GOOD OMENS - Season 1 - Key Art | ©2019 Amazon Prime

GOOD OMENS – Season 1 – Key Art | ©2019 Amazon Prime

Actor Michael Sheen is having a GOOD time right now. On CBS All-Access, Sheen joins the cast of the legal drama THE GOOD FIGHT as the (figuratively) devilish lawyer Roland Blum; on Amazon, Sheen stars as the (literally) angelic Aziraphale opposite David Tennant in the six-part adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s celestial doomsday comedy GOOD OMENS.

Sheen, originally from Wales, has a wide-ranging career. He made his Broadway debut in the title role of AMADEUS. Onscreen, Sheen has portrayed real-life figures British Prime Minister Tony Blair (in THE DEAL, THE QUEEN, and THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP), sex researcher Bill Masters in four seasons of Showtime’s MASTERS OF SEX, interviewer David Frost in FROST/NIXON, and U.K. football coach Brian Clough in THE DAMNED UNITED. On the other end of the spectrum, he’s played sympathetic werewolf leader Lucian in the UNDERWORLD franchise, evil vampire leader Aro in the TWILIGHT saga, artificial intelligence characters in TRON: LEGACY and PASSENGERS, and a large variety of roles in between.

During Amazon’s Q&A panel for GOOD OMENS, Gaiman, who wrote the teleplays and is one of the show’s executive producers, explains how he came to cast Sheen as the angel Aziraphale. “Just speaking as the person who cast Michael and talked him into doing it in the first place, one of the things that had always fascinated me about Michael as a person – as opposed to Michael as an actor – is that Michael as an actor tends to play people with sharp, brittle, slightly dangerous outsides. But knowing Michael as I have for the last decade, and going, ‘I actually think you’d be amazing as an angel, as somebody who is just soft and sweet and really doesn’t have a dark bone in his body,’ and getting Michael to do that has been an absolute delight.”

Asked whether he identifies more with Aziraphale or Roland Blum, Sheen replies, “I’m probably an amalgamation of the two, but on the surface, I’m more like Aziraphale, I think. And underneath the surface, I am very murky, like Roland. So a bit of both.”

After CBS All-Access has a Q&A panel for Season 3 of THE GOOD FIGHT, creators Michelle King and Robert King’s sequel series to their award-winning THE GOOD WIFE, Sheen makes time to answer questions about Roland Blum. Although the current season of THE GOOD FIGHT premiered on March 14 and GOOD OMENS debuted May 31, the latter series was shot before THE GOOD FIGHT (perhaps because post-production that includes scenes of Heaven and Hell can be more time-consuming than post-production on courtroom sequences).

ASSIGNMENT X: You’ve played all sorts of people over the years, but since you had just finished playing an extremely good angel, did THE GOOD FIGHT’s Roland Blum come along at a particularly good time for you?

MICHAEL SHEEN: Yeah, I think so. There’s something incredibly liberating about playing a character like this, who, anything that’s put in front of him, he just pushes it over, and he can say whatever he wants to say, and just says things to provoke and outrage. And so having played Aziraphale in GOOD OMENS for six months or something, yeah, this is like the absolute other side. The pendulum has swung the other way, and I’m loving it.

AX: How did you come to be involved in THE GOOD FIGHT?

SHEEN: This is one of those serendipitous things for me. I was planning on being in the U.K., doing something completely different [laughs], and life stuff happened. It’s that John Lennon thing – “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans” – and that’s very much what this was. I ended up needing to be in New York for a period of time, so I thought, “Well, hopefully, I’ll be able to get a job here.” And literally the next day, this came up. So it was like the universe saying to me, “Yup. You need to do this.” So I found myself walking into the courtroom for my first scene on this show, knowing that I had to play this huge, larger than life character. And with an [American] accent, and a voice, I mean, a big character, having had very little time. Normally, certainly for the characters I play that are based on real people, I spend massive amounts of time doing research. I wasn’t able to do any. It was like, “Bang! Here you go.” And I remember walking through those doors that first day, having to kind of essentially take over the whole thing. And I was terrified. I’m a confident actor, usually. When people talk about the idea of, “Oh, as an actor, you’re always worried that you’re going to get found out,” I’ve always pretended that I know what that’s like; I don’t know what that’s like. I do now [laughs].

Because for that entire first week on [THE GOOD FIGHT], I was genuinely convinced that I was going to be fired, that someone was going to come up to 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.” And at the end of the first week, I had a message from the Kings’ assistant, saying, “Robert would like to have a word with you.” And I was like, “This is it. This is where I get told.” I remember having been on the phone with him and thinking, “Oh, God.” And he said, “I just wanted to say you’re doing a great job. We’re really enjoying watching what you’re doing.” And I was absolutely convinced I was going to be packing my bags. So that was terrifying. And then once I got that first week out of the way, I was like, “Okay. I’m feeling more comfortable now.”

Michael Sheen as Roland Blum in THE GOOD FIGHT - Season 1 | ©2018 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved/Justin Stephens

Michael Sheen as Roland Blum in THE GOOD FIGHT – Season 1 | ©2018 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved/Justin Stephens

AX: On a demonic scale, how does Roland Blum compare to Crowley, the actual demon played by David Tennant in GOOD OMENS?

SHEEN: [laughs] Oh, Crowley’s just a softie, really. To begin with, the temptation was to talk of [Roland] being Mephistophelean, a devil kind of character, but actually, it goes beyond that. The Devil was born out of the god Pan in a pagan time, so there’s something pagan about him. And I love that. I’m trying to play with that a bit more, so I’m trying to look a bit more like a forest creature. But he is appetite, and rather than putting a sort of moral judgment on him, or an ethical judgment, he’s something that goes a bit deeper. And I think that’s why, hopefully, people will be attracted to him, and be repelled by him at the same time. Because it does go very deep, and into something very primal. That’s the bit I’m loving about playing him so much.

AX: What do you think really drives Roland?

SHEEN: It’s something very human. I sort of made a joke about it, but it’s true – I actually prefer being him. Because you’re touching on things that we all have. people often [say to] actors who are playing the bad guy in a show, or a film, or something, “You must be having so much fun, everyone loves a good bad guy.” And it’s slightly lazy thinking about it like that, but there’s something truthful in that, in that we go around living a partly repressed life in order to all get along with each other [laughs]. That’s sort of what civilization is, isn’t it? And then you have these characters who come along, who are essentially parasitic, because they’re going, “As long as everyone else is keeping civilization going, I can just wreck things.” But there’s something incredibly attractive about that for us, because we go around keeping everything going.

And I think at the moment, there are a lot of [real-life] disruptors, there are lot of people breaking down those pillars of what everyone else is trying to keep up, and that’s the scary thing for us. And so to play a character who is doing that, that makes people go, “I wish I could do that. I spend most of my day wanting to do that stuff, but I don’t do it.” So we’re both attracted to that and repelled by it. I think Roland, or people like him, characters like him, fulfill two functions. On the one hand, he’s the trickster who remakes the world, who comes along and goes, “We have to throw everything up in the air, because things are too settled and it’s unfair that society …” All the stuff that we heard about during both the Trump election and the Brexit stuff, about, “People are living in bubbles, and it’s a false sense of, it’s an illusion of how the world is, and you need to throw it all up in the air, and remake it.” So he represents the positive aspect of that, but also the negative aspect of it, which is about just eroding things that we all really need to live our kind of life and not be eating each other [laughs]. So he represents both those sides of it.

AX: Part of the mythology of Pan is about testing people. Does that apply to Roland’s character in how he deals with others?

SHEEN: Well, there’s one way of looking at characters like the Devil, the idea of tempting and the Garden of Eden, and this goes back to GOOD OMENS as well, because we actually do that scene in GOOD OMENS [laughs]. But the idea that the Devil comes on and goes, “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? And I can help you do that. Question. Be curious.” So a lot of the qualities that we think of as being positive qualities, and progressive qualities, used to be kind of contained within the idea of the Devil and Satan, and that kind of stuff. Of course, Satan is a Christian construct based on Pan, something much more pagan, much more to do with appetite and nature, and the kind of destructive as well as the healing qualities of nature. So I love that quality of that character. In fact, in the first scene that Diane [played by Christine Baranski] has with Roland in this season, she learns something from him. Whether he does it on purpose or not, we don’t know, but he offers her something, a bit of wisdom, and she picks up on that, and that becomes a major part of what happens in the season. So 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 I love that. That’s very true, I think, to that symbolic role of characters like Roland.

AX: With Roland, is what you see what you get, or does he have a secret side as well?

SHEEN: He is total surface – what you see is what you get – he is totally that, but he is also totally mystery and darkness, and you will never know. I like that idea that you sort of feel like, “Oh, he is just all surface.” And then you realize, “Oh, no, he’s not all surface.” And it’s very hard to know. It’s like one of those pictures where it’s, “Is it a vase, or is it two people kissing?” It keeps going back and forth, and you don’t know where you are with it in that respect.

AX: What would you most like people to know about THE GOOD FIGHT?

SHEEN: Well, what I knew about it before I started doing it was that a couple of people who I know, women who are very smart, I have a huge amount of respect for them, they both said, “Oh, It’s absolutely my favorite show on TV.” So I knew that people of discernment were loving this show, and yet it wasn’t getting seen as much as it deserved. So I’m hoping that the more people who get to watch it, the more people are going to go, “Oh, it’s absolutely my favorite show.” Because I think that’s what it deserves. [The following is Sheen engaging in some exaggeration as to what he’s willing to do to promote THE GOOD FIGHT – please do not expect him at your door.] I mean, I’m going to go around to people’s houses. I’ll act scenes out for them in their living rooms. That’s what All-Access means to me. So get ready. I’m going to do the Roland Blum Tour of America.

This interview was conducted during CBS All-Access’s portion of the Television Critics Association press tour.

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Article: Interview: Michael Sheen talks about the law and angels in his TV shows THE GOOD FIGHT and GOOD OMENS

 

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