Michael Sheen’s Best Roles Show Why He’s a National Treasure
After his rallying cry to the Welsh football team, and now a part in the newly announced Wagatha Christie drama, we celebrate the roles that have made Michael Sheen such a beloved actor.
Michael Sheen recently went viral for an epic ‘pre-match’ speech to the Welsh football team on A League of Their Own – so much so that he was actually invited to address the Welsh World Cup squad for real – but anyone who’s seen a Michael Sheen role won’t have been remotely surprised he had such a rousing monologue in him.
The man has range, charisma, and an extraordinary talent for channelling the characteristics of real people without resorting to impersonation. He’s also clearly game for anything, as the news he’ll be playing Coleen Rooney’s lawyer in Channel 4’s newly announced courtroom drama Vardy v Rooney shows. Here’s our pick of Sheen’s best on-screen performances to date:
Throughout his career, Sheen has been unmatched in his terrifyingly accurate depictions of real-life figures, and his portrayal of Chris Tarrant in this ITV drama about the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? cheating scandal is the epitome of his talent in this area. Uncanny to the point of actual witchcraft, it’s easy to spend the whole three episodes so mesmerised by Sheen’s genius that you forget about Matthew Macfadyen’s coughing Major altogether.
The Damned United
You’d think it would be tricky to stand out in a film when you’re alongside acting greats like Jim Broadbent, Stephen Graham and Timothy Spall, but The Damned United gives Sheen one of his finest roles as controversial football manager Brian Clough. Another spot-on example of capturing the essence of a well-known personality, we see the story of Clough’s tumultuous 44-day reign as manager of Leeds United in 1974, including – as you can see above – a pre-match address that doesn’t quite have the same magic as his recent one.
When Sheen met Tennant in this on-screen adaptation of the Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett novel, something truly magical happened. Good Omens is a comic delight with an all-star cast including Miranda Richardson, Jon Hamm, Daniel Mays and Anna Maxwell Martin, but the show’s real USP is the exceptional partnership between Michael Sheen and David Tennant as angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley respectively. Want news of season two? Read our report from the Good Omens NY Comic Con panel.
A razor-sharp portrayal of the infamous interviews in 1977, Frost/Nixon sees Sheen taking on the role of legendary broadcaster David Frost, an undertaking that he yet again nails with breathtaking accuracy without resorting to mimicry. This is one of Sheen’s greatest performances, and yet he somewhat criminally missed out on any major Best Actor nominations thanks to his co-star Frank Langella’s extraordinary portrayal of President Nixon (Langella was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe).
If there’s one upside to the global pandemic, it’s Staged. David Tennant and Michael Sheen reunited as an epic double-act in this satirical lockdown comedy, playing self-mocking fictional versions of themselves as they rehearse a play over Zoom. It’s a rare opportunity to see them playing alongside their real-life wives, Georgia Tennant and Anna Lundberg, who expertly and comically manage their spouses’ fragile egos and childish bickering. There are also jaw-dropping cameos from the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Judi Dench and Samuel L Jackson.
Twilight: New Moon
An appearance in the Twilight movies might seem a bit left-field for Michael Sheen, but the man’s got range. He plays Aro, the leader of an ancient Italian vampire coven. His role isn’t the most meaty of his career, but it shows that he can play just about any genre, somehow even including a vampire-themed fantasy romance mainly aimed at teenage girls. And, yet again, he gets to do a pretty rousing speech.
The delightfully ridiculous (and amusingly named) role of Wesley Snipes is one of Liz Lemon’s ill-fated love interests over the course of four episodes. Deeply irritating, contrary and full of disdain for Liz, you’d think Wesley would be completely unlikeable, and yet the hilarious back-and-forth between the couple is richly funny and Sheen plays his role to comic perfection. It’s worth watching for the perfect delivery of the line ‘I can’t suffer through the London Olympics – we’re not prepared, Liz’ alone.
Michael Sheen has portrayed former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on no fewer than three occasions in his career. The first was in movie The Deal, the most recent in TV movie The Special Relationship, but his best-known and arguably best portrayal of Blair is in The Queen. Close your eyes, and you’d have no trouble believing you were listening to the real deal – but please don’t actually close your eyes, or you’ll miss out on his spot-on and often very comical physical tics and expressions, too.
Sheen takes on a supporting role in this sci-fi romance movie starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, playing a sophisticated and erudite android bartender called Arthur. Passengers may not have been a hit with the critics, but Sheen is a scene-stealing highlight every time he’s on screen.
Masters of Sex
His portrayal of Dr. William Masters in this American period drama earned Sheen a Golden Globes nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series. Often as seductive as the name suggests, Masters of Sex tells the partially true stories of two pioneering researchers of human sexuality during the 1950s, and ran for four series until it was cancelled in 2016. Sheen stars alongside Lizzie Caplan, and the two have an electric partnership, both earning critical acclaim. And yes, as you’ll see in the clip above, Michael Sheen gets to do another pretty good speech.
Prodigal Son: Playing an unnervingly charming serial killer is a new direction for Sheen, and he takes on Dr. Martin Whitley with pizzazz, adding disarming comedy to the two series of this thriller.
The Good Fight: Roland Blum is a riot of a character, allowing Sheen to shine as an outrageous, no-filter lawyer that is equal parts hilarious and terrifying.
Underworld: This action horror film sees Sheen take on the role of Lucian, the leader of the Lycans, and he later also starred in the film’s prequel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.
Doctor Who: Sheen’s voice only made a very brief appearance during Matt Smith’s reign, as a malevolent entity called House in The Doctor’s Wife, an episode penned by none other than Neil Gaiman.