Michael Sheen on Art, Fear and Amadeus: ‘David Suchet was in really good shape. I’m not!’

Those who have followed Welsh actor Michael Sheen’s career might expect to encounter a chatty charmer, the “barefoot clown” in his Twitter bio, a full-throated stage animal.

But when he meets Guardian Australia, ‘harried’ is the word that comes to mind – it’s Shen akin to the exaggerated version of himself he plays on Covid lockdown TV Staged, not given to suffering idiots. At one point he swore he rolled his eyes.

“It’s been a busy week,” he says. “Very intense.”

Best known for his roles in The Queen, Good Omens and Masters of Sex, Met Me Straight Out of a Fitted Wig for his role as Italian composer Antonio Salieri, in a new production of Peter Shaffer’s Tony Award-winning play Amadeus at the Sydney Opera House. He shaves off his wild beard and wears jeans, sipping tea from a mug with his name on it. His eyes are bright blue-brown-green. (He once said on Twitter that his eye color changes “rather disturbingly”).

“Crisis Week” is the frantic rehearsal period leading up to the first performance of the production. That one got crunchier than usual over the Christmas holidays, and Sheen lost three extra days to a “really cruel” stomach bug that also killed his co-star Anna Lundberg and his three-year-old daughter Lyra; Along with their six-month-old baby, the family is with Shane for the season. They don’t sleep much.

This must be a time of joy for Shane: World Cup season for a fan Her love of the sport spilled over last September, when he gave a rousing speech to the Welsh team. But because of the time difference, illness and new father duties, he said, “It’s the World Cup I haven’t seen as much.”

Amadeus opened at the Sydney Opera House on 27 December. Photography: Daniel Budd

They may have been “a little crazy” to come to Australia with a new baby at Christmas time – but it’s his first time in Australia, and Shane couldn’t resist. “There may not be another chance and the children are young enough to travel,” he says, adding that Anna’s family is about to fly in from Sweden.

At least Sheen comes to Amadeus fully rooted in his work, having played a young Mozart in Sir Peter Hall’s Show nearly a quarter of a century ago. This production took him from the West End to Broadway and Los Angeles, opening doors to a film career that included his flawless play of British Prime Minister Tony Blair in The Queen, David Frost in Frost/Nixon (opposite Frank Langella, who played Salieri on Broadway in 1982) and the acclaimed TV series Masters of Sex. And let’s not forget Last Train to Christmas.

Shin was thirty years old; David Suchet played Salieri, the role Shane is now stepping into.

“run out [Hall] She was an absolute legend. Getting to know him a little bit and listening to him talk about the play was great,” says Shane. “It was also my first time with the Old Vic and I just loved being a part of that. While we were on Broadway, Barry Humphreys was doing Dame Edna. I saw him and was amazed at his dangers and genius. He invited me to lunch, which was fair beloved – And now Barry is here in Sydney and he’s coming to see me again.”

Michael Sheen as Mozart and David Suchet as Salieri in Amadeus at the Old Vic.
‘I just loved being a part of it’: Michael Sheen as Mozart and David Suchet as Salieri at Amadeus at the Old Vic. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Sheen fondly remembers his experiences on Broadway and Los Angeles—mostly because of their idiosyncrasies. For example, on Broadway, “People clap for you at the end of a speech, or they clap for you when you walk onstage after you’ve got a good rating.” The abnormality So!”

Playing Mozart remains the longest solo theatrical engagement of Shin’s career. “It lasted about 18 months. It was very difficult at times.” Shane recalls that he played Mozart “as if he had a nuclear reactor in him”. “It’s a creative force that’s positive but also destructive. He’s driven by it and has to try to keep up. All of those funny things he says, all of his personal quirks, they’re all coping mechanisms for someone who’s being catapulted into space at 1,000 miles an hour.”

Playing the senior role is no cakewalk either. Salieri is the narrator, the main focus. One of the monologues depicting the rise and fall of Mozart spans several pages.

“The play is very demanding and I’m not in the shape I used to be,” says Shane, 53. “I’ve had two children in the last few years, and what about work and all that’s happened with covid, it’s hard to do all the exercises you need to do. I remember David [Suchet] He went to the gym all the time, he was in it Is that true good look. And I … I’m not! “

However, this relatively short Sydney season will allow Shane to let go of the rip to some extent, he says.

“There’s a lot more freedom to explore when you’re playing Salieri… there’s more room to experiment with things.”

Amadeus opened at the Sydney Opera House on 27 December.
‘The play is very demanding’: Michael Sheen photographs in the Sydney Opera House concert hall. Photography: Daniel Budd

Directed by Craig Elliott, the Opera House production features Western Sydney actor Rachel Roman, 28, as Mozart.

“The thing about Mozart is that he’s a mirror of Salieri,” Shin says. “Before Mozart came along, Salieri saw himself as a risk-taker and a leading creative artist. Mozart introduces colors he had never known before, concepts he was unfamiliar with. Mozart is an artist. Salieri is someone with a career.”

Which is why, as Shane explains, “Salieri has to smash the mirror.”

Is it inevitable that artists will lose touch with the creative spark as careers flourish and responsibilities grow? Does it get harder to make great art as you get older?

“I don’t think it has to do with age so much,” says Shane. “We all start out with a sense of an ideal and what we would like to achieve and strive for. It’s about balancing your career with your life responsibilities, while staying true to your original impetus. Are you satisfying yourself creatively? Are you challenging yourself? Are you evolving and improving? I think any creative person is worth their salt,” he asks. Same it every day.

“When you work on this play, you explore these insecurities and fears, and they have them just like everyone else. In whatever part you explore, you look for the parts that you connect with and then you amplify them and interact with them a little bit. That’s what makes the piece come alive. It’s not relaxing, But I totally enjoy it. Ultimately, if you don’t want to explore this stuff, you shouldn’t play Salieri.”

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