'Nine Perfect Strangers' Star Michael Shannon Breaks Down His Character [Interview]

Nine Perfect Strangers only just premiered on Hulu, but the drama is already intensifying. Things can only stay so calm when you gather a group of emotionally struggling people. Add a mysterious and mildly creepy health guru to the mix and some wild twists and turns are sure to follow.

The Hulu drama stars Nicole Kidman as resort host Masha, who is determined to rejuvenate her nine new clients — by any means necessary. Among her are guests is Michael Shannon as Napoleon Marconi, and while we’re all used to a more badass persona from Shannon, he’s diving headfirst into goofy dad-like humor with this role.

Shannon just recently proved his penchant for comedy as a member of the rich Thromby family in Rian Johnson‘s 2019 whodunit, Knives Out. And while Nine Perfect Strangers isn’t exactly going for the overt ridiculousness of the Thornby’s, Shannon’s Napoleon has more than his fair share of goofy moments. Napolean arrives at Tranquillum House with his wife and daughter, hoping to heal from the death of his son, Zach. Despite the grief, Napolean sticks to looking on the bright side of things, and Shannon delivers some classic dad energy.

But Masha’s unique tactics allow her to reach everyone’s depths, no matter how well they manage to hide their pain. By the end of episode three, Shannon delivers a monologue so heartwrenching it’s hard to remember his past three episodes of lighthearted humor.

I had a chance to speak (all too briefly) with Michael Shannon about what Napoleon’s working through and how Masha helps shape his emotional journey.

So, things get pretty messy and emotional for the strangers at Tranquillum. We see a couple of big heartbreaking monologues, but especially with your character, there’s a lot of comedy mixing with grief. How did you think about bringing those two together?

Well, yeah, it made a lot of sense to me. Comedy a lot of times is a way that human beings deal with pain: trying to get away from pain or extinguish pain or move beyond pain… A lot of the greatest comedians historically had very troubled, difficult lives, so it makes a lot of sense to me. It’s not like Tommy’s on one end and pains on the other. It’s almost like a circle, snake eating its own tail, I guess.

How do you think Napoleon is dealing with the situation that he’s in? Is he aware of his grief and trying to suppress it?

He’s trying to survive. It’s like if you’re drowning and you can see the surface of the water, do you try and get up there or do you just let yourself sink? And he’s trying. He’s trying to get up to break through the surface and get some air. But in the process of doing that, he’s flailing around every which way and definitely has the capacity to make a spectacle of himself. But there’s a lot of people like that in the world. It’s actually quite common.

So the guests have a theory that Masha picked them all because of how their trauma complements each other. What effect do you think he has on the group dynamic and the other strangers?

Well, maybe to inspire them to not be so morose or self-obsessed. He certainly doesn’t have the answers to being happy or anything, but at least he’s making an effort and not succumbing to his darker impulses.

And what about his relationship with Masha? How do you think her mystical powerfulness is affecting him?

Well, you know, it’s interesting with him because I think on one hand he feels an affinity with her, but on the other hand, he has this very strong reluctance to submit to any sort of authority or to admit that he doesn’t know something because he’s a teacher by profession. So I guess that makes sense that it’d be threatening to him to have someone tell him that he doesn’t know everything and that he needs to listen. So I think, in one way, he likes to imagine that he identifies with Masha, but on the other hand, there’s that rift there where he’s not willing to take her advice all the time.

The first three episodes of Nine Perfect Strangers are available to stream on Hulu, with new episodes dropping weekly.

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