Michael Sheen interview: ‘I could never do impersonations of people’

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In an acting career that has seen him play such luxuriantly coiffed men as Tony Blair and David Frost, Michael Sheen has found himself in some pretty hairy situations. Last year, as game-show host Chris Tarrant in Quiz, the ITV drama about Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’s “coughing major” scandal, he wore a bald cap beneath a toupee the colour of summer wheat. In Amazon’s fantasy series Good Omens – in which he’s fretful angel Aziraphale to David Tennant’s demonic Crowley – he sports mutton chops the likes of which, he says, we’ve not seen “since the glory days of 1970s Welsh rugby”.

But his latest role might represent his greatest wig-out yet. In Last Train to Christmas, a poignant time-travel fantasy film, Sheen plays Nottingham’s king of nightclubs, Tony Towers, whose champagne-swilling hubris is sorely tested as he travels home for the festive season on a train like no other. Whenever a baffled Towers moves between carriages, he finds himself transported from one decade to the next – and his hair keeps pace, morphing from 1970s rocker’s shag to 1980s mullet to 1990s daytime-DJ bouffant and beyond.

The question we must put, then, to this most accomplished of impersonators: are hairpieces his secret weapon? Far from it, says Sheen. Especially when playing real-life characters, it can be “a bit of a battle, if you’ve got a lot going on, on the surface”, he tells me. “The audience come with expectations… they want you to be as much like that person as possible. But as an actor, you can’t let that take over.”

For the 52-year-old Sheen, his speciality “came out of complete left field… I could never do impersonations of people,” he tells me, beaming in from central Scotland where he’s filming season two of Good Omens (bleached-blond curls: model’s own). “So it was kind of a shocker when I realised I’d become known for that. Every single time I’ve played one of those characters, I’ve always been genuinely terrified going into it.”

We’re talking the day after Eddie Redmayne is quoted as admitting that playing a trans character based on artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl – a performance that earned him an Oscar nomination – had been “a mistake”. Where does Sheen stand on the very current debate about the roles actors should be “allowed” to play?

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