the Queen's Michael Sheen

January 29, 2008, 4:20 pmwhomagazine

The Underworld star has received numerous accolades for his prime ministerial role - he also played the British prime minister in Frears' 2003 telemovie The Deal - but it's not the only real-life imitation he's been praised for. He has also hit the spot in a swag of other biopics and plays, stepping into the shoes of HG Wells (telemovie HG Wells: War With the World) and Mozart (in play Amadeus in London's West End). The versatile Welshman, who has a daughter Lily, 7, by former partner, actress Kate Beckinsale, talks to WHO...


Have you met Tony Blair?

No, but two days before starting The Queen I bumped into his daughter Kathryn. I plagued the poor girl with questions like, "What does your dad wear in bed?" and she got very embarrassed. David Frost interviewed Tony Blair and David said, "The one thing the prime minister and I agreed on, was that we both wanted joint custody of Michael Sheen." So that's a thumbs up from Mr Blair himself! The Blair character in The Queen is a much more sympathetic portrayal than the one in The Deal. The Queen is set at the time when Princess Diana died. Blair had only been prime minister for four months, so was at the height of his popularity.

You say you're not a good impersonator. How do you do it then?

It's weird because when I was younger, I was never the person who could do impersonations and I've always assumed I wasn't very good at it. The first time I played a real life character, Tony Blair in The Deal, it was really frightening, especially because he was so well known. I just had to watch as much footage as I could: I spent ages watching and listening and reading about him. The first thing is to get an imaginative connection - instead of trying to replicate how someone looks and sounds, I try to get a sense of what's going on underneath and build it up from there. When I do start to look or sound like them, I know where they're coming from.

You're from the same town in Wales, Port Talbot, as Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins. Is there something in the water?

I don't know what that's about. It's a very small, old steel town. You wouldn't think it'd be the sort of place where a lot of actors would come from, but having had two actors like Burton and Hopkins come from there, anyone who does want to be an actor has a bit more encouragement. That's the plus side but then on the negative side you think, "There's already been two amazing, brilliant, huge actors who come from here. What are there chances of there being a third?"

You live between LA and London. Have you ever been tempted to do the whole Hollywood thing?

My daughter Lily lives in Los Angeles (with her mum Samantha Beckinsale), so I spend as much time as I possibly can there. Unlike most actors, I'm not there for the films but for my daughter. The rest of my life, and my friends and family, are in Britain, and it's home for me, so I would find it very difficult to leave completely and only live in LA.

You've talked before about feeling a bit of a fish out of water in Hollywood. How do you feel about it now?

I have a very strange experience there in that I'm not there to do the whole Hollywood party thing, so it's quite a quiet time there. When I'm in London my life is very, very busy and there's loads going on, but when I go to LA I'm there for a break. I pick my daughter up from school and spend time with her. It's taken me about five or six years, but now I enjoy being there, whereas at first I found it quite a lonely place.

You played a prank on your ex-Kate Beckinsale on Ashton Kutcher's show Punk'd (Sheen threw two men, one a love struck Kate fan, in a pool). How did she react?

Punk'd got in touch and asked if I thought Kate would like that kind of thing? Kate is a huge practical joker, so I said absolutely. I didn't want anything that would upset her in the wrong way or involve my daughter though. It was the most stressful experience ever, because it's so difficult to plan and you have to do it in secret. But afterwards we really laughed and Kate really enjoyed it in retrospect.

Are you worried Kate's going to get you back?

I live in dread of her getting me back because she loves practical jokes. I absolutely hate them..

How did you feel about Ashton Kutcher saying that he was surprised you pranked Kate as Bruce Willis would never do that to Demi Moore?

It's great. The relationship that Kate, Len, Kate's husband, and I have is really good and we're really good friends.

Did you say to Ashton, 'Well, I'm not Bruce Willis'?

Yeah! Funnily enough Len (Underworld director Len Wiseman), is now working with Bruce Willis, because he's directing Die Hard 4 (Live Free or Die Hard) .

Your daughter Lily got you into doing impressions, didn't she?

Yeah, because she would watch kids films and read books and she'd want me to be those characters. Because she's a totally non-judgmental audience, I felt confident enough to have a go at them. I got better and better at doing it and that's probably what's behind all these real life characters that I'm playing now.. The last thing she really loved was Happy Feet so I'm going to have to study the penguins.

Are you proud of Lily for making her acting debut in Underworld: Evolution (as the young Selene, Kate Beckinsale's character)?
It's lovely that there's one film that she, her mother and I are all in at the same time. That's a nice family memento to have for years to come. Whether she carries on doing stuff, I don't know. She says she wants to be a pop star and a writer so we'll see what happens with that.

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