Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Busy actor Michael Sheen keeps a low profile

By Brian Truitt, USA TODAY

There's been a Sheen in the headlines the past few months. And while it may not be Michael Sheen, the Welsh actor is totally cool with his sort of under-the-radar living.

  • Michael Sheen, who is Welsh,  plays an American tourist in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris."

    By Chris Pizzello, AP

    Michael Sheen, who is Welsh, plays an American tourist in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris."

By Chris Pizzello, AP

Michael Sheen, who is Welsh, plays an American tourist in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris."

The star of Frost/Nixon, The Queen and last winter's TRON: Legacy laughs at the idea that some American audiences might think he's related to Charlie Sheen, that famous purveyor of "winning" and tiger blood.

"Well, I met Martin Sheen (Charlie's dad) a few times, and he's the most wonderful man," Michael Sheen says. "I have such admiration for him. I'm not at all upset about being associated with the family at all."

The thing is, though, Michael Sheen, 42, is much more concerned with being a good actor than being a tabloid-ready celebrity. He stars in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris (in theaters now) as an American tourist in France, and he plays the father of a university school-shooter alongside Maria Bello in the emotional drama Beautiful Boy.

Midnight in Paris gave him a chance to revisit the famous city he's been to many times, but offered him a different way of working: When he was filming the movie, Allen never gave him the whole script, keeping things mysterious to his cast, including Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams.

"You show up and you do your bits and you don't really know what's been going on with the other characters, don't know the whole story of the piece, and you work out little bits and pieces from it," Sheen says.

"There was actually something quite liberating about it. You can't really do any preparation," he adds, laughing.

For Beautiful Boy, however, Sheen had plenty of places for insight. To play the father dealing with the aftermath of what happens when his teenage son opens fire on his college campus, the actor read background material on other school-shooting incidents .

"It's a combination of preparation and openness," Sheen says of his performance. "And obviously you have to bring your own experiences to bear as well and try and connect with what the character's going through, even though you may not have experienced that specific thing yourself.

"You try and find a way to connect to it with what's happened to you. It's that leap into the imaginative dark."

Sheen says he brought a lot of his own feelings about his own child to the role. He has a 12-year-old daughter from his previous relationship with actress Kate Beckinsale. To be closer to Lily, Sheen rents a place in Los Angeles, a city he's grown more attached to the past nine years.

"It's a beautiful place, and there's lots of wonderful things there," he says. "People have a stereotypical idea of Los Angeles, which has some truth to it I'm sure, but I'm not really part of that scene, really."

While he's playing American roles in his two newest films, Sheen sticks close to his European roots with his acting performances. In October, Sheen takes on the title role of Hamlet for the first time on stage at the Young Vic in London.

He's had memorable roles in the Twilight series as a royal vampire, a werewolf in Underworld and as Tony Blair in The Queen and HBO's The Special Relationship, and that kind of variety keeps him busy as well as entertained.

"The big stars in our industry are partly big stars because they're recognizable for doing a particular kind of thing, and I've never really been that interested in doing that. It's the difference in parts that I play that I enjoy the most," explains Sheen, who appears in November's Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 and the indie comedy Jesus Henry Christ later this year.

"I'm not surprised that people might go, 'Well, hang on. He's the guy who plays the politicians.' Or, 'No, he's the guy who does the werewolves and vampires.' I'm not really looking to become the sort of actor who gets known for doing one thing. I quite like the fact that people don't know what column to put me in."

Sheen's also found himself a Hollywood girlfriend in McAdams, his Midnight in Paris co-star. He says they met on the French set but didn't get together romantically until later.

"For actors, you tend to meet people through the work you do," Sheen says. "I would imagine that's a lot of people's experiences. You spend most of your time doing that kind of thing. It's literally how you meet people."

Sheen and McAdams returned to France and hit the red carpet for the first time at the Cannes Film Festival in May to promote Midnight in Paris, publicly confirming their romance. Yet for those obsessed with following the social lives of celebrities, Sheen says he's not going out of his way to be that type of guy.

"People who are into the kind of work that I do know me and are interested in the kind of work I do and look out for it. I don't think the people who are necessarily interested in what Charlie Sheen is up to are going to be as into what I'm up to," Sheen says with a laugh. "And that's fine by me."

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