Words: Catriona Craig
HENRY V IS the type of role you give to
the Next Big Thing, traditionally played by a golden youth, squinting as he gazes into the brightness of his future.
So it is no surprise that
Michael Sheen, the RSC’s cur-
rent Henry. has already been
hailed as the actor of his genera- tion. Since graduating from RADA in 1991, he has acted alongside Vanessa Redgrave in the West End and Julia Roberts in Mary Reilly.
He created a romantic, tousle-haired Romeo for the Manchester Royal Exchange
and sent chills down the spine at the Royal National Theatre as the shifty pimp Lenny in Pinter’s The Homecoming. Alongside his current Shakespearean tour, he can soon be seen as Robbie Ross, Oscar Wilde’s first male lover, in the Stephen Fry film Wilde.
In spite of his celeb-heavy CV, 28-year-old Welshman Sheen was shocked when the RSC called him in to discuss Henry V, which comes to Glasgow next month.
With a characteristic lack of luvvi- ness he admits: ‘I never thought anyone would cast me in this role. I had seen the Olivier film and the Branagh version and you get this image of a macho guy who’s this great warrior king.
I’ve never really seen myself like that.’ Certainly, with his
slight frame, elfin face and unruly "top of hair, he resembles a Dickensian urchin rather than a monarch. His success is due to the fact that he har— bours no illusions about the industry in which he works. Show business will always value pure glamour, but Sheen is bright enough to realise that his own future lies in capitalising on his
Michael Sheen: hailed as the actor of his generation
The job involved seducing a celibate man, but he got Stephen Fry into bed in Wilde. He's hardly the warrior king type, but the Royal Shakespeare Company cast him as Henry V. MICHAEL SHEEN is a young actor rapidly outgrowing the 'promising' tag.
more ordinary brand of charm.
‘I hooked into Henry V by finding the unheroic elements in the character,’ says the Port Talbot-born actor. ‘I thought “What if Henry doesn’t feel up to it either?” and that gave me a way to explore the contradictions and complexities of his situation.’
Wilde also gave him the opportunity to play a divided personality. Typically, Sheen researched the character in detail and found that Robbie Ross was a cautious figure. ‘Robbie was thrown into a river by a gang of students at university when they found out he was gay,’ he explains. ‘It made quite an impression on him and he became much more circumspect about his sexual activities after that. He always felt guilty that by making the
To seduce Stephen Fry, one of the few famous men notorious for his lack of sexual activity, was a potentially nerve-wracking experience.
first move he started Oscar on the path which eventually led to his imprisonment for being homosexual.’
To seduce Stephen Fry, one of the few famous men notorious for his lack of sexual activity, was a potentially nerve-wracking experience, but Sheen is full of praise for Fry’s ability to deflate the tension of the situation. ‘He was wonderful. There was all this pressure on him because the film rests on his performance so much, but he just kept everyone laughing. He‘s a really funny, generous person.’
Now playing a title role himself, Sheen understands exactly what that pressure feels like. His commitment to the part and attention to detail borders on obsessive, but his attitude could not be more down-to-earth. ‘Every day is like, “Once more unto the breach.” You manage to get one thing that you’re happy with and then something else pops up that you want to change.’
He giggles as he tries to explain the struggle to achieve the perfect performance. ‘I always feel like coming out at the end of the show and apologising to the audience. lt’s
terrible, but that’s how I feel.’ ﬁr
24 Oct—6 Nov 1997 THE U817
Wilde is on general release. Henry V is at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Tue 25—Sat 29 Nov.