When people around the world think of Wales, Michael Sheen always seems to crop up. The 53-year-old actor, who is currently starring in Channel 4's Vardy v Rooney: A Courtroom Drama as celebrity barrister David Sherborne, has slowly but surely earned himself 'household name' status. From returning an OBE from The Queen to his rousing and passionate speeches, Sheen cares deeply about his country. But how did the man become a legend?
Born in Newport and brought up in Port Talbot Sheen came from a theatrical family. His father, Meyrick, worked part-time as a professional Jack Nicholson lookalike and mother, Irene, would regularly involve herself in local am-dram productions and theatre performances. The actor's passion for his trade can also be attributed to the area he was brought up not to mention there might be something in the water as the area produced our finest actors, Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton, too.
This is something that Academy Award-winning Director Sam Mendes once picked up on, deeming Sheen one of the best actors of his generation. He said: "I'm serious. He's Welsh in the tradition of Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton: fiery, mercurial, unpredictable." Sheen would hone his craft during his teenage years where he, like his parents, attended the West Glamorgan Youth Theatre before eventually training as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London.
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Before he'd become the familiar face of TV and film that we know and love, Sheen worked predominantly in the theatre. His first professional acting role came in 1991, appearing in She Danced at the Globe Theatre opposite Vanessa Redgrave, Frances de la Tour and Milton Schulman - a role he received widespread acclaim for. Over the next few years, he would appear in numerous other theatre productions and build up an extensive list of other famous co-stars.
Between 2002-2006, Sheen shifted to work primarily in film roles with 2003 being an important year for him. During this time, he appeared alongside then-girlfriend Kate Beckinsale (with who he has one daughter, Lily, born in 1999) in Underworld. In the film, he played the werewolf leader Lucian. While the Hollywood blockbuster would put him on the world's stage, it would also bring heartbreak. In January 2003, Sheen and Beckinsale's seven-year relationship came to an end. She subsequently began a relationship with Underworld's director Len Wiseman which lasted 11 years. Sheen and Beckinsale have remained friends. though, often popping up on each other's social media accounts with their daughter, including this brilliant baby photo recreation back in 2016.
Beckinsale would not be Sheen's only high-profile girlfriend though and in the years that followed, he had relationships with Canadian actress Rachel McAdams (The Notebook, Doctor Strange) and comedian Sarah Silverman. In 2019, he began seeing Swedish actress Anna Lundberg, with whom he'd go on to work with on lockdown comedy Staged and festive film, Last Train to Christmas, and the couple have two daughters together. They live together near his hometown of Port Talbot.
A brilliant knack for playing real-life people, the 53-yar-old has wowed with his portrayals of Brian Clough, Kenneth Williams, David Frost, but one of Sheen's best-known roles is that of former Prime Minister Tony Blair - who he played three times. Once in 2006's The Queen. The garnered tremendous praise from critics, focused on the differing reactions of the British Royal Family and the newly appointed Prime Minister following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. He has previously said that he spent more time approaching the role as a 'character' and less about his own opinion of Blair. It wouldn't be the first time that Sheen played Blair, as he also starred in 2003's The Deal and would go on to play him again in 2010's The Special Relationship.
Other important roles for Sheen include 2008's Frost/Nixon, where he played veteran broadcaster David Frost opposite Frank Langella as Richard Nixon. The film received five Academy Award nominations. In 2009, Sheen joined the popular Twilight film franchise, playing the villainous Aro. In the years that followed, he also made appearances in films such as Alice in Wonderland (2010), Tron: Legacy (2010), Nocturnal Animals (2016) and Dolittle (2010).
Aside from his film work, Sheen has also established himself as a regular television actor. Between 2013-2016, he played William H. Masters in the Golden Globe-nominated series Masters of Sex - a project in which he also served as producer. In 2019, he began a working relationship and subsequent friendship with Doctor Who star David Tennant. The pair acted alongside each other in an adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens, which is set to return for a new series next year. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sheen and Tennant acted in passion project Staged, in which they played fictionalised versions of themselves. Popular with critics and viewers, the series would return for a further two installments.
2020 brought Sheen another popular role in the shape of TV presenter Chris Tarrant in ITV drama Quiz. The three, hour-long episodes focused on Charles Ingram, a former army major in the Royal Engineers, and how he unexpectedly won the £1,000,000 jackpot on the quiz show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in 2001, followed by a criminal trial in which he and his wife were convicted of cheating their way to success. Sheen's performance was called "pitch perfect" by critics.
Aside from acting, Sheen conducts numerous charity work. Over the years, he has worked with charities Scene & Heard, NSPCC's Child Voice Appeal, Healing the Wounds, The Relationships Centre, WGCADA (West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse), and Adferiad Recovery. He is also actively involved in the Homeless World Cup and has played at Soccer Aid in the past. When he brought the Homeless World Cup to Wales back in 2019, the actor was so invested in the tournament he sold two of his homes to ensure there was funding. He told The Big Issue in 2021: "I had committed to helping to organise that and then suddenly, with not long to go, there was no money.
"I had to make a decision - I could walk away from it, and it wouldn't happen. I thought, I'm not going to let that happen. So, I put all my money into keeping it going. I had a house in America and a house here and I put those up and just did whatever it took. It was scary and incredibly stressful. I'll be paying for it for a long time."
A keen footballer, Sheen's enthusiasm for Wales' national football team regularly lands him applause on social media. After giving an impromptu speech about Wales on Sky's A League of Their Own, Sheen was asked to do the same for the national side ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, with the aim of inspiring them for the championship. After the speech, Wales boss Rob Page admitted that it made him "well up". You can read more about that here. The extremely proud Welsh man is known for his criticism of both the UK Government and the Royal Family, he returned his OBE in 2017 after learning more about Welsh history, and not been shy about his views on former PM Boris Johnson aka 'the absolute worst' and the new Prince of Wales.
You can catch Michael Sheen next on Vardy v Rooney: A Courtroom Drama on Channel 4 at 9pm on Wednesday, December 21. You can get more TV news and other story updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletters here.
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