Michael Sheen has played the gamut of characters within the structure of his career. From the texture of “Underworld” and “Tron: Legacy” all the way to the essence of Showtime’s “Master Of Sex”, his characters always require a balance (or perhaps imbalance) of personality to give them a unique spin. After conducting a panel with his fellow actors at the CBS All Access TCA Press Day for the new season of “The Good Fight”, Sheen spoke with The Inside Reel about nuance, finding the character and knowing how to walk the line.
Was there a different approach to playing Roland Blum?
Michael Sheen: There’s something incredibly liberating about playing a character like this. Anything that’s put in front of him, he just pushes it over. He can say whatever he wants to say, and just says things to provoke and outrage. The pendulum has swung the other way, and I’m loving it.
On a demonic scale, how does he fare?
MS: The temptation was to talk of him as being Mephistopheles, a devil kind of character. But it actually goes beyond that. The devil was born out of the god Pan. There’s something kind of pagan about it and I love that. I am trying to still play with that a bit more so I’m trying to look a bit more like a forest creature. So there’s an appetite rather than putting up a moral or ethical judgment on him. He’s something that goes a bit deeper and hopefully people will be both attracted to him and repelled by him at the same time. Because he does go very deep into something very primal.
The character does dwell in a certain world of thought.
MS: It’s something very human. I make a joke about it but it’s true…I actually prefer being him. Because he is touching on things that we all have. When people often ask actors who are playing the bad guy, “Oh you must be having so much fun!” Everyone loves a good bad guy. It’s slightly lazy of me thinking like that but there’s something truthful in that we go around living a partly repressed life in order to all get along with each other. That’s what the most civilizations are, isn’t it? But then you have these characters who come along who are essentially parasitic. They’re thinking “As long as everyone else is keeping civilization going on, I can just wreck things”. And there’s something incredibly attractive about that. I think at the moment there’s a lot of disruptors…there’s a lot of people breaking down those pillars of what everyone else is trying to keep up. That’s a scary thing. And so to play a character who is doing that…that both makes people go “I wish could do that. I spend most of my day wanting to do that stuff but I don’t do it.” We are both attracted to that and repelled by that. Roland is definitely one of those characters. He fulfills two sides: on the one hand, he’s the trickster who remakes the world…who comes along and says we have to throw everything up in the air because things are too settled…that it’s unfair in society, both during the past Trump election and the Brexit stuff…about that false sense, that there’s an illusion of how the world is, and we need to throw it all up in the air and remake it. Roland represents the positive aspect of that but also the negative aspect of that, which is just about eroding things that we all really need in order to live a life and not be eating each other.
The mythology of Pan as a metaphor is all about testing people. You’ve explored many characters in “Tron: Legacy”, “Masters Of Sex”, but it is all about the mask…
MS: It’s the idea of tempting in the garden. It goes back to god demons…the idea that the devil comes and goes, but do you want to know more? Do you want to just accept the way things are…or do you want to find out a little bit more? I can help you do the questions, but be curious. A lot of the qualities that we think of as being positive qualities, un-progressive qualities, used to be kind of contained within the idea of the devil and the saint in…and it was because a saint is a Christian construct based on Pan, which has much more to do with appetite and nature as well as its healing qualities…
An expression of culture.
MS: Exactly. So I love that quality of that character. In fact in the first scene Diane [Christine Baranski] has with Roland this season…she learns something from him. Whether he does it on purpose or not, we don’t know but he offers something, a bit of a bit of wisdom, She picks up on that and that becomes a major power of what happens in the season. He is this character who seems like he’s part of the enemy but actually he’s the key to maybe understanding and moving things along.
So with him is what you see what you get or does he have the symbolic side as well?
MS: He’s both total surface in that what you see is what you get, he’s totally that. But he’s also totally a mystery in darkness and you’ll never know. I like the idea that you sort of feel like, “Oh he’s just old service”. And then you realize “Oh no he’s not old service”. It’s very hard to know,
Did embodying the character come together quickly?
MS: It all happened very quickly. I found myself walking into the courtroom for my first scene on the show, having to play this huge, larger than life character. Normally I would, certainly for the characters I played based on real people, spend a massive amount of time doing research. I wasn’t able to do that here. It was like, “Here you go.” And I remember walking through those doors that first day having to kind of essentially take over the whole thing. I was terrified. I’m a confident character usually. You know as an actor you’re always worried you’re going to be found out. I’ve always pretended that I know. For the entire first week on this show, I was genuinely convinced I was going to be fired, that someone was going to stop me and go, “You know what? That’s a good effort, I admire your chutzpah for what you’re trying to do, but ultimately this is a professional job and people have to watch this. It’s just not going to work. Sorry.” Really. Funny enough, at the end of the first week, I had a message from the Kings’ assistant saying, “Uh, Robert would you like to have…uh a word with you.” And I was like “This is it, This is where I get fired.” I was absolutely convinced that was going to be packing my bags and going. That was terrifying.
By Tim Wassberg