Michael Sheen says he finds it ‘hard to accept’ non-Welsh actors playing Welsh roles

Actor is the latest actor to weigh in on the long-running authenticity debate

Ellie Harrison
Tuesday 06 June 2023 13:11 BST
Michael Sheen tells Owen Jones why he handed back his OBE

Michael Sheen has admitted he has trouble accepting non-Welsh actors playing Welsh roles.

The actor, who was born in Newport, Wales, made the remarks while discussing his new role in BBC One’s Best Interests, in which he plays the father of a child with cerebral palsy.

He noted that there were several people with disabilities working on the project, leading him to talk about of how far actors can plausibly play people whose experience they have not shared.

“You know, seeing people playing Welsh characters who are not Welsh, I find, it’s very hard for me to accept that,” the 54-year-old told The Telegraph. “Not particularly on a point of principle, but just knowing that that’s not the case.

“That’s a very different end of the spectrum, but a part like Richard III [the disabled Shakespeare character] is such a great character to play, it would be sad to think that that character, you know, is no longer available or appropriate for actors to play who don’t have disabilities, but that’s because I’m just not used to it yet, I suppose.

“Because I fully accept that I’m not going to be playing Othello any time soon,” he added, referring to Shakespeare’s Moorish military commander. Until around 1981, the role of Othello was frequently performed by white actors, including the Sir Anthony Hopkins and the late Laurence Olivier, wearing Blackface makeup.

“Again, it’s not particularly a point of principle, but personally, I haven’t seen many actors who have come from quite privileged backgrounds being particularly compelling as people from working-class backgrounds,” Sheen continued.

“If you haven’t experienced something, you know, the extreme example is, well, if you haven’t murdered someone, can you play a murderer?”

Michael Sheen

Sheen’s comments are the latest in a long-running discussion around authentic casting.

Last month, Helen Mirren said she had tried to “turn a blind eye” to criticism after she, a non-Jewish Brit, was cast as former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir.

Suranne Jones, meanwhile, who is straight but has played gay characters in Gentleman Jack and Vigil, said she did not agree with Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies, who previously declared that gay roles should be left to gay actors.

Best Interests, which co-stars Sharon Horgan and Lenny Rush, airs on BBC One on at 9pm on Monday 12 June.

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