Michael Sheen is as driven as the soccer coach he plays in The Damned United, his sixth collaboration with writer Peter Morgan. In demand for a range of roles, the Welsh-born stage actor has conquered London and Broadway, smart movies and genre franchises.
After starring as Lucian, king of the werewolves in all three Underworld movies, last summer Sheen traded in one set of hair extensions and fake incisors for another. Now he’s playing head vampire of The Volturi in Twilight: New Moon, directed by Chris Weitz. The film is due in November.
While Sheen’s willingness to embrace versatility may have a downside– not creating a brand identity–“I enjoy the challenge of playing lots of different characters,” he says, “and having people accept me as that character.”
On stage in London and New York and in the Ron Howard movie Frost/Nixon, Sheen held his own with Frank Langella as they reenacted the 1977 ramp-up and television face-off between cheery TV host David Frost and embittered ex-president Richard M. Nixon. Sheen shares an unusually collaborative relationship with Frost/Nixon writer Morgan. Sheen starred as Tony Blair in both Morgan and Stephen Frears’ TV film The Deal and the Oscar-winning The Queen.
Now Sheen stars in yet another plum role from Morgan, the Brit soccer flick The Damned United. Under the direction of Tom Hooper (John Adams), Sheen plays the real-life brash, controversial, alcoholic, arrogant and charismatic soccer coach Brian Clough. More than a soccer movie, the movie is about ambition driven by revenge as well as love. “Peter has a knack for making subjects accessible,” Sheen says. “Initially, Frost/Nixon and The Queen were both a hard sell.” Morgan was going to direct The Special Relationship, in which Sheen continued as Blair opposite Dennis Quaid and Hope Davis as Bill and Hillary Clinton, but as Sheen explains, Morgan’s up-close ongoing participation during production as a writer forced him to back away as director. Richard Loncraine took over the helm. Now, Sheen swears, his Blair-playing days are over.
Next Sheen co-stars opposite Samuel L. Jackson in Gregor Jordan’s Unthinkable, voices the White Rabbit in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and stars in the CG remake of Tron. Is there anything he will not do? He admits that while it’s hard for him to turn an offer down, he’s going to give it a try.