Michael Sheen on His Latest TIFF Premiere, the Art of Preparation and Breaking Dawn Limbo

beautiful_boy_500.jpgAnother year of TIFF almost always means another year featuring Michael Sheen, and 2010 is no different. Though the subject most definitely is: The Welsh stage and screen veteran arrives this week with the world premiere of Beautiful Boy, featuring Sheen opposite Maria Bello as a dissolving married couple who must relearn how to live with each other after their son goes on a mass murder-suicide gun rampage at his college. Writer-director Shawn Ku's debut feature goes a few places you might expect and a lot more you probably wouldn't; Sheen spoke about the film, his role, his diligence at character "fusion," and intriguing news about his future (or possible lack thereof) with the Twilight franchise.

How are you?

I'm good. [To departing publicist] You know, it's strange that there is a new Nikita so long after the original film and the American version of the film. And Alias was sort of like Nikita, wasn't it?

That's true. Did I inter--

Such a great film, though, isn't it? The French one, I mean.

It was. So... Toronto! You've got kind of a history with this festival, right?

Yeah! And also just with the city. I shot a movie here about two months ago. I was here last year with The Damned United. Before that I was here with Bright Young Things. That was a long time ago.

The Queen.

Oh, right. Yes. I've come to think of Toronto as like a second home. I'm here all the time.

And now there's Beautiful Boy. It's kind of unusual role for you, I think. How did it come to you?

I just got sent the script, and I read it. I asked my agent, "What's it about?" Just so I got a sense of it before it comes. And just the description of it, you're like, "Oh, God. [Rolls eyes] Do I really have to read this?" And I started reading it, and almost from page one, I thought, "Oh, I didn't expect that. That's kind of interesting." I just found the whole thing was so originally conceived and always surprising and never does what you think it's going to do. Not that it's a twisty-turny thriller. Emotionally and psychologically and tonally it's very different from what I expected. I thought it was very refreshing in that way: that it took a risk. Taking a very dramatic subject and treating it in a very, very realistic way and not going for a neat, emotionally wrought piece. It's very underplayed; it's about what's not said and what's not done, really, more than anything else.

Of course, you have a first-time filmmaker as well, which is another layer of uncertainty. How did you decide you wanted to go all in with him on a piece like this?

You just read the piece, and if it resonates and connects -- which it did -- and it's different and original and good, then you meet the director. Not in every case do you respond to the material and think that the director in the right person to do it. But meeting with Shawn and hearing how he wanted to approach it all chimed with how I felt.

Like what?

Well, we talked about the idea of all those things I said, I guess. Sometimes you see things in a script, and it doesn't necessarily mean the director sees the same things. And if you think you're going to be making a different film, then that's not gonna work. He very much felt the same way I felt about it and liked the same things that I liked, and therefore the way that we would approach it in terms of the performance was very similar. I like how personally invested he was, and how prepared to draw on his own life he was in order to talk about it. He was trusting in me in terms of what he was telling me, so that makes you think, "Oh, I can take the risk to trust him and go on this journey myself."

Another big part of it was Maria. I've been a big admirer of her work, so meeting with her and talking about it just felt right. It just felt like a good chemical mix.

There really is a wide range of dynamics between Bill and Kate, from estrangement to exile to intimacy--

Right from the beginning, the idea is that this is not a film about a happy couple that gets torn apart by tragic events. That would be a much more conventional way of doing it, I suppose. That they're on the verge of splitting up in the beginning, before any of this happens, is the first kind of unexpected thing that made me think, "That's a really interesting journey to go on." I thought that in terms of my character, Bill, he's in this weird kind of limbo -- this... unlife, or anti-life kind of thing where he can't make any decisions. He can't commit to anything; he feels totally stuck. I thought that was interesting. And the journey he goes on is eventually to make a sort of committed statement about something.

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  • Helen says:

    Beautiful Boy = 80s movie of the week.
    Does Joanna Kerns show up in this?

  • jp says:

    Beautiful Boy is getting good reviews and from what I've read, seems to be taking a different direction & focus than the Columbine related dramas & documentaries that have been done before. To me, it sounds much more complex & sophisticated and I'm thankful that it's also not just an exploitive gory 'shoot-em-up' movie either. From what I've read here and elsewhere, it seems like it will be very good and may even be a strong contender for awards season. Looking forward to seeing it in the theatres soon!