Interview: Michael Sheen of Tron: Legacy
Fri, 17 Dec 2010 20:18:11
There are very few actors that have the clout one would associate with Michael Sheen. His work in Frost/Nixon, Blood Diamond, The Queen and numerous other films have earned him accolades and respect. Yet not to be undone, he has gained respect and accolades from the fanboy community thanks to his work in Underworld, The Twilight Saga and now Tron: Legacy.
iamROGUE.com recently sat down with the actor and talked about working with Joseph Kosinski as a first time director and becoming part of the world of Tron. Sheen is as down to earth as he is talented. Clearly he takes his work seriously, but the fact that he took notice of my Evil Dead shirt was pretty impressive. In fact, he stars off our conversation talking about Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead.
Michael Sheen: It’s funny seeing your T-shirt because I was just talking about Evil Dead yesterday. A young lady made her first feature recently, somebody from Oklahoma, and we were talking about stuff. And I was saying about when Sam Raimi was making Evil Dead – we were talking about money – but I was saying, on the one hand, you want to get a good budget, but it’s when you don’t have any money you are forced to come up with a creative alternative. And then if you really understand the value of a dolly shot because you have to use a shopping cart…
… or wheelchair, exactly. Or if you get a bit of wood and put a camera on the end and swing it around. When you’ve done that you are understanding immediately, and when you do start getting the money, you know what to do with it then you understand the value of it all. So we were talking about that and using Raimi’s Evil Dead as an example.
You bring up a genre film, now here is what fascinates me about your career. You are arguably one of the top actors working in Hollywood.
Well, thank you very much.
It’s true. It’s a fact. So you do all of these Oscar caliber movies, but then you seem to get more excited about being in Underworld, or something like this…
What is it about this genre that you like so much?
It’s the genre that I grew up with; it’s what got me interested in telling stories. So the stories that first got me, like Tron and Star Wars, you know the obvious ones. And then reading Phillip K. Dick’s stuff or reading Tolkien and reading Michael Moorcock and all these kind of guys and then Neil Gaiman eventually and watching Blade Runner... It was always those stories that fired my imagination and got me interested in telling stories myself. As a fan, that is what I’m more drawn to. So getting to be in those things, the thing about this is I’m an actor and I want to do things that are going to push me and challenge me and stretch me in a way. That’s not always the case with every science fiction or fantasy film that comes along necessarily as an actor, but as a fan I want to go and watch them. But the ones that I’ve got involved in are because the characters really appealed to me. And the more I get into doing my own work, creating my own stories and directing or writing or whatever, it’s always going to probably lean toward that because that is where my taste lies.
When’s the last time you watched Tron?
I watched it again before we started shooting because I hadn’t seen it for a little while.
Not that your character appears in the first one, but did you ever have thoughts that maybe you shouldn’t watch it before shooting?
No, because I’ve seen it many times, but I haven’t seen it all the way through for awhile. You know, I always love to watch, like for instance, whenever I’ve done a Shakespeare play I always watch every version of it that is out there. I like to see what is possible. What have other people explored and what can it take and what works and what doesn’t work. Not to copy, but just kind of get a sense of what the area is that people have explored and what I connect to and then go further with it or whatever. So it’s the same with this, it was really good to get.
It’s interesting as well because you watch a film that you saw when you were much younger and your memory of the film is in some ways different to the film itself. You’ll go back to it, and for instance, with like A Matter of Life and Death which is my favorite film of all time, I watched it when I was twelve or thirteen, and everytime I watched it again, it’s kind of changed, and I’ve changed, and it means different things to me. Or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the first time I watched Close Encounters, it scared the shit out of me. And now I find it to be one of the most moving films I’ve ever seen. It’s like a spiritual film to me now somehow. It’s sort of about an artist, the obsession of an artist in what you’re prepared to sacrifice in order to follow your vision. Whereas when I first watched it, it just frightened me. Then [The Texas] Chainsaw [Massacre] and Tron as well. The impact that Tron had on me the first time when I first watched it, it’s a very different film watching it now. So I had no fears about watching it again at all.
The thing that strikes me, if anything, the thing that is dated is the modern day stuff, the outside the world stuff. You’d think that the effects would have dated, but I still find the look of the Tron world is really fresh to me, it’s kind of electrifying.
And effects wise, that was what there was…
But also in that kind of retro look kind of made it not dated in a funny way, it’s got that kind of Fritz Lang kind of feel. That mixture of silent movie, sepia kind of look with the futuristic thing really worked for me. I thought that was brilliant.
Now your character is quite interesting. What was the construction like for him?
When I first met Joe [Kosinski], he sort of talked me through the story of the film and then he talked me through specifically the character. He was called something different then. And then he showed me some character designs and it looked like a circus ringmaster type of thing. And he talked about wanting someone who is a bit like the emcee in Cabaret, this sort of character. And then he wanted it to be larger than life and he wanted to bring a whole new energy to the movie at that point. And the more we talked about him and the more I talked about him, I said, rather than being just the owner of this nightclub what if he’s the performer in the nightclub as well. Then I went on to this whole thing about, which we never did, the scene begins with me ending a song and dance routine, kind of with my girls around me, kind of doing the whole thing. A sort of Bob Fosse kind of thing. And I sort of took that into other areas as well.
And then I started going down the path and thinking more like a sort of rock star, nightclub owner and then I thought about if he was a program, what kind of program would he be. I was thinking about someone who is sort of a pop culture walking jukebox, someone who can throw out references to all sorts of thing that kind of different things in pop culture. And someone who then, without giving anything away in the film, who uses his identity as a smokescreen, someone who can shed skins and take on characters and drop them. And it all started with a combination of rock star, shape shifter, pop culture jukebox, identity changes, all led to Bowie. So [David] Bowie kind of became a little touchstone for me with the look and the sound and the attitude of it all, but using all that as a sort of misdirection. So that underneath is this complete psychopath who uses this other stuff to kind of disguise that. There is kind of an insanity in that I wanted eventually for you to see that there is, underneath all this stuff there is a kind of insanity there. I quite like that the chaos there.
What was it like working with Joe Kosinski and his background, what did he bring to it that made it easier for you?
Well one of the great things about him is that he’s able to create a world so brilliantly coming from an architect background. So there is a different kind of creation of the world, it is a kind of believable world from what he showed me and going on to the sets. I haven’t seen the film yet, but it seemed like he had a Kubrick-ian feel, certainly in his commercial work. I like that. It’s always great to know when you are doing something in this kind of a genre that the person in charge you can trust that they can create the world. I’ll do what I do, and I want you to be able to put everything around it and make it cool and make it believable and make it exciting and all that. And Joe can clearly deliver on that. So you breathe a sigh of relief. You know, I feel confident enough to handle the acting part of it within a certain context and as long as the director goes into his world to play in, then I’m happy. He was a very steady hand on the helm there. And as a first time director really, it is extraordinary to think what he managed to achieve. His learning curve was so steep in that he wasn’t used to working with actors, he was open to learning very quickly and being very much in charge and in control and I really like that about him.
Are you ready for Tron: Legacy? Will you see it this weekend?