New photoshoot from backstage at the Young Vic

London photographer Ben C Meadows has kindly given me permission to reproduce the lovely photos that he took of Michael Sheen backstage at the Young Vic towards the end of his Hamlet run.

Copies have been added to the Gallery, but you can view them below by clicking on the thumbnails.

Michael Sheen at the Young VicMichael Sheen at the Young VicMichael Sheen at the Young VicMichael Sheen at the Young VicMichael Sheen at the Young Vic

You can check out Ben’s other fantastic work HERE.

New fan photo with Michael after Hamlet performance

The lovely Maria has kindly allowed me to share with you a treasured photo of her meeting with Michael after a performance of Hamlet at the Young Vic recently.

A copy has been added to the Gallery.

If you have any photos of you meeting Michael at the Young Vic, or any other occasion, then please send it to me and I will add it to the Gallery.

Hamlet Opening Night After Party Photos

A few photos of Michael from the After Party of the Opening Night of Hamlet have been found on photographer Dan Wooller’s website. Copies have been added to the Gallery, but if you want to see photos of the other guests in attendance, then please visit his website.

Appearance » 2011 » Hamlet Opening Night After Party


Opening Night Reviews for Michael Sheen’s Hamlet at The Young Vic

Opening night for Michael Sheen’s Hamlet, at The Young Vic, took place yesterday evening.  Since then a steady stream of reviews have been coming out.

I think it is fair to say there are mixed opinions regarding the production and direction, however, there does seem to be consistant praise regarding Michael’s performance.

Here is a selection below:

Huffington Post UK “Sheen - his physicality, his voice, his age - is gone. Instead we see a lost, sad, sometimes spiteful and stuck young son”

The Telegraph “Michael Sheen - with his corkscrew curls and wolfish grins - could be right up there among the great Hamlets.”

The Guardian “Michael Sheen, who is fascinating to watch. He is intelligent, inventive and full of insights”

The Arts Desk “Sheen is fascinating: vulnerable, scary, his gaze darting restlessly about, his body taut with anticipation”

The Independant “Sheen has just the right electrically dangerous, mocking intelligence for the part”

The Daily Mail “He plays the prince with an absorbing energy


New performance images from Hamlet

Whatsonstage have released 6 images taken from Michael Sheen’s performance of Hamlet that is currently in previews at the Young Vic.  Opening night is on November 9th.

Copies of the images have been added to the Gallery. Please follow the link, or click on the thumbnails below.

Theatre » Hamlet » Performance images

TimeOut: Michael Sheen Interview

Original Article - TimeOut 04/11/11

He’s played the prime minister and the messiah – now Michael Sheen is plumbing the psyche of the original man in black. Caroline McGinn asks him about the dark side.

It’s been a big year for Michael Sheen. A lifechanger, in fact. The 42-year-old actor is widely admired for his uncanny ability to play real-life characters: a Bambi-ish Tony Blair in a trilogy of films that included ‘The Queen’; David Frost for Peter Morgan’s play-turned-movie ‘Frost/Nixon’; and most recently, a demon-ridden Brian Clough in ‘The Damned United’. But no previous role has come close to the Christ-like leader Sheen played in ‘The Passion’ in his South Wales home town this Easter: an epic 72-hour piece of community theatre which ended in Sheen being crucified on a local roundabout.

‘The Passion’, a local take on the Gospel commissioned by the storming new National Theatre of Wales, was more than just a play. It was a collective story that Sheen probably couldn’t have told anywhere but in Port Talbot, a town divided by the roaring M4 and dominated by a giant steelworks that was once the largest employer in Wales; a place where churchgoing and storytelling are still alive. It’s also his parents’ home. Sheen was so moved that talking about it makes him choke up. ‘I did this seven-mile procession with the cross,’ he recalls, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. ‘It was boiling hot. There were 12,000-15,000 people. And I was seeing these bare-chested tattooed blokes standing outside pubs with pints, with kids, with tears in their eyes going, “Go on, Michael, you can do it!” It’s quite rare to be in the middle of an experience knowing it is probably the most meaningful one I will ever have in my life. Something in me relaxed after that, I think. I could say, “If I died tomorrow, I did that.”’

Over a glass of red wine in the bar at the Young Vic, where he is about to play Hamlet, Sheen does seem completely relaxed: eager, open and very Welsh, with his squiggle of dark brown hair and his neat, expressive hands. He has a shapeshifter’s face: mobile, not memorable, too blurry and mercurial for a romantic lead. And it is a pleasure to hear his real voice: un-damned by Clough’s nasal, northern scorn or Blair’s prim inflections, it is a gloriously unstoppable lilting flow which seems, to my English ears, to come straight from the Valleys.

Sheen currently lives in LA to be close to his 12-year-old daughter with ex-partner Kate Beckinsale. He is an unlikely denizen of La La Land, with his bike helmet, his puppyish friendliness and his lack of pretensions. His spectacular return to his roots at Easter has, he says, redefined who he thinks he is, and what he wants to do with his work: something which he expresses in probably the longest sentence I’ve ever heard anyone deliver. ‘“The Passion” did for me what I hoped it could do for everyone in the town, potentially, which is to experience your life and your home in a different way, because I think there is a tendency – and I have it, and I notice other people have it too, probably everyone has it but certainly people who come from quite challenged areas – there’s a sense that your life is of no interest, that your story is mundane and there is no, for want of a better word, numinosity, no transcendence, and so to be able to tell a story about the biggest things there can probably be, a version of the “greatest story ever told” in the town that is seen to be the least likely town for that to happen in, then the people in that town, every time they go around that roundabout, which is many times, can go, “Not only is that where I get fish and chips, it’s also where the crucifixion happened,” and the everyday becomes transcendent – to something that is miraculous.’

Thanks to Sheen’s great-grandfather, street preaching runs in the family. But the starry-eyed idealism behind doing a passion play in Port Talbot, to reach thousands of people who would never set foot in a theatre, might easily have backfired. It was an unglamorous risk for a local bloke-turned-Hollywood big shot to take. You can’t imagine the area’s other famous filmmaking sons, ultra-cool customer Antony Hopkins or hard-living Richard Burton, pulling it off – though Burton did enjoy making a splash on the local beach with Liz Taylor and his private helicopter. ‘The Passion’ was supposed to shine a light on the miracle workers who do what Sheen calls the ‘unseemly’ work of care: for the old, the sick, the battered wives and the young offenders. For it to work, its makers had to gain the trust of the town.

‘After the Last Supper, when the Manics played, I was put on trial on the back of a truck and the crowd took over,’ he says. ‘It was at that moment I realised they understood it was their story. It was frightening and exhilarating. We didn’t know what was going to happen. Along the procession route people put photos of things they’d lost. Then, on the cross, I did a litany. Of things I remembered, or that I’d gathered from people, of people and places that don’t exist any more.’ It was Sheen’s epic personal connection to South Wales, where his dad once worked as a Jack Nicholson impersonator, and where his great-grandfather got rich when God told him to buy a tin mine. Sheen’s codirector Bill Mitchell and writer Owen Sheers spent a year getting stories from locals, and fed them into the piece. ‘I was just a participant: we all were,’ he says. ‘My mum and dad said a woman came to their house and told them I’d called her mother’s name when I was on the cross, and it had changed something for her. The need that drama first came from was community, witness, celebration and catharsis. We were trying to find a way for that to happen on a large scale.’

 The Port Talbot ‘Passion’ has already gone down in theatre history. So where do you go after scaling the twin messianic peaks of Blair and Christ? Down into the doubt-ridden depths of Hamlet, naturally, the biggest role that a young (or young-ish in this case) actor can play. Judging by Sheen’s wordflow, those famous soliloquies won’t be a problem. After all, the actor made his name on stage: he won his first professional role at the Globe opposite Vanessa Redgrave in 1991 before he had graduated from Rada.
 Sheen as David Frost in ‘Frost/Nixon’

His CV is full of monster roles: Caligula, Peer Gynt, Amadeus (playing Mozart was his break into Broadway in 1999). Clough, and even Blair and Frost, creep into that list – though he’s obviously bored of talking about the factional film roles that made him famous: ‘I’ve done relatively few characters based on real people,’ he protests, just a little bit too much. ‘I’ve been working on stage now for more years than I care to mention.’

‘Project Hamlet’ has been on the cards for a while, but Sheen was waiting ‘for the right director and the right theatre’. Unlike recent celebrity Hamlets David Tennant and Jude Law, he didn’t want to do conventional West End Shakespeare, hence the Young Vic, with its younger, mixed audience and its imaginative approach, which includes – mysteriously – reconfiguring the playing space so that ‘Hamlet’ audiences must arrive 30 minutes early to take a ‘different route’ in. Sheen’s director of choice is Ian Rickson, the ex-Royal Court boss who has helped actors achieve career-defining roles (Kristin Scott-Thomas in ‘The Seagull’; Mark Rylance in ‘Jerusalem’). Hamlet tends to demand something very personal from actors: one reason why so many of them crack up over it, though Sheen seems remarkably unfurrowed by the prospect. ‘It is,’ he says, ‘good not to have to worry about people saying, “He doesn’t sound like Hamlet.” It’s me: I’m not doing a voice or playing a character, so to speak. It’ll sound like me and look like me, a bit of Welsh mixed with a bit of posh.’

Sheen sees ‘Hamlet’ as ‘like a portal. Or a living organism in some way. Other Shakespeare plays don’t have that quality of seeming to change. “Hamlet” works on you and sucks up everything you have. It’s a bit like looking into the abyss. What “Hamlet” makes everyone confront are all the things that are most frightening: irrationality, betrayal, madness and abandonment. It is very, very dark, and it dances along through that darkness.’

Sheen’s prince promises to be darker than most. Not just a mad Hamlet, but maybe even a bad Hamlet. ‘Me and Ian have taken a completely different approach,’ he explains. ‘The most interesting way to approach it is not to trust anything that Hamlet says, to assume that he’s an unreliable narrator. And once you do that, you realise how many assumptions there are about the play.’ Sheen cites Philip K Dick, David Lynch and Edgar Allan Poe as influences. The production will be set in a world ‘that feels as if we’re in some sort of institution’. Madness will be the keynote: ‘I discovered when working on it,’ says Sheen, ‘that it’s the first time anyone used the phrase “the mind’s eye”.’ Horatio says, “A mote it is, to trouble the mind’s eye.” Meaning a piece of grit. It sums up what I think the play is. It’s a bit of grit in the mind’s eye of the Western world. We’ve tried to expel it, by smoothing out its inconsistencies and by stopping it from being irritating. That’s a way to neutralise it and make it safer. But actually it’s the most dangerous of plays.’

Rickson and Sheen have found unorthodox inspiration in anti-psychiatrist RD Laing and G Wilson Knight, the twentieth century scholar who wrote an off-beam but brilliant essay on Hamlet, the ‘ambassador of death’ in the land of the living. ‘Laing said that if you take mad people on their own terms then maybe they’re just talking in a sort of heightened language about their lived experience,’ says Sheen. ‘And our take on “Hamlet” definitely questions the boundaries of what you would consider madness to be.’

So where do you go as an actor, after the heights of being crucified, and the depths of Hamlet’s psyche? ‘The answer to that is that I just don’t know,’ says Sheen. There are a couple of projects: Sheen says he was ‘roped in’ on a set visit to a new untitled film by cinema’s man of mystery, Terrence Malick, starring Sheen’s girlfriend and ‘Midnight in Paris’ co-star Rachel McAdams. And there’s also Wales-set thriller ‘Resistance’, out this month. But he has his heart set on directing a film about Edgar Allan Poe. ‘He was an extraordinary character. Very dark.’ The legacy of this life-changing year is a sharper, stronger passion for a live Welsh tradition: storytelling. ‘I just don’t know where you go after “The Passion” and “Hamlet”,’ says Sheen ‘But I do know that I want to tell stories that are powerful, that can reach people and equate to Greek theatre now. People still do need that. They respond to it. But you have to take risks to find them.’

‘Hamlet’ is at the Young Vic until Jan 21 2012.

Michael Sheen admits that playing Hamlet is a bit daunting

Original article - WalesOnline 28/10/11

After spending three days as a modern day messiah in Easter’s epic drama The Passion, Michael Sheen is now tackling Shakespearean anti-hero Hamlet. But even award-winning actors feel nervous about such roles, as Karen Price discovers

INSIDE the cosy auditorium of London’s Young Vic, Michael Sheen will make his hugely-anticipated debut as Hamlet tonight.

Tickets for the three-month run have, unsurprisingly, been among the fastest-selling in the theatre’s 41-year history.

For it seems that everyone wants to see the award-winning Welshman tackling Shakespeare’s anti-hero.

His portrayal comes just a short time after two other high-profile actors – David Tennant and Jude Law – took on the role and it’s also something Sheen has been planning for a while.

When it was first announced that he would be teaming up with director Ian Rickson for his modern day setting of the Bard’s tale, the actor who is renowned for portraying ‘real people’ including Tony Blair, David Frost and Kenneth Williams, warned audiences that he wanted to make it “uncomfortable”.

“It’s the most dangerous play that exists, yet our culture has made it safe,” he said at the time. “What I want is to make it difficult and jagged again, unsettling and uncomfortable and disorienting for the audience.”

When we chat, Sheen is midway through rehearsals and is pleased with how things are coming together. He says that Hamlet has been on the back-burner for some time.

“It’s one of those plays that, as an actor, you’re always aware of,” says the 43-year-old who was last on the London stage five years ago in Frost/Nixon.

“It’s something I’ve been asked to do a few times throughout my career.”

But there are a number of reasons why he hasn’t played the tragic Shakespearean figure until now.

“Either the space wasn’t right or it wasn’t the right director or whatever. But lots of things have now come together and it seems right. The play became something that resonated with me more.”

While there had been tentative plans over the years for both Sir Peter Hall and Michael Grandage to direct Sheen in Hamlet, he eventually decided on Rickson after working with him on a tribute performance to Harold Pinter.

“We talked about different spaces and the Young Vic came up so everything came together,” says Sheen, who brought his home town of Port Talbot to a standstill at Easter as a modern day messiah in National Theatre Wales’ 72-hour epic The Passion.

He has spent about two years preparing for Hamlet.

“With a play like this there are so many different areas you have to work on. The most important thing is you have to connect with it. It’s so tense and so rich and there are so many interpretations and meanings. You just have to use your compass and find out what it means to you, what stands out for you and slowly make your way into it.”

Sheen has only tackled Shakespeare a couple of times – he played Romeo at the start of his hugely successful career and he was Henry V in an RSC production in 1998.

“I’ve played lots of characters that could be seen as alternative Hamlets, including Konstantin (The Seagull), Jimmy Porter (Look Back In Anger) and Caligua,” he says.

So has he found it easy to grasp the Bard’s rich language?

“With the language and verse, you have to try and find your way to connect with it. There are so many areas you have to work on and hopefully they will start coming together as you start getting closer and closer to the performance.

“We’ve debased our language in lots of ways now. We speak in not particularly expressive ways. The way people express themselves in Shakespeare’s plays is so rich and so tense. It takes more energy and uses more of yourself. It’s an investment and once you adjust to it, it becomes an incredible kinetic experience, really extraordinary. It works on your imagination and emotions just like music – you can be incredibly moved just because of the rhythms and notes.”

Hamlet comes just six months after Los Angeles-based Sheen co-directed and starred in The Passion, one of the most ambitious cultural projects ever undertaken. It brought more than 10,000 visitors to Port Talbot and reached thousands more fans across the globe through online streaming.

“It was extraordinary,” he recalls. “We had hopes and aims and ambitions for it but until it actually happened we didn’t know how it would go. We didn’t know how many people would be there but the audience was a major factor in the whole piece. It was very exciting and very powerful.”

He now hopes an exhibition will be mounted in the steel town next Easter featuring some of the work, including paintings and photographs, inspired by The Passion.

But, for now, he’s focusing on Shakespeare and, despite his impressive CV, he admits he’s feeling a little nervous about tonight’s first preview.

“It’s a bit daunting,” he says. “But as we get closer and closer and the piece starts coming together you feel a bit more confident with what you’re doing.”

If Sheen’s past performances are anything to go by, his Hamlet will certainly leave a lasting impression.

Hamlet is at the Young Vic, London from tonight until January 21. For details, visit

Another new Hamlet rehearsal picture

I found another new Hamlet rehearsal picture on the BBC. A copy has been added to the Gallery.

New Hamlet rehearsal photos

New Hamlet rehearsal photos were published online by the Guardian today. Copies of them have been added to the Gallery. Just follow the link, or click on the thumbnails below.

Theatre » Hamlet » Rehearsal Pictures

If you want to look at the other photos, then you can see them HERE.

Michael Sheen interviewed in The Guardian

Michael Sheen was interviewed in The Guardian this weekend. You can read the article by following the link below, or read below. The interview also included a lovely rehearsal picture. A copy of the image has been added to the Gallery.

Theatre » Hamlet » Rehearsal Pictures

Original Article - Guardian 23 October 2011

Famous for playing Tony Blair in three different films, as well as David Frost and Brian Clough, he is about to play Hamlet at the Young Vic. Yet the Welsh actor still remains practically anonymous

It is a source of unending amazement to me that so many celebrities regard an interview as an opportunity to boast about their brilliance, in the belief that this will convince readers they are brilliant. This is not a mistake Michael Sheen is in any danger of making.

The scruffy figure draws no stares or sideways glances when he arrives in the bar of the Young Vic theatre in central London. He looks smiley and unguarded, and so unlike a star that, for a split second, I panic that maybe I have greeted the wrong man. Sheen is famous for playing Tony Blair in three separate films, as well as David Frost in Frost/Nixon, and Brian Clough in The Damned United, and is about to play Hamlet here at the Young Vic. Yet as himself, the Welsh actor has managed to remain practically anonymous – confounding the modern Hollywood edict that if you want to get great parts, you have to play the fame game.

His career contradicts another movie star myth, for if creative genius requires emotional demons – as his namesake Charlie, say, would undoubtedly maintain – then Sheen really should not be much of an actor at all. And he has even managed to star in a fair bit of blockbuster fantasy sci-fi schlock, without calling into question his credibility for a role such as Hamlet. All of which makes him a fascinating subject – but of course, being disinclined to boast, Sheen doesn’t always see it that way.

Instead, the 42-year-old launches into an excitable tribute to Shakespeare, with the air of a wonderstruck child. “Hamlet’s a good play. I know that sounds mad, but it really is! I mean it’s really extraordinary. What’s extraordinary is you can have so many different productions and actors and directors and their different visions, but it seems to kind of respond to each; it seems to adapt, and that’s what I’ve found. What’s quite freaky about it – it is actually a little bit scary – is that it feels like a living organism, it’s like a thing that actually adapts. It’s this weird thing where if you came along and said, well, I think Hamlet is actually about crocodiles – well, then it does seem to be about crocodiles. As long as it’s within the realm of possibility, it somehow seems to throw up these things and you go, well yes, I think this is what Shakespeare actually meant! But not everyone can be right, so it’s weird. It seems to kind of meet you in a way that other plays don’t. It’s an incredibly unusual experience.”

Sheen was last on stage in London in 2006, stage playing Frost in Frost/Nixon, but he cheerfully admits that on that occasion he had no idea the play was any good. He had only taken the role as a favour to the writer and director, because both were friends, “So I couldn’t say no. But I thought, I don’t know if this works, I don’t know if anyone’s interested, and Frost is a really boring part. I never thought it was going anywhere.”

Having acted since his teens, a surprise like that must be rare for him by now? “Oh God no, I have absolutely no idea! No, even in front of an audience I can’t tell. People have to say tangible things like: ‘It’s sold out’, or: ‘Here are people who want to buy the film rights.’ Or there’s a standing ovation or whatever. And then you go, oh, right, this must be working really well. I can’t tell from just doing it, oh God no, no no no. Cos I’m in it! So I can’t tell.”

Even when the play became a Hollywood movie, he assumed his part would go to a more famous actor. Instead, the film confirmed his place on the Hollywood A-list – so when he said recently that he felt “increasingly repulsed by acting”, I thought he must mean the movie star world of celebrity culture in LA.

"No, I didn’t mean that," he says quickly. "I mean ‘ac-ting’ as opposed to reacting. The first time you watch yourself on screen you think, oh my God, is that really what I look like, is that really what I was doing? And I pushed myself to get through that, to be able to watch it as objectively as I can, so I can learn from it. And the more I’ve done that, the bits that repulse me the least are the ones where it doesn’t appear like I’m trying to do anything. I’m not having an idea. Otherwise I’ll watch it and I’ll think, I remember I had an idea about that bit – and now I’m watching it, all I can see is me having an idea. I’m not connected to what’s going on, it’s just not happening.

"There’s a time for ideas, but it’s earlier on. You have the ideas, you put them all in a pot, and at a certain point you have to forget about them all, and the ones that stick on the whole work, and the ones that don’t you have to let go of – and it doesn’t matter how fantastic an idea you think it is, you just have to let go of it. And then slowly, hopefully, it becomes a very fluid thing. And when I watch myself now I can tell the difference between things that have that quality, and things that don’t. And the things that don’t, I call acting. And I’ve become more and more repulsed by that."

The world of Hollywood doesn’t repulse him at all, he says – but then he doesn’t have much to do with it. “I’ve just got no interest really. I just get bored, it doesn’t really do anything for me. Maybe I’ve not got enough confidence in my standing in that world, I don’t know.”

Or possibly it’s the other way around? He grins. “Well, yeah, maybe.” He lives in LA only to be near his daughter, 12, whose mother Kate Beckinsale was Sheen’s partner for eight years, until she left him in 2003 for the director Len Wiseman. The tabloids did their best to whoop the split into a scandal, but were defeated by the unusual dignity with which the three handled the drama, and even now that Sheen is part of another celebrity couple, dating the actor Rachel McAdams, he still barely registers on the radar of the celebrity media machine.

Movie stars always claim they have to invite OK! and Hello! into their lives, because it has become part of the job. So how has Sheen achieved what they insist is impossible, and managed to opt out? “Not difficult at all in my case,” he smiles. “No one’s interested. It’s not for want of trying!” Is he joking? “No, really, there are times when I kind of go, what have I got to do to get attention? There are times in my career where I can see it would be helped by having a bit more of a profile, but it’s not like I refuse to do interviews, no not at all.”

What about invitations to glitzy celebrity parties? “No. Oh, well, yeah, that sort of stuff, yeah. But even when I do that, no one prints photographs of me! They take photographs,” he laughs. “They just don’t show any of them.” He doesn’t look as if he minds, but he goes on: “The whole fame thing, it’s a bit like a pinball machine – or that’s how I feel. I bounce back and forth between wanting that, and not wanting that. So I’ve never consciously tried to avoid it. But at this point in my life, I suppose I have to accept that maybe unconsciously I have. I can’t take any credit for it, I don’t have some innate integrity. There have been times when I would have absolutely loved to be more of a star – and still now, every day, there are times. Just times when it would help to be a bit more well known, or have a bit more of a – you know. Cos obviously it helps to get another job.”

He says this as if he were a struggling actor, but when I check he concedes that he has never once been out of work. A promising actor in Welsh theatre in his teens, he trained at Rada, and won his first professional role in 1991 opposite Vanessa Redgrave at the Globe before he had even graduated. By the time Broadway declared him a star in 1999, playing Mozart in Amadeus, he had already played Romeo, Henry V and Peer Gynt, and starred in Chekhov, Osborne and Pinter productions, winning multiple plaudits and awards.

His breakthrough film role came playing Blair in The Deal in 2003, a part he revisited for The Queen in 2006, and again for The Special Relationship last year – and he has also appeared in blockbusters including Underworld and Tron, the appeal of which are a total mystery to me, but which, being a sci-fi fan, Sheen loves. He is about to appear in Resistance, a British thriller set in a Welsh valley, and has just starred in Woody Allen’s most profitable film, Midnight In Paris.

Even so, when he first moved to LA, “I was going up for films, it was just audition after audition, and people would say: ‘Well, you’re the best actor we’ve seen, you’re perfect for this part – but the studio needs a bigger actor, they need a bigger name.’ So there was a lot of that for a period of time.”

Back then Beckinsale was the bigger box office star, so I wonder if that became problematic for them as a couple.

"Well, it was always a sort of weird combination where Kate sort of felt – she’d never gone to drama school, so she felt like I was doing very worthy work, and she felt unworthy sometimes – which was never true. But on the other hand I felt like: ‘Oh I wish I was having more success in film.’ So that was quite frustrating. And actually it was only once I’d said right, that’s it, I’m going to forget about a film career and just do what I do, then almost immediately it happened."

I ask if he ever worried that he might be just a bit too well-adjusted to be cut out for the job. “No!” he exclaims, and starts laughing – but agrees that a disproportionate number of cinema’s biggest names have been spectacularly messed up. The symbiotic link between genius and emotional damage is enshrined in Hollywood folklore – and yet doesn’t appear to apply to Sheen at all.

"Well, that is actually something that I’ve reacted to particularly. Specifically coming from where I come from, Port Talbot, after Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins, two people who – well, Tony got his act together, Burton never really did, he was very much about demons and all that kind of thing. And also very much part of that romantic myth of the hell-raising, fucked-up thing – and that somehow the great work comes out of that." Does he agree?

"Absolute bollocks. It’s just such absolute bollocks, complete bullshit. I think you have to have a certain level of self-awareness and honesty and courage to go, well, this is my experience and I’m going to bring that to bear in the work I do. But you can’t get up on stage and do Romeo and Juliet, or Henry V, or Caligula or whatever, having been out the night before. Certainly I can’t. And the longer that goes on, it becomes very clear that you’re running away from something. And that doesn’t lend itself to good acting. Running away, not wanting to see the truth about yourself, doesn’t necessarily – I don’t think – make for good acting. It might make for quite fireworky acting and it might make for some kind of, I don’t know, apparent danger or whatever. But what I’ve found is, for me anyway, it doesn’t work."

I’ve seldom met anyone more careful to qualify so many opinions with “for me”, or “I think, anyway”, or some other subtle disclaimer to defuse any risk of sounding self-important. I wonder if this has something to do with the family he grew up in. Sheen comes from a long tradition of show business in south Wales – but one that fell firmly into the category of provincial vaudeville camp. His father is a Jack Nicholson impersonator, his great-grandmother was an elephant tamer, and his great-grandfather became famous across the valleys for seeing a vision of God through the moon. He became a street preacher, and God told him to buy an old disused tin mine, in which a new vein of tin was promptly discovered, making him the richest man in the town.

To a young child brought up on these stories, his ancestors must have seemed like mythical giants of unimaginable glamour. But Sheen’s success has eclipsed them all – and I wonder if a part of him has always felt guilty, or even disloyal, about relegating the titans of his childhood to comical footnotes in a Hollywood star’s biography. Humility could be his way of trying to protect his family folklore, so I ask if he has ever felt uncomfortable about outshining them.

"No, I suppose there’s a kind of size that comes with that stuff, that’s the best way I can describe it. Like my great-grandfather, his life had size to it, and scale. You go, wow, the moon, God, tin mines, street preaching – and elephant taming, all that – there’s size to that. And I find that size through the work I do. I’ve already had an extraordinary life, so I don’t think it’s lacked size.”

I realise he has completely misunderstood the question. I didn’t mean that his career lacked size compared with theirs, but the very opposite.

"Oh, right! Right, right, right. Oh, I see!" He looks astonished. "No, I was seeing it the other way around. That probably says a lot about how I see it. I’m aiming for that! That’s what I’m aiming for, you see. Their size."

Michael Sheen plays Hamlet at the Young Vic, London SE21, from 28 October to 21 January 2012; A limited number of day seats will available to buy in person for each performance (excluding previews)