That’s Michael Sheen we’re talking about. (When interviewers call him her boyfriend, Sarah often corrects them to “my lover.”) And he is on the Rest of the World team which takes on England today in Manchester (U.K.) at Soccer Aid 2016– which is an annual sporting event that raises money for UNICEF. But this article from The Telegraph (London) cautions that injury may prevent him from actually playing.
Michael Sheen is firmly at the top of his tree. Best known for title roles in outstanding biopics – he has played Tony Blair three times, Sir David Frost in Frost/Nixon, Carry On’s Kenneth Williams and Brian Clough in The Damned United – the Newport-born actor remains one of our most acclaimed and highly-sought stars.
He lives in LA; his ex is the actress Kate Beckinsale; his current partner is the vastly successful US comedian Sarah Silverman.
But for someone so starry, he is remarkably inconspicuous, and unlike other trans-Atlantic exports, keeps himself firmly out of the spotlight. Arriving to meet me at a London restaurant in black jeans, a white collarless t-shirt and a beard as wild and woolly as a sheep, he sets himself down with barely a second glance from the waitress or other diners.
“It is mainly because people are not interested in me,” he says in his cheerful Welsh lilt, when I put it to him. “It is not through any great decision of mine. People tend to only really be interested in me because of who I am with.”
He strokes his beard now and then, deep in thought. He is affable, a thinker and charming and, though not a great smiler, no less genial for it.
“I’ve been with Kate or Rachel [McAdams, the actress who he dated for two years] or Sarah – that’s when [I get attention]. I’m not getting papped constantly. No one really gives much of a s*** about me.”
“I am the trophy boyfriend,” he continues, haha-ing. “It is depressingly easy for me to have a low profile life.”
Sheen’s most recent successes have included last year’s Far From The Madding Crowd, opposite Carey Mulligan, and the US drama series Masters of Sex, about the pioneering sex researchers, Masters and Johnson, which he stars in and produces.
He says he is starting “a new chapter” that will see him move into directing, and, quite possibly, back to the UK.
“I’d love to talk about it but I don’t want to curse it. It is something I’ve written, I’ll be in and am directing.”
Today, his thoughts are elsewhere: specifically, Old Trafford football club. Tomorrow, he will walk out to a crowd of 80,000 spectators, flanked by maestros of ball-kicking including Cafu, Cannavaro and Ronaldinho, for the charity Unicef’s biennial celebrity kick about, Soccer Aid.
As a UK Unicef ambassador and Hollywood don he is the lynchpin of the Rest of the World team that is pitted against England. Except, in all likelihood, he won’t be, because Sheen has done in his big right toe. I laugh. Then quickly realise I shouldn’t. It has been a catastrophic pain.
“I haven’t even tried putting on a football boot,” he howls. “I’m leaving it until the last minute to see if I can do it. I don’t even know if I can run, let alone anything else.”
It happened six weeks ago on a gym elliptical machine; his foot slipped off a pedal and smashed into the front of the machine. “I had the headphones on and I could hear the crack.”
One bone broke, another was dislocated, bits came off, tendons snapped. The whole thing was a mess. Surgery has been performed, a metal rod installed then removed and the healing process is underway.
“No matter what happens I am going on for the beginning of the match, even if it is for just a minute,” he says, firmly.
You can’t help feeling this could be a lightning strikes the same place twice moment for 47-year-old Sheen. When he was 12 he showed such a talent for football that he was scouted for the Arsenal youth team, but was unable to take up the place because his parents couldn’t leave their jobs working in personnel in Wales.
He had been “obsessed” by the sport and was at his “peak”, then had to get over the miserable disappointment of not getting the chance to stretch his legs. He won’t let that happen tomorrow, but is sanguine about the past.
“I’m glad that is what happened. If I had gone down that road, I would have had a very different and possibly catastrophic failure of a life. People talk about how precarious it is as an actor but the number who play at the top level in football is minuscule.”
Sheen moved to LA to be near his daughter Lily, 17, whose mother, Kate Beckinsale, he was with for eight years. They split in 2003 and she married director Len Wiseman a year later, but the two have worked hard to remain close. Last month, Beckinsale posted a photo of Sheen, herself and Lily recreating a newborn baby picture of Lily taken 17 years on. If anything, Beckinsale looks younger.
“It was something we just did for ourselves,” he explains. “Kate has just recently launched onto social media so she put it up there, not at all thinking it would be something that would pick up in the way that it did. It is funny.”
Silverman – who stars alongside Sheen in Masters of Sex, incorporates details of their relationship into her stand-up routines. Insights so far have included their pillow talk and her love of his armpit aroma. Sheen is unruffled.
“She always checks with me if she wants to use something I’ve said or something that has happened. It is usually an exaggeration. But I am a big fan of what she does.”
Recently their set up hit headlines for its cosiness to his ex, Kate Beckinsale. The trio appeared at a premier together and Beckinsale has described Silverman as “fantastic” and “basically family”. It is an enviable, if unusual, arrangement. Sheen, who introduced them, agrees.
“Yeah, they get on so well. They are also both people who have a very particular sense of humour. Kate is very funny and very sharp. So, obviously, is Sarah. They really bonded with that.”
“Also, and Kate has said this, you want strong female role models around your daughter. Kate feels very much that Sarah is a good female role model for Lily.”
Sheen has much to talk about other than family. Half a latte down, he is ready to put the world to rights, starting with immigration (“saying we are going to shut our borders is not going to make it go away. We can’t be head-in-the-sands about it”), seguing into foreign aid (‘I work with Unicef because, no matter what the political situation, children are the most vulnerable”) and finishing with Corbyn (“not as ineffective as people would like to say”).
He is staunchly in the Remain camp and a well-known left leaner. Having grown up in Port Talbot in Wales, fertile acting ground that has produced Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins and Rob Brydon, his primary concern is for the steelworkers.
“Wales depends on EU money. The future of the steelworks and the steel industry in Wales is totally dependent on the EU single market. Coming out would put Wales in a very difficult position and we are already struggling. I’d be very worried about what would happen to Wales if they did leave the EU.”
Last month Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns made a similar plea, explaining that 69 per cent of Welsh steel went to Europe last year and a leave vote would expose them to tariffs. Perhaps Sheen’s new chapter might also involve a move into politics? Having played Blair three times he can certainly walk the walk.
“Ah….” More beard stroking.
“I don’t know. I value my independence. I’m not sure how possible that is to have within the established political system at the moment.”
Later he adds: “I understand when people are very wary of celebrities talking about stuff and I think it is healthy. You have to judge people on what it is they do, not on what they say.”
No pressure for tomorrow, then.