05/22/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Michael Shannon Channels Kim Fowley in Runaways

No, Michael Shannon admits, he isn't old enough to remember the Runaways - which doesn't mean he was unaware of them later on.

"Well, I was born in 1974, so I would have been a toddler when they were happening," the 35-year-old actor says in a telephone interview. "I wasn't hugely familiar with the Runaways. I was a big fan of the New York punk scene in my formative years. It was a matter of getting familiar with the punk scene that was happening in L.A. at the same time."

That Los Angeles music scene is at the center of The Runaways, which opened in limited release on March 19 and goes wider in a couple of weeks. And at the center of that L.A. music scene was Kim Fowley: producer, promoter and rock'n'roll enfant terrible. Cast to play Fowley - who discovered/created the Runaways - Shannon immediately dove into the research.

"Floria kind of gave me everything I needed," Shannon says of director Floria Sigismondi. "She had this interview Kim did on the Tom Snyder show; at one point in the '70s, Snyder kept having different punk rockers on. I watched it obsessively, like 500 times.

"In this interview, Kim was very charismatic and very graceful. He had a specific kind of body language because he was so tall and thin. He was like a praying mantis in the way he used his body. It was very expressive, almost like dancing."

Shannon met Fowley while filming and found him charming and fascinating: "He spent the majority of the time telling me about his childhood and his parents, so I'd understand where he came from," he says. "And it made a lot of sense. He had polio twice as a kid. Someone like that is always trying to make up for lost time. He's got a great sense of humor. He does these off-the-cuff, stream-of-consciousness monologues.

"He's a legend in Los Angeles. He's influenced so many people and worked with so many people. On the other hand, if you go to Iowa, probably not a lot of people know who he is."

As a kid growing up in Kentucky, Shannon was attracted to the raw edge of late '70s punk-rock.