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
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
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.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London