Unforgettable: Michael Sheen Photo: Andy Gotts/Camera Press
Michael Sheen had a problem with the Prince of Wales. Not a person, but a title. “I think it's funny,” he says. “It's just stupid. I see no reason why the title should continue. Certainly not with someone who is not Welsh.”
“This is not the opinion of the majority,” he adds resignedly. “So whatever most people want, I'm sure it will continue.”
The Frost/Nixon star and proud son of Port Talbot chats via video link from a shepherd's place near his hometown (a deer just came into view), but even from a distance it's easy to see that Shin is a man of strong convictions.
In the past, he has spoken of the possibility of relinquishing the title after the death of Elizabeth II as a gesture to “correct some of the mistakes of the past.” In 2020, he returned the MBE he was “honoured” to receive in 2009 when he felt he would be hypocritical if he lectured on how King Edward I of England “took Wales in a stranglehold” at Turn 14 th century. century.
As we chat, he's about to start filming his television directorial debut, The Way, with playwright James Graham and documentary maker Adam Curtis, about a family embroiled in a civil uprising set in and around Port Talbot. The BBC project is the first project for a production company he set up with Sherlock producer Bethan Jones to focus on Welsh storytelling because “you can scream about how bad it is, but if you want things to change , do it, you know?”
Michael Sheen has returned the OBE he received from Queen Elizabeth II in 2009. Photo: Johnny Green/PA Wire
The 54-year-old actor is one of his generation, a mid-twenties stage star (Charles Spencer of The Telegraph called him “incredibly charismatic”) who has created unforgettable screen portraits of Tony Blair (The Queen, The Deal). ), Chris Tarrant (Quiz) and Brian Clough (Damned United) alongside his David Frost in Peter Morgan's play and film about the 1977 interview that led to the overthrow of the US President. Sheen recently gained a whole new set of fans, playing a real-life archangel opposite David Tennant's carefree demon in Amazon's Good Omens. According to the source novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, they are not technically homosexual characters, but they appear to be in love.
He and Tennant have natural chemistry on and off screen, Sheen says, adding that “he keeps me from being too grumpy.” He is a little grumpy. In one dialogue, in which I assume he is a supporter of Welsh independence, he replies vehemently: “Show me where it says that. I don't believe I ever said that.” Sam Mendes compared Sheen to fellow Welsh stars Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton – “fiery, changeable, unpredictable”.
But he shares warm on-screen chemistry with Sharon Horgan in Jack Thorne's touching new four-episode drama Best Interests. They play the parents of a child with cerebral palsy, the adorable Marnie (played by Dublin actor Niamh Moriarty), who suffers from a seizure that deprives her of her brain. The couple find themselves on opposite sides of an unbearable decision: to turn off or not to turn off their daughter's life support apparatus. Very few will survive this drama without tears, but the issues it raises will be familiar to anyone who has followed the recent legal battles over 12-year-old Archie Battersby and baby Alfie Evans.
'He stops me from being too grumpy': Michael Sheen with David Tennant in Good Omens “. Sophie Mutevelian/BBC
He admits that Best Interest is “heartbreaking” at times, which makes the humor he and Horgan bring to it all the more important. They had not worked together before. “This relationship had to do a lot of hard work. Sharon and I didn't know each other very well… but from the very beginning we had a very similar sense of humor and laughed at each other.” Moriarty's performance is a breakthrough – one scene with makeup perfectly conveys the relationship between parents and children. She has cerebral palsy that affects her legs, a condition called spastic diplegia, but she is not the only disabled actress in the play.
Bafta winner Lenny Rush, 14, who in real life has a medical condition that affects his height, is great as George, who bets on Marnie. Matt Frazier, who plays a lawyer in Best Interests and portrayed Shakespeare's Richard III in 2017, has a thalidomide deficiency that likely gave him an idea of Richard's “my deformity” feeling.
Thorne, who had a chronic illness in his twenties, has said in the past that the TV industry has “totally and completely” let people down with disabilities down. In Best Interests, a parent of a disabled child openly states that people “hate” disabled people. “I think people can feel very uncomfortable around people with disabilities,” Shin says. “Most of the time it just comes down to ignorance about 'Oh shit, I don't know what to do?' This can sometimes make the interaction quite awkward and can cause fear in people.”
The fact that several people with disabilities were working on the project, he said, was amazing because he realized how rarely he had seen it before. This leads to a discussion of how credibly actors can play roles they don't personally live in. Sheen thought about it: “You know, seeing people play Welsh characters who are not Welsh, I find it very hard for me to accept that. Not out of principle, just knowing that this is not the case.
“It's a very different end of the spectrum, but a role like Richard III is such a wonderful character that it would be sad to think that this character, you know, is no longer available or suitable for actors who can't play. I have a disability, but that's because I'm just not used to it yet, I guess. Because I fully agree that
I won't be playing Othello anytime soon.
“Again, it’s not entirely essential, but personally I haven’t seen many actors who come from fairly privileged backgrounds be particularly convincing as working-class people. If you haven't experienced something, you know, an extreme example: well, if you haven't killed anyone, can you play the killer?”
Michael Sheen and Sharon Horgan in Best Interests. Photo: Samuel Doré/BBC
In 2021, it was reported that Sheen intended to become a “non-commercial” actor after selling his property to secure the World Homeless Championship he hosted in Cardiff in 2019 when sponsors declined. So, what is a non-commercial actor?
“There is no such thing,” he says. “In that interview, I talked about how the ideal that I aspired to was to operate as a non-profit company. When I invested in the World Homeless Championship, since then I only owe money, so in terms of profit, there is no profit. I invest as much money as I can in
either funding or supporting what other people are doing
what I believe in, or launching projects myself.”
This is a measure of Shin's confidence that he knows parts will keep coming. He became a father again in his 50s; he and his partner, 28-year-old Swedish actress Anna Lundberg, have two young daughters. “My knees creak a lot more,” he says. “It's a lot harder to get up and down from the floor when you're playing with a child.”
Sheen also has a grown daughter, Lily Mo Sheen, 24, from a previous relationship with British actress Kate Beckinsale. “When my eldest daughter was born, I was still trying to make my way in my career and I had harder decisions to make about whether to work away from home, how much time to spend away from home and all that,” he says. “This time it's not so difficult because I'm a more accomplished actor. Physically, it's hard. But it's always the same: poop doesn't smell better.”
The first episode of “Best Interests” airs on BBC One on Mondays at 9pm and the second one the next day.