The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Michael Sheen's next real-life character: John Lennon?

October 15, 2009 |  5:12 pm

Michael Sheen has been making the rounds promoting "The Damned United," a wonderful portrait of Brian Clough, the legendary (and legendarily obnoxious) 1960s British soccer coach who managed to turn a series of underdogs into winning teams, alienating almost every player and owner he worked with along the way. Sheen is great as Clough, refusing to smooth over any of his rough edges.

He's one of those rare actors who has a knack for playing real-life characters, which is why he's been cast as everyone from Tony Blair (in "The Queen") to David Frost (in "Frost/Nixon") to H.G. Wells (in the U.K. television film "H.G. Wells: War With the World"). He'll be doing Blair again in Peter Morgan's "The Special Relationship," which chronicles Blair's unlikely rapport with Bill Clinton. Sheen can also be seen later this fall in the "Twilight" sequel, "New Moon," where he plays Aro, the leader of an Italian vampire clan, which is a fictional character, but I think you could make a good case that any aging Italian vampire part must surely be based on Silvio Berlusconi.

But the person Sheen really wants to play is ... John Lennon. The bitter irony, as he sees it, is that "I'd want to play Lennon, but I probably would be cast as McCartney." It makes sense: Sheen's probably a little too cherubic to play Lennon, who after all was the most acerbic and irreverent Beatle. Sheen would be better at Paul, who has some of Tony Blair's breezy narcissistic charm. As it turns out, all famous Brits get to meet each other traveling across the pond, so Sheen had a brief encounter with McCartney when they found themselves on the same plane. "I was sitting there going, 'I can't go over there.' And then he came over to me. He said, 'You're famous, aren't you? I've seen you on the TV.' And I thought, 'Yeah, I've seen you on the TV a few times as well.' "

Here's Sheen as Clough, warts and all:

Photo of Michael Sheen in "The Damned United" by Lauren Sparham / Sony Pictures Classics