However, she opened up about that tragedy in an interview posted Sunday by The Los Angeles Times. When Shannon was 4, her mother, younger sister and cousin were killed in a car accident. Her dad was at the wheel and was driving under the influence; he was injured but survived.
“I was very heartbroken and very sad and just trying to hold it all together as a kid,” said the actress, who recently appeared in HBO’s The White Lotus and next will be seen in season two of HBO Max’s The Other Two. “There’s no way that you could feel that type of deep pain about your mother and your sister being dead, so you just hold it all in, and it comes up later in life.”
To that end, Shannon says she used to physically harm herself while playing the role of Mary Katherine Gallagher on SNL but not even realize what she was doing to her own body until the following day.
“I didn’t care if I cut myself or I made myself bleed,” she said. “I did not give a shit. I looked at it like punk rock. I was reckless, and because of what I went through, I just didn’t care about anything.”
After the accident, she went to live with her aunt while her father recovered in the hospital, but she struggled.
“The life that we left was not the same life we were coming back into,” she recalled. “It just felt like everything was different. And I wanted my aunt to do stuff like my mom. I was like, ‘No, my mom cuts the crust like that.’ Everything made me mad.”
She landed the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz in fifth grade, and performing became her refuge. She also found that other aspiring actors filled an emotional void caused by the death of her mother: “They would hug you, and I missed some of that from not having a mom.”
As for Mary Katherine Gallagher, she created the character prior to joining SNL, during an improv exercise. The character, she says, “was really based on me, how I felt after the accident — really nervous, accident-prone, wanting to please, fucked up but full of hope. I just exaggerated everything I felt as a little girl and turned it into a character.”