Michael Sheen: 'You can never be certain you have got it right’


As Michael Sheen takes the role of Hamlet, he and other leading actors talk about their biggest – and most challenging – roles.

Michael Sheen

"There have been a couple of particularly daunting roles. One was Look Back in Anger, because it's such a well-known play [Sheen played Jimmy Porter in 1999]. There's so much history and baggage – it's seen as the play that changed not just theatre, but the whole culture of Britain. And there's a thing of 'why do you want to do that now?' When something is seen as seminal, it's hard to rediscover it.

"You can never be certain that you've got it right till there's an audience there. That was the case with Frost/Nixon; once it was in front of an audience it became clear that it really worked. We had hoped it would have a thriller-like suspense, but we weren't sure whether we'd got that until the audience was there.

"Playing a real person is certainly daunting – it's again both the challenge and the excitement. But yes, it is quite scary to know that the audience will either accept you as that person that they have all these preconceived ideas and opinions about – or they won't. It certainly doesn't make it easier."

Michael Sheen stars in 'Hamlet' at the Young Vic, London, till 21 Jan

Ciaran Hinds

"I was asked maybe 20 years ago if I could take on Richard III, and in little more than a week. Simon Russell Beale had been playing the role for the RSC, directed by Sam Mendes, and he had a slipped disc and had to have an operation on his back. So I got a phone call from Sam: could I do it?

"When I finally got through on the first night, I thought I'd done it. Then the second night it nearly fell apart – I realised it was built on sand, not bricks and mortar. That was probably my most terrifying night on stage.

"Everybody has a different technique, depending on which drama school they went to. But I didn't have that training so I just have to wrestle with it – I wrestle the life out of it!"

Ciaran Hinds is starring in 'Juno and the Paycock' at the National Theatre, London, 11 Nov to 3 Jan

Imogen Stubbs

"Amanda in The Glass Menagerie was a challenging role. It was with [theatre company] Shared Experience and they're very physical. And there's the strong [American] Southern accent to master. When it came to opening I felt like 'Oh, I've hardly done the text'.

"People kept saying 'she doesn't look old enough to be anyone's mother'! So we had to think, how do we make me look older without looking ridiculous? I beat myself up about it, but [director] Polly Teale was unfazed. As we toured, we found out how we could make it work, so in the second half she goes all sort of Scarlett O'Hara – and I loved it by the end.

"With contemporary writers, the major problem is they're often there. It's nerve-wracking. With Chekhov or Ibsen you can twist it, but if you were doing Pinter and he's in the rehearsal room, you had to make sure you got the semi-colon in the right place ..."

Imogen Stubbs is starring in 'Salt, Root and Roe', part of the Donmar Trafalgar season at Trafalgar Studio 2, London, 10 Nov to 3 Dec

Steven Berkoff

"Many years ago, when I decided not to wait for people to call me, I thought instead, 'What play would I like to do?'. I was in my twenties and I didn't want to do another Osborne or Pinter: modern, tedious – to my mind then – plays. I wanted theatre to be an experience, an event, something magical and totally bizarre.

"I decided to do Kafka's Metamorphosis, where a man turns into a beetle. This is what I wanted to do – to stage the unstageable.

"I worked with Jacques Lecoq in Paris, who showed how to create an animal: by creating the smallest movement. The audience doesn't say, 'This is a man with hands that look like they have arthritis. It says, 'These are the claws of a beetle.'

"I was terrified – but I got a team of actors together and we opened in 1968 at the little Lamda theatre. We went on to the Roundhouse. It was titanic. I was barely 30 and getting wonderful reviews and I was so proud. Somehow I had hit the spot with it – it's been downhill ever since ...."

Steven Berkoff's book, 'Tales of an Actor's Life', is published on 7 Nov

Antony Sher

"The curse of Macbeth is simply that it is very difficult to do. It is rare that there's a successful production of it. Luckily ours did turn out to be, but I found the role to be the hardest I've ever done.

"It's something about the early stretch of the title role, when he has strange little soliloquies where the idea of murder floats into his mind. Then when he's actually in a discussion with Lady Macbeth, he doesn't want to do it. So it's very hard to resolve at first. Macbeth is a particularly violent soldier – yet he has enormous difficulty killing one old man in his bed. All of these are marvellous contradictions that Shakespeare created, but they defeated me for quite a long time.

"The best acting somehow settles into you and just comes out. You just go with the strange twists and turns of the character, and if you trust them – because you have a good writer behind you! – it will come out good."

Antony Sher is starring in 'Broken Glass' at the Vaudeville Theatre, London (londontheatredirect.com) till 10 Dec

Sinead Cusack

"Possibly most frightening was Cleopatra, because of the legend that surrounds her. I found the clue was in the very first line. I was reading masses about the actual woman, and finally I went back to the play. Her first line is, 'If it be love indeed, tell me how much.' It was the cry of the mistress, not the wife, who feels her hold on Antony is weakening and needs to hear how much he loves her.

"The other one was Sebastian Barry's Our Lady of Sligo, where I played a woman dying of cancer who lies in bed through the night. I thought, 'This can't be done, it's not theatrical'; but then I found layers and layers, and peeled them back until I found the woman: you're always searching for the human being."

Sinead Cusack is starring in 'Juno and the Paycock' is at the National Theatre, London, 11 Nov to 3 Jan

Celia Imrie

"Someone like Edward Bond – I did his play The Sea – is quite dense in his writing. But then I had the most glorious light relief in playing the downtrodden sidekick character to Judi Dench. It's very hard to un-see or un-hear a role, so I try not to watch other people's performances. I played Judith in [Noel Coward's] Hay Fever, and Dame Judi had done it in the West End and I was very glad I hadn't seen it, because it would have been hard to follow."

Celia Imrie's autobiography, 'The Happy Hoofer', is out in paperback on 24 Nov. She stars in 'Noises Off' at London's Old Vic, 3 Dec to 25 Feb

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor