie. I mean, hes the gladiator. What are you gonna do? In 8 Mile ... oh, yeah, that fight. Wow! What a walk down memory lane. That was kind of an awkward fight, really. Thats the kind of awkward fight you have when youve just had sex with some dudes mom.

Man of Steel opens on June 14.

Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.