You don’t need us to tell you that Michael Sheen steals the show in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2; the 43-year-old Welsh actor is well-practiced at swanning into a movie in an attention getting supporting role, whether he’s playing the bleach-blond lunatic in Tron Legacy or the supercilious know-it-all in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. As the villainous Aro, who first appeared in the second Twilight movie New Moon, Sheen is the main impediment to the happy vampire family started by Kristen Stewart’s Bella and Robert Pattinson’s Edward, which now includes their fast-growing half-vamp child Renesmee. So was the role as fun as it looked? Well, let Mr. Sheen tell you about those blood-red contact lenses …
I wanted to start out by talking about my favorite part of the movie, which is your insane giggle when you first see Renesmee.
If you’ve lived for hundreds, thousands of years, the boredom just must be horrendous, so when something new comes along, the delight and surprise of it would be quite shocking. So when he meets this child and he says, “I hear her strange heart beating” — I thought it was such a great line as well — I loved the idea that at that moment, something completely shocking happens and it just reminds you that this character is a psychopathic killer.
There’s a real art to perfecting an evil laugh, isn’t there?
The version that’s in the film is quite played down, as well! There were some that were more crazy in a way, so you do have to kind of judge it. I remember someone saying that they’d used Aro’s laugh from New Moon as a ringtone. So maybe this one will be available as well. Who knows?
Thanks to this role, have you noticed that there’s a certain demographic of teen girls who are very freaked out by you?
Nobody recognizes me from it! People recognize me from other things — if I’m clean-shaven, then people will recognize me from The Queen or Frost/Nixon, and if I’ve got a bit of a beard then it’s Underworld — but no one ever recognizes me from Twilight. It’s such a different look, you know, and a lot of the audience is much younger and they wouldn’t have necessarily seen me in anything else. So that’s probably quite a good thing, I’d imagine, rather than freaking people out.
When you think back to all the crazy looks you’ve had to don for a role, what comes to mind immediately?
Tron. I mean, I loved playing that character, but that was a labor of love because I had to wear these huge heels and a corset and the costume was so sewn on that I couldn’t sit down or anything. So that was a tough one. And the contact lenses on this, on the Twilight films, they’re unbelievable.
How bad are they?
They wanted the whites of our eyes to be affected as well, so rather than being the size of normal contact lenses, these are like half the size of golf balls because they have to cover the entire eye. Just to put them in, you have to do them in two parts: They lift the upper eyelid up and put the first part in, then lift the bottom of my eyelid and then put the other part in, and then they kind of adjust it.
Are you sure you’re not describing torture?
It is! It really is like torture because everything in you is trying to stop it from happening, and yet you know that if it doesn’t happen the first time, you’ve just got to do it again and it gets harder and harder. And then you’ve got to have eyedrops put in all day as well, and then little bits of the stuff that’s in the air get in there and you have to wash them out. Then everything goes a bit reddish because you can only see red, and you lose a lot of your peripheral vision and you can’t see properly, and your eyes are constantly trying to focus, because it puts your eyes slightly out of focus as well, so it gives you a headache after a while. So they’re pretty intense, those!
I’m sure that makes it easy to get angry at all these actors playing good guys, since they don’t have to wear such terrible contact lenses.
To get the sense of hysteria, that does it, yeah. You don’t need anything else.
You were in Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder, but your part was cut. A whole lot of that movie appeared to change in the editing room: Ben Affleck’s lead role was stripped of most of its dialogue.
I played Ben’s boss, but that side of the film got cut down so much. I just went to visit my girlfriend Rachel [McAdams] on the set, and then Terry asked if I would do a day’s filming on it, so I was like, “Yeah, sure.” It was just that I was around, and at the end of the day, you know, it was only two scenes.
How did you find out you weren’t in it anymore?
I think the producer sent me a nice email just saying, “This is what’s happening.” But it wasn’t like I had gone through the whole thing of auditioning for a Terry Malick film and then saying, “Oh, I’ve got the part!” You know, that’s happened to me before: I’ve done films where a lot of it gets cut and then it’s kind of really disappointing. I was in the Ridley Scott film, Kingdom of Heaven, and loads of stuff got cut from that. There was a lot more to the character I played in that movie, but you know, you expect it as part of the job.
You and Lizzy Caplan have a Showtime series coming up called Masters of Sex, about sexual researchers Masters and Johnson. It sounds a bit like Kinsey, which was made by your Breaking Dawn director Bill Condon.
Kinsey was sort of around a few years previous to Masters and Johnson, and his work was really based on questionnaires, so the big difference was that the work the Masters did was with actual people, you know. It wasn’t just asking questions and compiling information. This was about actually looking at the effects on the body of sex, which obviously involves having bodies to research on, and since it’s on Showtime, you get total freedom really in terms of exploring it. It should be fascinating.
Lizzy Caplan has said that she’s agitating for you to go nude in the show, in the name of equal representation.
[Laughs.] Well, I think some things are best enjoyed in small doses.