How Jessica Chastain Convinced ‘George & Tammy’ Costar Michael Shannon to Take His First Emmy-Nominated Role

TheWrap magazine: “Jessica fought to get me in there after there was a vacancy,” Shannon said, “because I think some of the powers that be were like, ‘Can we get somebody a little more…whatever?’”

Michael Shannon in "George & Tammy" (Showtime)

This story about Michael Shannon first appeared in the Down to the Wire: Drama and Limited Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. All actor interviews in that issue were conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike began.

Perhaps the only thing more surprising than “George & Tammy” star Jessica Chastain receiving her first Emmy nomination as country legend Tammy Wynette is that her journeyman costar Michael Shannon is also receiving his first Emmy nomination as country legend George Jones, despite an impressive TV background that includes HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” and Hulu’s “Nine Perfect Strangers.”

“Jessica fought to get me in there after there was a vacancy,” Shannon said of his Oscar-winning “Take Shelter” costar, “because I think some of the powers that be were like, ‘Can we get somebody a little more… whatever?’”

But as he’s been doing throughout his remarkably chameleonic career, Shannon provided something far beyond “whatever” and slipped effortlessly into the skin of troubled crooner Jones, with an impressive set of pipes to match his costar’s. He also had no trouble whipping out a guitar, which he did on late-night shows like “Late Night with Seth Meyers” not too long ago.

“Jessica had seen me perform with the band that I used to play with when we were doing ‘Take Shelter,’” Shannon said. “I had just made a CD and put it in the jukebox at this little pub that we used to go to sometimes where we were shooting. She was a fan of my music. She said (of ‘George & Tammy’), ‘Wouldn’t this be amazing to get to combine these two things that you love to do?’”

Michael Shannon as George Jones and Jessica Chastain as Tammy Wynette in Showtime’s “George & Tammy” (Dana Hawley/Showtime)

Shannon, who recently premiered his feature directorial debut, “Eric Larue,” at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival to warm notices, is considerably taller than the real-life Jones was, but adjustments were made in production so that he and Chastain’s height difference wasn’t an issue. Clothes definitely made the man in this project, with Shannon rocking some bold rhinestone suits.

“I was just constantly stunned and amazed by what (costume designer Mitchell Travers) was bringing in and having made for me,” Shannon said. “I mean, that suit I wear to go to Vegas is just one of most incredible articles of clothing I’ve ever seen in my life. And it’s funny because it was not cheap, it was handmade. This incredible suit was made for, like, five minutes of screen time, but that was how dedicated Mitchell was.”

So now that he and Chastain have a hard-hitting drama and biopic-style musical under their belts, might a comedy be next? (For the uninitiated, Shannon’s comedic chops are evident in everything from the stoner sleeper “The Night Before” to his already-classic Funny or Die reading of the infamous Delta Gamma Sorority letter.) “I mean, we make each other laugh, that’s for sure,” Shannon said. “And she’s very funny.”

Read more from the Down to the Wire: Drama and Limited Series issue here.

Illustration by Becki Gill for TheWrap