Michael Sheen: 'I am officially the king of Hollywood'

On stage and screen, Michael Sheen has made his mark by breathing new life into cultural icons; now he's turning his gaze away from real life and towards fantasy.

If life begins at 40, Michael Sheen has certainly begun a very different one since hitting the landmark in February.

In January, Frost/Nixon opened worldwide and garnered award nods aplenty for Frank Langella, but none for Sheen's Frost (bar Best Actor awards from the Evening Standard and the Los Angeles Film Critics). In March, The Damned United opened in the UK. Award season response is still to be determined, but reviews for his performance of the irascible Brian Clough earned Sheen some of the best reviews of his career on both sides of the Atlantic. And there is no showier role this time (like Langella's Nixon tell-all and Helen Mirren in The Queen) to deflect the spotlight from him.

Yet the most delicious moments of Sheen's 41st year are by-products of his strangely two-toned career arc, one which sees him playing either reality or fantasy with little in-between bar an animated film here, a romantic comedy there. First was his OBE which saw the actual Queen honouring Sheen for his eclectic body of British work and perhaps mostly for playing Tony Blair in a film about her. Second was his securing a role in The Twilight Saga: New Moon, the most anticipated film of 2009 among young girls, young women, mothers and grandmothers.



"Look, I really am the last British actor who's not in any of the Harry Potter films. I was looking for something I could do that would make me cool in the eyes of my daughter."



A besuited Sheen isn't far from the LA home he often shares with his 10-year-old daughter, Lily, whose mother is Kate Beckinsale. He moved to LA because he missed his daughter, but New Moon was filming in Vancouver, a short hop up the coast. He sounds genuinely thrilled that Twilight's producers approached him to play Aro, leader of the Volturi vampire collective.



"I had to say to my daughter, 'I heard someone talking about this character Aro in these books. Do you know anything about that?' And she said, 'Yes, he's the leader of the Volturi and he reads people's minds. Are you playing him?' Of course I said, 'no, no, no'. When it was all worked out, she cried. Then she hit me."



The timing for Sheen's career couldn't be better. American critics loved The Damned United while having little interest in and no knowledge whatsoever of football. They appreciated the sport off-field, and the performances. American audiences, meanwhile, embrace the sort of roles Sheen ferrets out when not playing real, illustrious figures. He recently completed the Disney sci-fi extravaganza Tron Legacy with Jeff Bridges, John Hurt and House's Olivia Wilde, has made three Underworld films in which he plays a werewolf and is now, thanks to The Twilight Saga: New Moon, the coolest dad at Lily's school by several American football pitch lengths.



"There's a huge amount of snobbishness," he says, forcefully but not angrily. "This ridiculous patronising way of looking at some things that are called "genre films". I think some of the most inventive, moving, powerful work has been written in science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and certainly films that have been written for young adults. These Twilight books and films take the emotions and experiences of young people seriously."



At 12, Sheen was offered a trial with Arsenal which his Jack Nicholson-impersonating father turned down. Success would have necessitated a move to London and the family was happy to stay put in Port Talbot. Shortly afterwards, Sheen joined the West Glamorgan Youth Theatre, then the National Youth Theatre and finally RADA. In his second year there he won a stage role opposite Vanessa Redgrave in When She Danced and never went back. He won louder plaudits for his Mozart at the Old Vic in London, and later transferred with the play to Broadway. Much later he originated his David Frost in the stage version of Frost/Nixon, first in London and then on Broadway, to massive acclaim. But Twilight takes him way back.



And if he sounds star struck by Stephenie Meyer, author of the book series, well, he is, comparing her to the Brontës and Jane Austen. "The utter desolation she is able to capture in New Moon, I experienced it. She really gets to the heart of the devastation of losing a first love. As we get older we all tend to maybe trivialise our own feelings and experiences at that age because society and culture does that to us. But I remember it. I remember people saying, 'Oh, he's just a 13-or 14-year-old boy. What does he know? He'll grow up and grow out of it'."



Given Vancouver's proximity to LA, by air anyway, it seems refreshing that Sheen's daughter did not visit her father's set, though she must have been dying to. "No, she was in school," he says firmly. "There were more important things. But she's coming to the premiere."



She and 20 friends?



"We couldn't get many tickets so it's just me and her. But apparently Lily's street credit in school has gone up enormously."



Sheen will not appear in the third film, Eclipse. "I'm not in the book so I don't make it into the film. I compared this all recently to what it's like to be a grandparent, apparently. You get to have the baby, you get to play with the baby then give the baby back. I come onto this huge phenomenon, enjoy it a bit and then get outta Dodge."



All of Hollywood of course has seen Frost/Nixon and much The Damned United. Despite its across-the-board raves by American critics it is playing in only one small Los Angeles cinema a month after release. There is, it seems, only one kind of football allowed in America. Fortunately for Sheen there is more leeway for foreign actors. He is quick to joke about New Moon's telegenic factor.



"Stephenie says in the book that the Cullens are so beautiful because that's a way of mesmerising their prey. So of course everyone is young and gorgeous which is really clever and, from a psychological point of view, brilliant. I remember when I was the youngest person in the theatre company or the film and then suddenly there I am in this, the old fogey. I dispensed wisdom and would do little acting workshops on my own because no one turned up for them. You try and hide behind the fact you have all this experience but unfortunately no one was interested in that either so I just used to cry my vampire tears in the corner. And not being a gorgeous vampire, I decided the voice would be the thing that lulls people. The voice and the contact lenses which have a tiny hole in the middle. You can kind of see out but there's a blurry bit in the middle. Dakota [Fanning, mean Volturi member Jane] looks really scary with red eyes and I look like a rabbit."



Perfect for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland then, out next year and in which Sheen plays the White Rabbit.



Does he have any sort of plan for Hollywood now he's made his base there?



"I am officially the king of Hollywood now. I've managed to do everything. I just feel really happy that I'm able to do something like this, a big huge franchise phenomenon and I'm still able to do small independent films and some theatre. I feel really excited about the way my career is at the moment, partly because I've never had much of a career plan. I'm sure the New Moon cast have armies of people who sit down every morning and work out every step they take but I've never really thought about it. I've just done what I've connected with."



Sheen is hoping that this particular connection will lead to a little more wall space. "My daughter's whole wall is covered with Twilight posters and then there's a tiny little picture of me in the corner. I said to her last night, 'People ask me about you and what you feel about these films. And there's a tiny little picture of me you put up out of pity.' And she said, 'No, it's not out of pity Dad. I think you're cool'."



Sheen's street cred has gone up too, then. "I did have one little moment. I was buying a pair of jeans here in LA and I went into the little cubicle to try them on. I came out quite tentatively to have a look in the mirror, you know, worried about that moment. And as I pulled back the curtain there was a woman on the other side, holding various items of clothing, shaking, and saying, 'You're Aro, aren't you?' So I went back in my cubicle and hid.



"If that's anything like what's about to come, I might have to go around with a bag over my head."



The Twilight Saga: New Moon opens on 20 November

Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star