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Dermot O’Leary’s People, Just People podcast

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Michael Sheen in what appears to be his home office, in a white shirt, wearing headphones and using a stand microphone.

Michael Sheen is on an episode of Dermot O’Leary’s Audible podcast series People, Just People. The full episode is available to listen to with an Audible subscription on

Michael talks about his viral speech on A League of Their Own, Port Talbot, youth theatre, his experiences in drama school and his first job with Vanessa Redgrave in When She Danced, Peer Gynt, Stephen Frears, working with David Morrissey on The Deal, Kenneth Williams, Brian Clough, The Passion of Port Talbot, the Homeless World Cup and his upcoming performance as Salieri in Amadeus at the Sydney Opera House.

Here are some video clips published by Audible. We don’t know if the full video will ever be released.

A story Anthony Hopkins told him about Richard Burton:

Visiting gay pub The Vauxhall Tavern and seeing Lily Savage with Graham Norton:


Dermot O’Leary: Hello and welcome to People, Just People with me, Dermot O’Leary. This is an Audible original.

My guest today is one of the finest actors of his generation. In fact, scratch that, he’s one of the finest men of his generation. Michael Sheen grew up in Port Talbot, the Welsh coastal town that gave us Richard Burton and Sir Anthony Hopkins. He forewent a promising football career to eventually follow those giants onto the big screen. But his first love was theatre.

Michael spent most of the nineties on the West End stage, where he was called the most exciting actor of his generation. He lived up to the accolade, and the early noughties was spent playing a host of real-life characters, from Tony Blair to Brian Clough, Kenneth Williams to David Frost. But, what sets MIchael apart from his contemporaries, is that he’s ploughing his earnings into community projects. I wanted to find out what’s behind that decision, as well as how he tackled playing some of Britain’s biggest names, especially when they might be in the audience.

From here on in, it’s Mr Michael Sheen.

Michael Sheen, it’s such a treat to speak to you, how are you Michael?

Michael Sheen: I’m very well, thank you! It’s lovely to sit in my house, and speak to you.

D: [Laughs] Couldn’t drag you into London! But listen, when you see someone who you know, and you consider a friend, and you see their name trending on Twitter, there’s a chill goes through your spine, you think to yourself, what, will I be allowed to speak to them anymore?

M: [Laughs] What has he done?

D: Have they been cancelled? Will I just quietly and slowly withdraw from the echoes of this friendship, and when asked in polite company say “I don’t really know him that well, no”. Very rarely somebody’s trending for the right reasons. Your speech on A League of Their Own to the Welsh football team. I can’t stop watching it! 

M: [Laughs] It’s crazy isn’t it! I can’t believe what happened with that. I mean we recorded it ages ago, you know, well, I say ages ago, I mean a couple of months ago, and you know you do a little sort of pre-research chat don’t you, the producers of the show call you and, you know, talk through, and they said to me listen, Romesh might ask you to do a little kind of, you know, a pep talk or something, you know, a little jokey thing or whatever. I was like, right ok. And then when we started recording, I was like, no this is not the vibe, this is absolutely not right.

D: [Laughs]

M: We’re in England, it’s an entirely English audience, English panel, everyone’s very excited about Aaron Ramsdale being there, and no-one gives a monkeys about me, and certainly not about the Welsh football team. And it was still like ages away as well. And I thought oh no I’ve got this wrong, I’ve got this so wrong, I thought hopefully he won’t ask me, and then he did ask me and I thought right ok, I’ve got to forget about how this goes down, this is gonna go down like a lead balloon in the studio, I’ve got to just imagine that, you know, maybe people in Wales who are into football will watch it at some point, and I’ve just gotta go for it. So I gave it loads of extra, you know, and really went for it. And then the people in the studio went crazy! And standing ovation and all that, and I thought well if people in England, you know, connected, because there’s a lot of references in there that I wouldn’t expect a non-Welsh football loving audience to get, you know. I thought well if they go for it, well maybe people will, you know, people back at home will go for it. So then I was quite excited about it coming out, and of course it came out on the same night that the Queen passed away. So it was like, that was it, you know, just obviously, understandably, nobody watched it. And I thought well there we are. Done, finished, maybe you know… I was in Budapest when it came out, we were leaving the next day to come back home, as the plane’s about to take off, I saw that someone had just videoed it on their phone I guess from the night before and put it online. I was like oh right ok. Switched my phone off. Got on the flight. By the time we landed and I switched my phone on, it had like millions of views already! And then that day travelling home, I just watched as it started to go crazy, I mean I couldn’t believe it!

D: But what I love is, and you know, anyone that sort of speaks publicly for a living, irrespective whether you’re an actor, broadcaster or whatever, there are those moments where you think, oh I’ve got a couple of little nuggets here, and then you almost lose your bottle because you go, no no no, it’s not going to go down well, and then it’s a matter of nerve, and judgement I suppose, and luck, as to whether all of those things kind of align, and it goes down well in the room, because when it starts you see Romesh going “ok wow he’s really into this”, and then suddenly it builds and the music starts, and then within fifteen seconds you know you’ve got em, you must have, that must have been wonderful, that feeling like fifteen seconds in, twenty seconds in, thinking, hang on, I’m smelling blood here, this is in, we’re in. 

M: I just went into a bit of a blur, a mental blur, because I was trying to think of what to say as well as, you know, trying to give it, and judge the room and all that, but you know, thinking about what am I saying here, and making sense, and making sure that I got everything out. And I was sort of terrified at the same time, thinking this is, this could be career ending, I might now, people might just throw things at me! [Laughter] Weirdly it sort of felt like doing theatre a bit, it was like being on stage, because there was, you know, it was a big studio, big audience, a live audience, and I was having to really win them over you know, I had to really kind of hold them, and I was so into it myself, you know, I just went for it, and then you sort of just by sheer force of, just by shouting at people, they tend to, you know, clap. But the extraordinary thing is, that a lot of the reactions I started seeing were people who were English, going “I’m Welsh now, I’m not even Welsh, I don’t even like football”. And then like it went to America, and then, you know, sports stars in American were sharing it

D: No way!

M: I mean a lot of people going “I have no idea who this guy is, I have no idea what he’s talking about, but I will now run through a wall”. [Laughter] You think what is that all about? That’s kind of extraordinary, isn’t it?

D: Michael, this is a new career for you, as a motivational speaker. The Sheen TED talk series will be happening before you know it. [Laughter] Let’s sort of go back to Port Talbot. Are you in Port Talbot now?

M: Yes, I am in what is officially now known as Neath Port Talbot. When I was growing up in Port Talbot, Neath was the next town. And it was where you’d go to the pub on Boxing Day or something. And I went to sixth form college in Neath. And then they brought Neath and Port Talbot together so now it’s all one thing, Neath Port Talbot. So I’m in officially Neath Port Talbot.

D: Are you far from where you grew up? Are you a few, like ten minutes away, or?

M: Yeah I’m about fifteen minutes away from my mum and dad, and we go there all the time, you know, down to Aberavon beach, which is lovely, and we go down there all the time, take the kids down there, so it’s lovely to be here. Because I was away from them for so long, living in America. You know, I was back and forth, but I just, you know, I missed seeing them a lot. So it’s lovely to be here now.

D: Springsteen tells like, the great story of, you know, when he was growing up, he was like I’m leaving, I’ve got the white line fever in my veins, I’m gonna hit the road with my girl, and I’m never coming back, and then at the very end, he says I now live ten minutes from my home town. [Laughter] So was it strange for you, kind of coming back and making the second act of your life back there?

M: Yeah, I mean I never imagined that I would come back and live here again, but then, I was not one of those people who was like I have to get out of here. I never really questioned it. I sort of, when I was growing up here, I guess I just sort of assumed that I would go off and do various things, I didn’t really think about it to be honest. When I was into football first, that was my big passion, and then I got into acting and I joined a youth theatre, and there were people who were about 21 at the top end of the youth theatre, you know, so I saw that people would go off to college and drama schools, I mean Russell T Davies was in my youth theatre, he was one of the 21 year olds when I joined when I was 13-14, and so I saw that there was like a path there, you know, that people would go off to drama school or university or whatever, so I suppose I just sort of assumed that that’s what I would do, and it is what I did. 

D: Funny isn’t it

M: I never really questioned it. So I was not someone like “I have to get out, I have to get out”

D: Yeah, but it’s funny isn’t it, like on one hand, doing what you’ve done, and still doing and having the career you’ve had, in many ways, for most kids from a working class town, is so unattainable, and yet the great thing about Port Talbot is you’ve seen that movie play out through Burton, through Hopkins, through, you know, someone as close to you as Russell T Davies. And so in many ways, the avenues aren’t open, but then I guess when you’ve seen those trailblazers go before you, that’s kind of given you the, it almost normalises that. 

M: Yeah. Someone told me a fantastic story, about how when they were a kid living in Taibach, which is an area in Port Talbot, and Richard Burton came home with Elizabeth Taylor for a visit, and he went to stay with his sister, his older sister who was known as Cissy, who sort of brought him up, really, and not far from where this kid lived. So he was like right, I’m gonna go and knock on his door, on the door. So this kid went down, knocked on the door, and Cissy came to the door, and she said “yes?” and he said “hello, is Mr Burton there please? Can I see him? Can I have his autograph?”. Cissy said “Richard!” and so Burton comes to the door: “hello, what’s your name?” and the little… he said “do you speak Welsh?” to this little kid, “no, no I don’t speak Welsh”, “not a proper Welshman!” all this. And Cissy said “this is Dick the baker’s boy. You know, down by the Co-op”. And Burton said “oh I used to work at the Co-op, when I was younger, I was hopeless, hopeless”. And this kid was quite pleased, because this kid had been told that he was quite hopeless at school. So to hear Richard Burton saying he was a bit hopeless, and to have met… and he got his autograph, and they had a cup of tea and a chat and all that, and it was amazing. And this kid came away thinking, well, if he can do it, you know maybe I can do it, and also he said that he was hopeless… Now that kid grew up and told me that story, Anthony Hopkins!

D: No!

M: It was Anthony Hopkins who was that kid and who told me that story! Yeah.

D: Wow.

M: So now of course, I had both of them, I knew that two young lads, one from Pontrhydyfen, one from Taibach had gone out there on the world stage and done it, you know as well as lots of other people, but you know having that makes a massive difference, to see someone who comes from where you come from out there doing it. Because Port Talbot is not a place that you would think would produce actors, particularly!

D: And yet, there’s something, so I don’t know Port Talbot at all, and yet I know it very well. Going back to Ireland, like at least one or twice a year, when I was a kid, on the ferry. You go on the M4, and you’d see Port Talbot, and we had relatives that had kind of emigrated without much imagination, ‘cause they’d literally gone from the south-east of Ireland to the west or the south-east of Wales, like that’s it, they got there and went “here we are then!” [Laughter] So I kind of, I knew those sort of small Welsh villages, but there was something, I dunno, it’s the fact that, you’ve got the Welsh kind of symbolism of the dragon, you’ve got this fire-breathing steelworks, and you’ve got… there’s something kind of oddly mesmeric about the kind of industry mixed with this beautiful… it’s not like it scarred the countryside, because you have, it’s almost like an anomaly, it’s like the steelworks is there, surrounded by it is beautiful hills and valleys and beaches. It’s the strangest, most captivating place, Port Talbot, isn’t it?

M: It is. It’s a weird mixture of things, there’s odd juxtapositions all through the town. As you say, it’s not like a mining community, it’s a steelworks, and the steelworks is like a city unto itself, it has its own beach, because it’s on the coast, it’s massive, I mean it’s so big, and you see it wherever you go in the town, you can see it, it’s there all the time. So it looms so large in the consciousness of the town. As well as being obviously the main, you know, back in the day, the main of work and employment and literally putting food on the table. But I’ve always thought about that kind of, you know, the myth, the fairy tale of the dragon. You hear the stories of there’s a dragon on the edge of the town, that protects the town, it gives it, it’s given it livelihoods, it gives it a sense of its identity. But at the same time, much like all the heavy industry, not just across South Wales, but throughout the UK, but mining and all those sort of things where it’s tough, it exacted a price, a cost on the people who did it. I mean I remember the sound of the alarm going off in the steelworks, that you would sometimes hear when I was growing up in school, you’d just hear this noise, and you knew there’d been an accident in the steelworks. And I’m sure the same thing happened in mining villages, where you would hear something, you just knew something terrible had happened. And it wouldn’t happen that often but that would strike the fear of god into you. And just growing up I remember you’d see the washing on the line with little acidic deposits on it, or the car with all this stuff, I would play football on a Saturday morning down by near the steelworks and the sky would be like orange or purple, ‘cause of all the stuff that was coming out! The Banksy mural that appeared a couple of years ago here, it was all about that, it was about, there was this, I don’t know if you remember, but it was suddenly discovered on a guy’s garage one morning, and it was a Banksy. On one side of the wall it was a kid, looking up with what looked like snowflakes dropping down, and landing on his tongue, and then you went round the other side of the wall, you saw it was actually like a burning skip, and it was ash coming from stuff. And it was a kind of comment I suppose on the industry and stuff like that. So it’s a very double-edged sword, that relationship with industry. But like you say, yeah, the juxtaposition of things is so odd! You’re on the, by the sea, got beautiful countryside around you, but then you’ve got this incredibly urban, industrial place, and it is a real weird mixture of things. 

D: Yeah. It’s great, I mean there’s something in it that’s brought you back home. But your original line was gonna be football, right? I mean you were scouted by Arsenal, you played against Tony Adams when you were a kid, you skinned him, and then your dad said, your dad didn’t want you to do it?

M: Well, it was just like, I was 12, and it would have meant going to live in London, and I couldn’t go and live in London on my own at 12, and my mum and dad couldn’t come down, they had work and stuff. So, I mean it was totally understandable. I mean I was gutted, obviously. I didn’t know that was happening, and I overheard them telling friends of theirs one night, when I was supposed to be in bed, and I was sort of listening outside the door. And so I heard that story and I couldn’t believe it, it was such a mixture of excitement to know that that had happened, but like, what? And I can’t go? Because I didn’t understand it then.

D: You could have ended up living in Liam Brady’s house, like because he would have been in charge of the scouting programme back then, you could have just… I could literally be wearing a shirt with your name on the back.

M: [Laughs] No I would probably be, if I was lucky, cleaning someone’s boots. I think.

D: [Laughs] I dunno. I’ve seen you play Soccer Aid, and you know your best years are behind you by then, because we had the famous Sheen toe, I think it was, for a couple of years. But yeah, the skills were still there. [Laughter] So Michael, how did you end up getting, being an aspiring actor in Port Talbot, and being as a kid like falling in love with it, and then you end up going to RADA, and captaining the RADA football team?

M: Yes. I mean those football matches were the roughest ones I’ve ever done. Drama school football matches, because everyone’s trying to prove they’re not a poncy actor. So I mean, but I think Central, which was over in Swiss Cottage, they used to play on an astroturf pitch, but it was walled in, you know those pitches where the ball can’t go out, it’s just like concrete walls around it and then fencing, and the people watch from up there. And I mean it was like Rollerball, you just like got, because the ball never went out, so you were like knackered all the time, and people just smashing your head into the concrete, and I mean it was mental, those games! They were the roughest games I’ve ever played in. But yeah, so like I said, it was sort of a pathway that I just went along. It starts, I suppose, there’s sort of various layers isn’t there. On the one hand, you’ve got coming from a community that because of Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins before, had a real respect for acting. You know it was like people would go ew acting, poncy acting. It was like “oh Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, they’re men’s men, and they’ve done it, and you know, go on.” So there’s a real support there. And then also my family obviously being very supportive as well. My family were all very into amateur operatics. So it’s sort of not a big thing as much any more, because a lot of them have disappeared, but amateur operatics societies were very social, it was for people who wanna be in a performance, but don’t want to take it “too” seriously, and are not gonna be professional, although a lot of people could have become professional who would do it. But it’s a social thing, and you rehearse, it seems, for years, it’s just like one rehearsal a week for years, and then you put on the show. And it would be musicals, and you know back in the old days, it would be like Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and the classic sort of American shows and now a lot of people are doing things like Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and funkier more, trying to attract younger people. But my family were into that. So they were very supportive of me wanting to do something along those lines, but the main thing…

D: Was your dad and Jack Nicholson impersonator, was that right?

M: Well, yeah. That was when I was at drama school. It was when the first Batman, the Tim Burton Batman film came out. And it just sort of coincided with, weirdly, with my dad really looking like Jack Nicholson. And so people started coming up to him in the street, going, “you really look like Jack Nicholson”. My dad was really offended, to this day I don’t know why my dad was… but he would always say “this woman came up to me today, and you’ll never believe what she said to me, she said you look like Jack Nicholson! I said I’ve never even watched golf!” He thought it was the golfer, Jack Nicholas! He didn’t have a clue! Yeah. And then there was a lot of things in the papers saying “do you look like the Joker?” because there was so much publicity around the Batman film, and so it’s sort of, two things came together. So he said “Michael, will you take some pictures of me as Jack“ – he became “Jack” then, he didn’t even know who he was two minutes ago, now it’s “Jack” – and so I took photographs of him, trying to make him look a bit like Jack Nicholson and we sent them into this competition and won this competition! So then he got an agent in London, and then he worked as a professional Jack Nicholson lookalike for years and years and years! Amazing.

D: [Laughs] Marvellous!

M: Whenever I’ve gone on American chat shows, you know, the late night, the Lettermans and the Lenos and all that kind of stuff, all they wanted to talk about was my dad. [Laughter] It was so funny.

D: Was your audition process, was it tough or did you find it, like you said, because you had so much love of, and you were nurtured, did you find it relatively, not easy, but did you find it a kind of not too daunting?

M: Well, the biggest thing, I was gonna say in a way, the stuff about the town being supportive, my family being supportive is one thing. But the main reason why I had the career and the life I’ve had is because of the youth theatre that I joined, the local youth theatre, which was funded through the local education authority, and was this unbelievable youth theatre. I mean I didn’t know that at the time. I just took it for granted, this is what I’m doing, you know, my teacher at school said you should audition for this, which I did, and I didn’t get in the first time, I got in the second time, and then went on these residential courses, you do a summer course and a Christmas course, and you do a play at each one. And I didn’t know it at the time, but it was already an amazing training. But like I said, there were people coming through that youth theatre, getting to the age of 18, auditioning for drama schools, going into the top drama schools across the country. And again I just took it for granted. And so, when eventually I did it myself as well, it was only when I got to drama school, and I listened to the other people who were there, and realised that they didn’t have that at all, nothing, nowhere near it. And I realised I’ve already had a training, I mean I’ve already had this extraordinary kind of background. And that has all changed, that’s all gone, that pathway that was there for a young lad from Port Talbot, you know it’s become clearer to me as the years have gone on, a lot of planets were aligned, you know a lot of things had to be in place for what has happened to me to happen. It’s not, when I was younger I was just like well I’m just brilliant, and that’s why all this is happening. And you know it’s not that at all. And I have come to realise that. That realisation has sort of changed my life in lots of ways, because it’s by realising what it took for me to have what I’ve had, the opportunities I’ve had, and to see how a lot of that has disappeared, and to look at well why has that disappeared, why is that not there anymore, why does that not get funded, and why does that… that has completely changed my head around, you know, and at a certain point in my life, that started to influence the choices I made about what I wanted to do. And that’s why I’m back here really, because I ultimately, through various things that happened, and those realisations, I was like well I wanna go back and I wanna make sure that as much as I can with what resources I’ve got that those opportunities can be there, or should be there, and I’m gonna fight for them. And so that’s sort of what brought me back. 

D: Yeah. When you graduated, Michael, did you find work relatively easy or did you get spat out the other side and you were waiting tables and you were thinking well hang on a second, I know I’m good at this but what the hell happens now?

M: I was very fortunate, really I suppose. When I was in, so there was a three year course at RADA, and in the third year you just do productions, you do like two plays a term or something, I can’t remember now. And you’re hoping, the ideal is that agents come and watch the shows, and hopefully you get an agent, and then the agent will start trying to get you auditions, and blah blah blah. And I got an agent quite early, and so the agent, my agent, who I’m still with, said that there’s this play in the West End, and they’re looking for someone quite specific for this play, to play a sort of young Greek pianist, genius prodigy pianist, and I had very curly, long hair at the time, big bushy sort of curls, I looked the part, so she said “they’ve auditioned everybody, like they’ve gone through everybody in Equity, and they still haven’t found this part, and it’s to play opposite Vanessa Redgrave in this play. And so I’ve got you this audition”, so I went and did the audition, and I believe I was the last person, on the last day that they were gonna see, and then they were gonna have to choose from whoever they’d seen. But they weren’t really happy with anyone. And unbeknownst to me, I went in and did the audition and they got very excited apparently, and I was asked to come back and do another audition, but on a stage in the West End. Thinking back now, I never had to do any other auditions like that, but it’s like in the films, I walked out onto the stage, the headlights, and there are people out there who I can’t see, “hello, hello?” “Ah hello yes Michael, off you go, do your bit”. I’m like ok. And then at the end, I just remember the writer was an American writer called Martin Sherman, and I just remember him going “well, welcome to the West End!”.

D: Wow! What a moment!

M: And that was me being told that I got the job, yeah. I didn’t quite get that that’s what it was, I was a bit confused when I left the theatre, but I got the job. And so I left drama school a bit early, I was about half way, two thirds of the way through the third year, and, you know, walked into this job with Vanessa Redgrave, in the West End. I mean it was an amazing start. So I kind of leapfrogged over what you expect to be doing, which is, if you’re lucky, a TIE show, or touring, or maybe a little part on The Bill if you’re really lucky, and just auditioning and all that kind of stuff, and working in restaurants. And I just didn’t have to do any of that. Went into the West End, opposite Vanessa Redgrave, six months, and then that was it.

D: Have you got a hit list when you first start out, because theatre’s obviously your primary love before you got into TV and film?

M: Well, funnily enough, I came out of drama school and there were like five or six plays I really wanted to do. And I did them all, fairly quickly.

D: Give us the Michael Sheen hit list, what have you got?

M: Like I knew I wanted to Peer Gynt, because I had done it at National Youth Theatre of Wales, and I had played it there, and so that was always a play that I really wanted to do, I wanted to do The Seagull, I wanted to do Caligula, The Albert Camus play Caligula, which I ended up doing at the Donmar, I wanted to do Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet, I wanted to do Hamlet. I ended up doing pretty much all those plays quite quickly, and then once I’d done that, then I was like well this will just be interesting, I’ll have to see what happens. 

But it’s funny, talking about Peer Gynt, because when we did Peer Gynt, it was a Japanese director, it was a version of Peer Gynt by an Irish writer, he had done the sort of adaptation, Frank McGuinness done the adaptation, for an Irish company, so it was mainly an Irish company of actors, but with a Welshman playing Peer Gynt, as Welsh, then there was the Japanese director, there was a famous Norwegian actor playing the Troll King, and then a famous Japanese actor playing the Button Moulder, which are two of the big parts in it. And, I mean the play is massively long, it’s huge, and we did a tour of it, we started in Norway, in Oslo, at the National Theatre of Oslo or whatever. Normally the play, it goes from, a man who’s like 18 to 80, we follow his whole life. And usually it’s split up into different actors playing different ages. I did the entire thing, and the very first performance we did on the opening night, was like seven hours long! My agent said it was more like an Olympic event than a performance! And also, weirdly, when we did our opening night in Oslo, the theatre was right next to the National Museum of Norway, and the night that we were performing, and then had our opening night party, Edvard Munch’s The Scream got stolen from the museum next door! Exactly whilst we were having our party! So we all came under suspicion! We offered to go and talk to the police and stuff. Because they thought perhaps we had something to do with it. So that was the opening night of it. And it just went on for so long. I mean it was unbelievable. 

D: What’s the first role you had that you thought, wow ok I’m getting a taste for this? Was it you who made your Othello debut and your mum grabbed Branagh by the ears? Is that right?

M: [Laughs] Oh no, that was when I did Caligula at the Donmar theatre, and my mum and dad were at that matinée performance, and it just so happened that Kenneth Branagh was at that matinée performance as well. And the company manager of the play said, “I’ve told your mum and dad to wait in the little bar area” which is closed off to the public, there’s nobody else there, you know we just tell people to wait there. So as I came up to see my mum and dad, I walked in, and they’d obviously put Branagh in there as well, and my mum is very little, she’s only 4ft 11 and a half, as I walked through the door I could just see my mum standing there holding Kenneth Branagh’s head, looking up at him because she was so little, going “Oh, Ken! Thank you so much Ken! Thank you!” and giving him a kiss and hugging him, because he must have said something nice about me, and she was just like giving him the Welshwoman treatment. It was amazing. [Laughs] 

I just wanted to do theatre, that’s all I cared about really, that was all that I was into. I loved film, I loved watching film, but I hadn’t really thought about doing it, it just hadn’t really occurred to me. It seems odd to say that now but it didn’t really occur to me. I just wanted to do theatre, and that’s what I thought I would do, and that was going very well, and I was doing play after play, and I was kind of making a name for myself and doing lead parts, and you know, all that kind of stuff, and it was great. 

And then the first film I did was a film called Mary Reilly, that was directed by Stephen Frears, and it starred Julia Roberts. And Julia Roberts at the time was the biggest star in the world. And it was the story of Jekyll and Hyde, Mary Reilly, but seen through the eyes of his servant girl. I was doing Peer Gynt at the time, and I got a call from my agent saying…

D: You’re in jail in Oslo for stealing Edvard Munch’s The Scream…

M: [Laughs] Exactly! 

D: You’re doing time in Oslo…

M: I said, is he interested in The Scream? Has he got the money? Yeah. So I went to meet Stephen Frears, and he just sort of like, for a man who came to have such a massive effect on my life, and really changed my life in so many ways, this first meeting I had with him, he just sort of looked at me, and he’s quite sort of grouchy, he can be quite grouchy, and he just sort of looked at me and said, “well, it’s not Peer Gynt, but do you wanna do it?”. I was like oookay, is that how you get parts in films, I dunno? Alright? 

And so I ended up playing another one of the servants with Julia Roberts, and it was huge, this film was huge, it was like a massive studio film, but it was a very dark film, and it was not at all what anyone wanted to see Julia Roberts doing. You know, she was the most beautiful, glamorous, America’s sweetheart kind of thing. And she looked dowdy… anyway that film didn’t do particularly well, partly because of that, but I remember Stephen Frears at the end of it saying “ah, one day we’ll do something together again, we’ll do, we’ll do something, you know, you’ll do something a bit more than what you’ve done in this for me.” And you just think alright, great, lovely. 

But of course years later he was the one who cast me as Tony Blair for the first time when we did a thing called The Deal, and then because we did The Deal, then we went on to do the Queen, and eventually another one called The Special Relationship. And Peter Morgan who wrote The Deal and The Queen, you know then I went on to do Brian Clough, and Frost/Nixon, and you know. So the last time I worked with Stephen was on Quiz where I played Chris Tarrant, you know, the Who Wants to be a Millionaire, the coughing scandal. And so, you know, he’s changed my life! Stephen absolutely changed my life. And in fact I remember A particular moment where I’d done The Deal already, The Queen was going to happen, and I was in America at the time, I was living there, and I was committed to doing a play at The National Theatre, and it was gonna clash with doing The Queen. And because I’ve always been someone who, if I’ve promised something, I just can’t, I don’t wanna let people down, I don’t wanna go back on my word, and all that kind of stuff. And so everyone, my agent, everyone was saying, “well no you have to pull out of the play, you can’t do the play! You have to do this! You have to do this film!” And eventually I remember Stephen calling me up and I remember sitting on these steps outside a museum in LA, I really remember it, sitting there and Stephen saying, “Michael, this will be very good for you to do this film, you need to do this film”. Alright, and we worked it out eventually. And of course, yeah, doing The Queen changed everything for me. 

D: It feels like the sort of post – and you’re still doing theatre obviously, but kind of like when you got into television and film, doing real-life characters and people who the public know has almost defined your film and television, and so let’s start with Blair, because 2003 was The Deal, Blair was still in power then, it wasn’t like a period piece, was it, it was just, it was very recent history. So It was you and David Morrissey, right, playing Brown?

M: Yeah. And also, the thing to remember as well is that at that point, no-one really did that, you only ever saw current prime ministers in satires, it would be a comedy or it would be taking the micky, the idea of asking an audience to take something seriously and to believe that these people are playing these actors, in a sort of a quality drama, that never happened. So when we did the first one, we did The Deal, me and Dave Morrissey playing Brown and Blair, I remember the first time we did the read-through of it, and Dave and I had both been working with this amazing woman called Penny Dyer, on voice, I mean ostensibly it’s like voice stuff, accent stuff, to sound like them. But the work with her is so brilliant, and you know I work with her on everything. But me and Dave had both been separately working on the characters with her, and then she said “shall I get you both together before the read-through?”. So Dave and I sat down, because the first time you let someone else hear you being the character is such a big moment when you’re playing a real-life person

D: I bet!

M: So me and Dave sort of sat there and did a couple of scenes together a little bit I seem to remember, and it just sort of took the edge off it for us a little bit. But then we had to go and do a read-through, and, you know, at some read-throughs, some table reads, all the actors are sitting around tables in a circle usually with the scripts and you know the director’s there and maybe, the producer of it, and some read-throughs you do, and this was one of them, there’s just hundreds of people in there. And when we were doing the read-through for The Deal, you know there was only one thing on everyone’s mind, which was, are they going to sound like them? Are they gonna be like them? Because they were in power, Brown and Blair were in power at the time! Just the pressure, I remember the pressure of sitting there, and I remember looking at Dave, and thinking, and they were like, “right, ok let’s start”, and you could see everyone, it was like people salivating, waiting to see what it was gonna be like. You know and we did it, and it was fine. But every single time I’ve played a real-life person, I’ve gone through the same sort of process really, where you spend months and months and months doing the research and working on it, but there’s nothing like the moment when you first do it, you know, first start speaking as the character or whatever. It’s absolutely terrifying, and every single time I’ve thought, nah, no-one’s gonna buy this, no-one’s gonna believe me. Every single one of them, I’ve felt like that. And then you just sort of, you just fake it til you make it a little bit, you just have to, the first few days, because no-one will come up to you either, people don’t tend to come up to you and go “oh that’s really good”, like everyone just pretends that no-one really cares about it? But it’s all that anyone thinks about, and you’re aware of that, you have to try not to interpret that as people going “that is shit! That is rubbish!” you know like, you can’t help it! You can’t help but think it!

D: [Laughs] No of course, no, yeah!

M: If no-one’s saying anything to you, and you’re doing this incredibly, like, oh vulnerable-making thing, to go oh I’m being this person, and no-one says anything! And then slowly, you know, in my experience, thank god, you start to relax into it a bit, and you think well if no-one’s come up to me and said I’m fired yet, then I’m probably getting away with it, maybe, and then it’s the sort of, you know…

D: Right, ‘cause, the strange thing, Michael, is you’re not a mimic, but you’re so good at sounding like people, that when you take a role of someone who is either alive, or certainly people know of, now I suppose there’s an expectation that you’re gonna sound like them. So you can’t, like it’s almost like you’ve doubled down so many times, and you’ve succeeded, that to just be Michael Sheen playing A Another Person who exists, doesn’t really work anymore, so when you got the Chris Tarrant job, we’re all expecting you to sound like Chris Tarrant, and you sound like Chris Tarrant, you know. Is that learned, or is that innate? 

M: I mean it’s ultimately it’s a con job, I mean all acting is a con job really isn’t it, you’ve got to con people, you’ve got to take a lot of different factors on board. And one of the major factors with playing real-life people is expectations, managing expectations. And this is what Peter Morgan, the writer, is so brilliant at. I learnt from him about how you, you take what you know people think they know about the person, and then you kind of use that as a weapon in a way, you use that as a tool, that’s one of the things you’ve got that you can use, because you can then subvert that, you can surprise the audience. As long as you meet certain expectations, you can then kind of subvert those expectations and riff around them a bit as well. Which is why I think Peter has been so brilliant, for instance in the film The Queen, he made people feel like they got to know the Queen, in a completely different way, like sort of a veil was being lifted. And the same with Nixon in Frost/Nixon, you know he’s very good at that. 

And in the playing of the characters, it’s a similar thing, so you know there are certain expectations, if you’re playing David Frost, you know people want you to come out and go “hello, good evening, and welcome!” and you have to sound like him. Like you have to hit that mark. But ultimately what you got to do is make people feel comfortable. An audience who are coming in to watch something, whether it’s a play or a film or whatever it is, and they’re watching something about people that they know, that they’re familiar with, you wanna make them, in the first minute or so, go “oh yeah, no I believe that, yeah I’m ok with that”, and then go on, then you don’t wanna necessarily be focussing on that too much, you know, you want them to just then go with the story, like anything else. 

So my job when I do those sort of parts is not necessarily to be as much like the person as I possibly can, I’ve just got to do enough to make the audience feel comfortable. And then take them on a journey, because they won’t thank you if all you do is try and sound like the person. If they don’t get told the story and get involved in it, they’re not gonna care. And so, you’ve gotta put the work in beforehand, and this is true of anything, this is isn’t just true of playing real-life people, I’ve found that this is the case in anything, you’ve gotta put all the work in, you’ve got to be like one of those actors who does loads of research and all that, but then, in the moment of being in front of the audience or in front of the camera, you’ve got to let all that go, you can’t be thinking about it. And then you’ve gotta be in the moment, and be as spontaneous, and have the guts and the balls to go, I’m not sure if I’m gonna sound like this person or do it in that way, but I’m just gonna go for it, I’m gonna trust that all the work I’ve done allows me to kind of now be in the moment. And if you can get that combination, then kind of fly, and the audience goes with you, I’ve found.

D: And, well you’ve played some brilliant people as well, because you’ve played kind of, people that the public have, even if they don’t know that person intimately, there’s a relationship with those people, I mean obviously Blair we’ve talked about, but Kenneth Williams, I remember watching you playing Kenneth Williams, obviously you’ve got this guy who tells these incredibly stories and is beloved by the nation, and you know in that kind of really interesting way that gay men that weren’t out but were out and were perceived as non-threatening, were almost welcomed into your homes on a Saturday night, which I’ve always, sort of fascinated me

M: It was illegal, you could be arrested!

D: Exactly, right. In an era where it was illegal, you know, the Saturday night we were all watching them and no-one was talking about it, and I always found that fascinating. With Williams, that sort of notion of his self-loathing, I remember reading an interview you did about him going to a Frankie Howerd gig?

M: Yeah, extraordinary. Well of course he was famous for the diaries, he wrote these diaries, and everyone knew he wrote these diaries, but nobody was ever allowed to look at them. And then after he died they were published and people were, I mean just kind of devastated in some cases, friends of his, to read in his diaries what he had written about a memory they had with him of it being lovely, and him writing something awful about it. So these diaries were a real revelation. And one of the diary entries, he put that he had gone to this comedy club, in London, and Frankie Howerd was performing, and he watched Frankie, and Frankie was wonderful of course, but there was this awful woman in the audience who spoiled it all, by laughing with this awful laugh, and heckling and shouting things out, and it was absolutely awful. Terrible. Really spoilt it. Poor Frankie. This is what he’s written in his diary. I’ve heard a recording of that performance, and it’s him, it’s Kenneth Williams! No woman doing it, it’s Kenneth Williams laughing “EHEHEHEHE”, and shouting things out, and you think, what is the psychology of that? That you go home and then you write in your diary… 

So he was an extraordinary combination of elements, and yet a lot of people had a very dark experience with him, or very uncomfortable experiences with him, he was clearly not the easiest person to get along with. But also he could have been one of the great character actors of our time. But he just couldn’t resist the laughs, going for the laughs all the time. And of course also someone who was like, he was like a caricature of himself as well in lots of ways, so one of the challenges of playing him was not just to be like him and to get people to believe you’re like him, someone who was so well known and so familiar, but also how do you play someone who’s already kind of a caricature of themselves, and make it believable to an audience? How do you play someone that big. And that was a challenge. 

And of course I’d always been told that the idea was that as an actor – on film, in front of a camera you’ve got to be really small. You know that’s what you always get told as an actor. In theatre you’re much bigger, and you can give big performances, ‘cause they’ve gotta hear you at the back and you’ve got to project, and on film and camera you’ve gotta be really small. And one of the things I’ve always sort of enjoyed experimenting with I suppose, is how big can you be on film or camera? And playing Kenneth Williams was an example of that, in that there are things in that performance that are really big for a camera performance, and yet you sort of had to because he was that kind of big, how do you, it’s not about how big you are really, it’s about can you still stay connected, is it still centred, is it still coming from a believable place in you, and if it’s coming from a believable place in you, and you’re connected to it, it doesn’t sort of matter how big, it’s like that Yeats poem about the bird that flies on the ever widening gyre, or whatever, and you can’t sort of keep contact with it. If the performance is still rooted to something in you, it can get bigger and bigger and bigger I think, and the audience will still go with it, up to a point I suppose. But he was a big challenge in that respect, yeah.

D: One last character I wanna talk about, we touched a little bit on Frost, but I really wanna talk about Brian Clough, because there was this incredible moment where you saw, he was being interviewed and you saw him looking as his own injury that kind of ruined this career as potentially one of the greatest footballers the country’s produced, but then he realises the camera is on him, and that classic Clough in all his bravado and arrogance and intelligence kind of just like springs in again, and what was it like to play him?

M: Extraordinary. I mean probably the character I’ve enjoyed playing the most. I mean it’s quite hard to say enjoyed, because at the time when you’re doing it, I’m usually a mixture of terrified, and just working very hard, so it’s not like you enjoy it, but I think it’s the one character that I got the most out of doing then I’d say, I sort of felt like I was using every single bit of me. Partly because of my football background as well I guess, sort of bringing football and acting together, it was someone I had grown up watching. I mean a lot of these people like Kenneth Williams, David Frost, Brian Clough, these are the people I used to watch on TV when I was growing up! You know they were like, you’d watch, you know, Clough on Match of the Day, you’d watch, I dunno, Kenneth Williams on Parkinson, and Frost doing his show or whatever, you know it was, they were my youth in the seventies. It was connecting to something in me as well I suppose, it was quite nostalgic and that quite kind of meaningful for me as well. 

The thing that I’ve always looked for with any character, but particularly with real-life people, is you look for the vulnerability. When are they not performing themselves, because a lot of them, these characters, the reason why I’m playing them in something, is because they’re very well known and they were usually public figures. But to play them you gotta find, what’s behind that public figure, where’s the little, you know, crack to get in to what’s really going on underneath. And you know you’re looking for vulnerability really as an actor I think you’re looking for those moments of vulnerability. Of course Clough was never vulnerable, he appeared not to be vulnerable, there was such of a kind of armour around him in a way, of this persona that he built up. But the more I watched him, the more I started to see that vulnerability in there, and in a way that maybe people wouldn’t have necessarily noticed at the time, they’d just think it was Clough being Clough. And it would be mixed in with so many other things. But you realise, in reading about him, ‘cause I didn’t know about the injury until I started reading, I knew he’d been a football player but I hadn’t quite got what happened

D: No, sure, me neither

M: And the fact that not just the injury but that he felt that he was just thrown aside afterwards, that he was treated terribly. And you know, it was his life, he was one of the greatest players that England had produced at the time, I think, probably, and he was on his way to having this extraordinary career, and then he had this injury. And of course an injury that many people have had since and it doesn’t end their careers, surgery has helped – I think Gazza had the same injury? I’ve had the same injury, my ACL, it went as well. But at the time it sort of finished him. And he felt like he was just cast aside by the kind of, the Brass Buttons Brigade as he would have called them. And to understand that there was that anger, that drive, to prove something, to get back at people, maybe. 

He always reminded me a little bit of Brando, as an actor, in that there was a kind of, on the one hand there was clearly a devotion to what they did, and a love of what they did, and a passion for it, but there was also kind of a disrespect for it as well, that’s what gave them the genius. You look at Brando in On the Waterfront or something like that, and the things he does as an actor, certainly at that time, you go, oh my god nobody does that! There’s a kind of, he just doesn’t care in a sense. And there’s that kind of risk-taking, and I think Clough had it as a football manager. That he had a weird mixture of absolute passion and love and devotion to the game, and then a kind of a disrespect and a kind of rebelliousness about the establishment I suppose, or the structure of it, and that combination just made him absolutely extraordinary. And he’ll never be repeated, what he managed to achieve can’t happen ever again because the game has changed, you know and he had one foot in either side of the era change, of going into the premiership and all that. But as much as people talk about Mourinho and whoever it might be, who’s like Clough, there’s nobody like Clough ‘cause no-one could do that. Couldn’t take those teams through.

D: No, no, no. You know relatively small team who he put on the map

M: With Forest! Yeah!

D: Exactly. 

M: He was such a political figure as well, he was such an extraordinary character. He was just amazing, you hear so many stories about him. And of course, ever since then, it’s the one part and the one film that I’ve done certainly most cab drivers want to talk about, you know. And everyone’s got a story about him, and I’ve heard so many amazing things about him, and so many, I mean in lots of ways contradictory things, you know he could be an incredibly generous man, but he could also be quite a cruel man as well at times it seemed, as an actor it’s just kind of gold dust. 

D: Before I let you go, can just talk a little bit about where the idea of doing the Passion in Port Talbot came from, and what it’s led to, because now, like you said, you’ve moved back, you know you’re still a working actor but you’ve agreed to sort of, I wouldn’t call it not-for-profit acting, but you’ve some of your wage back into local community and try and foster regeneration of I suppose the arts down there…

M: Yeah, I mean my life and career have gone in quite different ways to the ways I thought they were gonna go in all kinds of aspects I suppose, and it is in large part down to this project that I did called The Passion of Port Talbot. I mean the way it started off, I had no idea that it was ever gonna end up the way it did, and change my life in the way it did. I mean the way it started off was that, for years and years and years and years, and years and years in Wales, there had been a whole discussion about should there be a National Theatre of Wales, and then suddenly there was gonna be a National Theatre of Wales, but it was gonna be a company rather than a building-based thing, like The National Theatre of Great Britain, it wouldn’t be like a building. It just sort of happened and there was a Scottish guy who was gonna run it, the first year, which was sort of quite controversial. 

But anyway they were putting together an opening season, and they wanted to do something quite different I think, they wanted to do something that was much more connected to the communities that things would take place in. So rather than having a series of plays on in one building in Cardiff, there were gonna be productions going on all round Wales. And they got in touch with me anyway and said “we’d like to have a chat with you about doing something in the opening season”. And I thought they meant, will you come and do Hamlet in Cardiff. And arrogantly I was like “oh I don’t wanna do that. But I’ll go along to the meeting”. So I turn up at this meeting, and Lucy from the National Theatre of Wales who I had the meeting with originally, she said “we’re just interested in seeing if you want to do something, we’re looking to do something that’s in the community rather than a theatre necessarily, it might not be in a theatre space, and we’re looking to do something that might involve the community in some ways, and something new, we don’t want to do a classic play” blah blah blah. 

I remember sitting in the meeting going well the idea of doing something in the community and not in the theatre, the very first thing that popped into my head was, when I was growing up, every couple of years there’d be the Passion Play would happen in Margam park, and they would do a reenactment of the story of the passion of Christ, but with the community. And you’d be sitting out at the park watching it, and then you’d see all these grandparents coming out of the woods with their trousers rolled up under their robes with teatowels on their heads with their grandkids, being the crowd, and there was a real sense of community. But I remember as a 12 year old, I remember leaving the park with the crosses up there and Jesus, who was actually my drama teacher at comprehensive school, up on the cross, and it was really powerful, really powerful. And I wasn’t religious, I didn’t go to church or anything particularly, but just as a spectacle, it was very powerful. And lovely as well, seeing families together and, anyway. And that was the first thing that came into my head, and said well that’s the only thing I can think of, the only community I could feel like I could do something with and for or whatever is Port Talbot, where I grew up, that’s the only community I know, I wouldn’t feel comfortable about doing anything else. And the only thing I can think of that takes place outside of the theatre when I was growing up was that, so, I dunno, maybe I could do some sort of version of that, or like a sort of updated, modern version of that story. 

Anyway, out of that, and at the same time I was thinking, there is no way I’m doing this. I’m just saying this in this meeting, when I leave this meeting, I am never thinking about this ever again, because that’s not happening, yeah. And it was just this thing that just wouldn’t go away, and I kept thinking about it, and then Lucy was very clever because she would say “listen, there’s no pressure, you don’t have to do it, but how about if I connect you up with this writer and this person, and…” and slowly, and it developed over a few years, and ultimately, it just became this extraordinary thing where I would come into the community and I would meet loads of people and I would get people involved, and I would just see what was going on out there, a kids’ circus group taking place in a church hall in the valley over here, to a choir over here, to a gymnastics group, to a, you know, all these different things, and try and think of ways to involve them in the story. 

And ultimately became something that was a one-off performance, I mean this is not what the National Theatre of Wales wanted at all. What they wanted was like, something you could do a number of times, that everyone would hear about, make lots of money. I said, no I’m doing the opposite of that, I’m doing one performance, that’s non-stop for 72 hours, that’s it. I mean if it works, there’ll not be another one, I can’t really tell people what it’s about, ‘cause it’s sort of a surprise, and people will have to, you know, it will be revealed as it goes along. And there are more people in it than will come to watch it, probably. And it became this extraordinary thing, where thousands of people took part in it, it took place over the Easter weekend in 2011, and it started at sunrise on Aberavon beach, with about, I don’t know about maybe 50 to 100 people watching something that happened that I just, I didn’t even publicise, I just sort of started a rumour that something might happen down there. And there were about 50 to 100 people, and that was on the Friday morning, and by the Sunday night, there were, it’s estimated, between 15 to 20 thousand people, all around the roundabout down at the beach, watching the crucifixion scene. 

And it was extraordinary, I mean just as a piece of art, as a theatre piece, as a creative thing, I’ll never take part in anything like that ever again. It was the most extraordinary experience and, you know, it’s just unforgettable for, not only for me and everyone else who took part in it, but for everyone who was there, who watched it, and it was incredible. But also from just a life-changing point of view, it did change my life. Because the relationships that I built up through working on it, because it was over a few years, and I wanted to try and talk to as many people in the town as possible, as many of the organisations in the town as possible, and get a sense of what, what community means really. Like get a sense of what that is, what is the kind of coalface of community in a place like Port Talbot. 

And so I met all these incredible people doing extraordinary things, for no money with no support, I mean really hard things, I would come in, do work, meet people, leave, go back to America for a bit then come back again, and do another month or something, and each time I came back there you’d find out that this had gone now, that didn’t exist any more, the money for that had gone, there was no funding for that, that had been cut, and slowly over time, the combination of seeing what was going on, seeing what people were doing to help other people, really marginalised people, really excluded people, people really vulnerable and going through difficult things, seeing what they were doing, and also – so having a complete revelation about the town that I grew up in, having a completely different relationship to what that town was, what it, what was going on in it, and that was always hidden to me or that I just hadn’t seen, and looked for. 

The combination of that and the relationships that I developed with those people, and a kind of a growing political awareness I suppose, of kind of waking up to going, well, why isn’t that there anymore? And why, when I’m working as an actor on some job in some lovely community somewhere in England, why do they, why does that community have stuff, and my community doesn’t? Why, where I come from, the unfairness of that started to become very stark to me, and so, as time went on after we’d finished The Passion, you know in the years afterwards, and I would do whatever I could to help and support them and that usually to begin with was like, having a photograph taken that would go in the local paper when I’d visit them or, something like that, or talking about them or whatever it might be. And eventually that got to the point where I was like I don’t, that’s not enough. That’s not enough for me, I wanna do more, I need to do more, I can do more, and I want to do more, and with that kind of growing political awareness of it, it all kind of snowballed, until it eventually got to the point where I felt like, I want to make that the priority now really. I mean I don’t even know what to call it, I mean people tend to call it activism or charity work or whatever, I’m not really comfortable with any of that, it’s just sort of getting involved with that stuff, and trying to support it, and make something a bit fairer. 

There was a big switch that happened then for me, around sort of 2016, 17, where I was living in America, because my daughter was growing up there, so I’d lived there for while she was growing up, but she was leaving home, she was going off to university, to college, the long-running TV series I had done over there was coming to an end, and so I was like, oh, well I don’t have to be here anymore, and this sense of wanting to do more and change my priorities a bit, it all sort of came together and I was like right I’m gonna go home, and I’m now going to use the platform, all the resources I’ve got, through my career, which I’ve been very fortunate to have, all these privileges that I’ve got, I’m gonna use to try and do, focus on this other stuff. So now my career is the kind of, the engine for driving the other stuff more. And that’s sort of, that switch happened around that time really, and that’s sort of what has carried on afterwards.

D: Yes, it’s brilliant. And was the Homelessness World Cup around that time as well? I remember I bumped into you at the Pride of Britain, and you said to me, I said “how’s your year been”, and you went “well, it’s, I’ve had easier years”. [Laughter] And the funding of the Homelessness World Cup just fell apart within a couple of weeks and I know you probably feel quite embarrassed talking about it, but then you stumped up the money for it to go ahead, right?

M: So I got involved with a group called Street Football Wales. I mean people find it a slightly odd concept, the idea of homeless football, but it’s really smart, the whole concept of it. So the idea is that for people who are socially excluded, homeless, women who’ve fled domestic abuse, all kinds of things, for people who feel excluded, then there are these football tournaments set up, where you can take part and, you know, for a little bit, you’re not homeless, you’re not whatever else, you’re just playing football. And also you can get services to people, you can get support to people, in a different kind of way. And so out of that, came the Homeless World Cup, The Homeless Football World Cup. So every year there is a world cup tournament, and it takes place in a different country just like the regular World Cup, and countries bid for it, you know, someone puts together a bid to host it, and it moves around the world. And people come from all over the world, so like Street Football Wales has an equivalent in every other country, and they organise it, and they try and find the funding to get the players out there, and then they take part in the tournament. And I went to watch one in Norway, through my involvement with Street Football Wales, I went with the Welsh teams, men’s and women’s teams, to…

D: You’re now allowed back in, after the painting debacle…

M: Exactly! After I gave The Scream back, yeah. And I watched it there, and whilst I was there I thought this is amazing. I mean this is just extraordinary. And I could see people having their lives changed, just by putting their country’s jersey on, I mean these are people who feel like they’re on the outside more than anyone can feel on the outside, and just seeing people scoring goals and just having an extraordinary time. I thought, I wanna bring this to Wales. How, can we do this in Wales? Come on, let’s bring it to Wales. And so that started a kind of a journey that led to working with all kinds of people and trying to get it together. 

So in 2019 it was gonna happen in Wales, and anyway cut a long story short, with about eight weeks to go, there was supposed to be 2 million pounds in place to make it happen, and it turned out there was nothing. And I won’t go into why that is, that’s a much longer story, but ultimately it looked like it was all gonna collapse and it couldn’t happen. Because people were already doing work, there were bills to pay, there was all sorts of stuff, and it came as a sort of revelation that this was the case. I mean I was advised to just walk away, you know, don’t get involved and like walk away from it, and everyone else, all these different, you know it was like Cardiff Council and Cardiff University, all partners who were gonna deliver it in one way or another. And they were all gonna just walk away. And I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it. I just thought, there are people, the reason why I wanted to do this in the first place was because it was kind of potentially life changing for people. And there were people who were ready to come over in a few weeks, from, like some of the most vulnerable people in the world, coming to this place, and I just, I can’t, I can’t. I’ll never live with myself if I do this. 

So I had to do two things, I had to find money, but I also had to convince everyone else to stay in. Because it wouldn’t have mattered if I had put all my money in or whatever, if I couldn’t convince everyone else to be part of it, they’d go. And also, my partner Anna was quite heavily pregnant at the time as well, so I used to make her sit at the back of meetings, heavily pregnant, and I would go, “and I’ve got a child, you can’t allow this to…” to try and convince people! I just absolutely exploited her for that. And she was brilliant about it. But I had to convince people to stay in, I had to convince people that I would be able to find the money, very very quickly, and essentially what I did was I put everything that was in my bank accounts at the time in, as cashflow just to get us through the next week or so, meanwhile trying to look for ways to bring larger amounts of money in, further down the line, so I had the house I lived in in America, that I was gonna sell, because I’d bought a house in, you know in the transition from America to Wales, I was gonna sell the house in America, and I’d already bought a house in Wales, so I put both of those up, as collateral, you know to be able to get the money from the bank to use further down the line and to say to people, look, here, that money’s is gonna come, because I’ve done that, and I was also trying to get money off other people, and you know, trying to get donations and stuff, and somehow, I dunno how, but somehow I managed to convince everyone to stay in, and we kept going. And I’m still paying for it, I mean, there’s deals I did…

D: And that’s the reason why Michael Sheen will never ever, ever retire. 

M: [Laughs] Yes!

D: Speaking of which, you’re off to Sydney, is that right now?

M: Yeah, so this Christmas it’s the 50th anniversary of the Sydney Opera House. I always thought it had been around for like much longer than that?

D: Hundreds of years or something, yeah. I thought it’d be about a hundred years old!

M: 50th anniversary. So they’re having a big 50th anniversary year of celebrations, and one of the big things they’re doing is a big production of a play called Amadeus. Now I did Amadeus in 1999-2000 at the Old Vic in London and then on Broadway, and I played Mozart in it, and it’s about the relationship between Mozart, this sort of obnoxious, offensive young genius musician, and this very establishment figure musician called Salieri. And the theory is that Salieri kind of destroyed Mozart, secretly, whilst pretending to be his friend and kind of mentor. And it’s a brilliant play. And I loved doing it when I was Mozart in it, but I always thought Salieri, that’s a great part as well. One day, when I’m older. Anyway, and so the Sydney Opera House got in touch with me and said “we’re doing Amadeus, we’d love you to play Salieri in it”, but it’s gonna be in the Opera House, with a live orchestra, and live opera singers, and you know, when I did the production it was all recorded, you know, there was no-one live. But the idea of doing it on that scale in that place, in that iconic place, it’s only gonna be a five week run, that’s unheard of, you don’t do a big production on that scale that’ll cost that amount of money for such a short amount of time because it won’t make the money back, but because it’s part of the celebrations they can do it. So I just thought this is an amazing experience, and opportunity to do this play that I really love, a great part, in that place, and you know for us as a family to go out there, the chances of us going out once the kids are in school and all that, you know it may never happen again. So we’ll be out there for three months over Christmas.

D: Wow, wonderful. And then no doubt Sydney will get you involved in something, before you know it you’ll be doing the Sydney Homeless World Cup, tying in with the passion of our lord Jesus Christ, and… 

M: [Laughs]

D:Michael it’s such a treat to speak to you! As always thank you, thank you so much, mate. I really appreciate it. Come back to Soccer Aid soon! 

M: Thanks, Dermot!

D: You need to come back and a) give them a motivational speech and b) come back and manage one of those teams. 

M: Yeah that’d be great. It’s always a great time, it’s an amazing experience, that. Great speaking to you Dermot. Thanks very much mate. 

D: You too, thanks for your time, I really appreciate it. 

D: My thanks to Mr Michael Sheen. An unbelievably lovely and generous man. And if you’ve enjoyed hearing about his life story, then check out some of my previous episodes with the likes of Olivia Coleman and Andrew Scott, Stephen Graham, Martin Freeman and Simon Pegg.