When Michael Sheen first joined The Good Fight, he wasn’t sure how long he’d last: “I thought I was gonna be fired by the end of my first week for just being too ridiculous.” Luckily, by its third season, the CBS All Access legal drama has embraced the ridiculous, and so Sheen’s character Roland Blum — a feral, bearded, Roy Cohn acolyte who likes to recite Coleridge poetry and get high on anal suppositories — somehow still fits into the general tableau.
In the season’s second episode, “The One Inspired by Roy Cohn,” Blum gets paired up with Rose Leslie’s Maia Rindell on a case and torments her for not embracing his old-fashioned, not entirely legal, blood-sport approach to winning a case. But it’s far from the last time that The Good Fight will push the lawyers at Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart into conflict with Blum and his wild-eyed tactics. Ahead of Sheen’s splashy entrance, we caught up with the 50-year-old Welsh actor to talk about Blum’s beard, working with David Tennant on Good Omens, and, of course, the persistent myth that he named his penis “the Great Christine Baranski.” (He says that was all Sarah Silverman.)
We have to start with Roland Blum’s accent. How did you land on that?
Reading the first script, he was clearly a larger-than-life character. He’s almost a caricature. The Kings said they wanted him to have a real street-fighter feel to him in terms of his politics. Funnily enough, Billy [Finkelstein], who wrote first episode that I’m in, he sounds a bit like that himself. There’s definitely a little bit of Al Pacino in there. I think he sees himself in the courtroom as a cross between Peter Falk in Columbo, Al Pacino, and Tony Soprano.
Since Roy Cohn is name-checked in the episode, he felt a lot like Al Pacino playing Cohn in Angels in America.
I saw that a long time ago, but yeah. There’s the Roy Cohn connection obviously, and there’s a bit of Roger Stone in terms of the flamboyance and the outrageousness. My first scene was walking into the courtroom, and I just let it come out and be what it wanted it to be. That was my first day of shooting and I was quite scared, really. I hadn’t really played the character in front of anyone, so no one had said, “Yeah, that’s definitely right.” I thought I was gonna be fired by the end of my first week for just being too ridiculous as the character.
Were you familiar with The Good Fight or The Good Wife going in?
I was aware of The Good Wife because it’s such a big show. I’d seen a few episodes of The Good Fight, and I thought it was really interesting how bold it was. It’s very confident in the way it uses current events to tell its own story. But rather than being very, very earnest or heavy, it brings such color to it. The Good Fight is able to hit that absurd note. Roland, in a way, exemplifies that in some ways. A character who is so ridiculous and outrageous is able to potentially strike a chord with what’s going on at the moment.
Did playing Roland give you insight into those sorts of transgressive, far-right political figures like Roger Stone?
To play a character who’s so unfettered and who exalts in crossing lines and pushing people’s buttons, that gives a little insight. For that person, there is an adrenaline rush of not playing by the same rules as others, being outside the lines and a kind of renegade. I can see why people are able to justify their actions to themselves and keep pushing it further. It’s the idea that you’re almost doing a service to people by testing the boundaries.
In 2016, you talked about about wanting to step away from acting and be more involved in politics in the wake of Trump and Brexit. Did you see this role as something related to that kind of political activism?
Not really. It’s politics with the small-p that I’ve got more and more involved with. But I am very interested in what’s going on in politics. It’s really great to be able to go into work each day and actually bring that into it. In fact, one of the frustrations is that you want, as soon as you film a [Good Fight] scene, for it to go out there because it feels so relevant. You always feel like things could change dramatically tomorrow and we might suddenly be behind the story. But I think we’re okay in that respect at the moment.
This season, the Good Fight cast starts to sing a bit. At the end of one episode, you sing “I’ll Be There.” What was it like filming that?
I think I’ve sung more than anyone else on the show ’cause I’ve sung twice now! One song that I do is as part of a courtroom scene, that was a lot easier. But the other one where I sang [“I’ll Be There”] and it’s part of a fantasy sequence, that was terrifying. It was very exposing for someone who’s not a singer, standing there with a little earpiece that’s playing the music, with just you in front of a green screen. Never had to do that before and hopefully never have to do it again.
One thing I have to ask: When you were dating Sarah Silverman, she made a joke about how her boyfriend named his penis “the great Christine Baranski.” It’s come up on a few talk shows since for her, you, and Christine Baranski herself. Now you’re in a show with the actual great Christine Baranski, the actor. Did that come up, or was it pointedly not discussed?
No, we definitely talked about it. That was something Sarah just made up, in so much as it’s not true. It’s a joke that she made up. But poor Christine has had to be asked about that over and over again, so I feel sorry for her. I cleared that up with her fairly early on, and just said, “Look, you know, it’s not true. Sarah made that up.” Actually, there’s a little nod to it in the first scene that we have together, which felt quite cheeky.
Was Roland’s beard real? Did you grow it yourself?
When I first got offered the part, I assumed that because he’s an attorney, they wanted me clean-shaven. But I turned up for my first costume fitting looking essentially like I look in the show. I was trying on all these amazing suits with Dan [Lawson], the costume designer, and I really liked the contrast of his hair and his beard looking wild and yet being incredibly dapper and fastidious in his clothes. So I suggested, “How do you feel about me keeping this look?” And everyone really went for it.
I like the idea that he loves to dress up and be quite dandyish, but actually he’s just a kind of woodland creature. There’s something quite pagan about him. The thing he likes to do the most is take his clothes off — just get his pants off as soon as possible. That’s why I made the choice to not wear any jewelry. He wears these beautiful clothes, but underneath that, he’s just an animal.
He does a lot of drugs, too. There’s a lot of injecting things into his ass or taking suppositories or whatever else. Is it fun to get to play someone who’s high all the time?
Yeah, he’s out there. He’s extreme. If he can shove it inside himself, he will, but if he can shove it someone else, he will as well.
Speaking of out-there characters, you’re also in Amazon’s Good Omens alongside David Tennant. I’ve seen you play vampires and werewolves in in Twilight and Underworld movies. But you’re playing a good angel in this. Is it a shift to play the prim fantasy character for once?
I love doing it. When Neil [Gaiman] and I started talking about the series, it was with the idea of me playing Crowley, the demon. Then, as I was reading the scripts as Neil was writing them, I started feeling like I had more connection with the other character. The idea of the character being someone who’s trying to do the right thing, but keeps being worried that he’s messing up, I like that. I thought that was quite funny and quite poignant. I also got the chance to have blond hair for awhile, which was fun.
What’s it like working with David Tennant?
The hardest thing about acting with David is that I enjoyed watching what he was doing so much that it sometimes made me forget to say my line. That was genuinely a problem, because I just really enjoyed watching him act. I’d think, Oh, that’s very good what he’s done there. Or, Oh, that was really funny. We worked on it for about six months, me and him together pretty much the whole time. It’s the only character I’ve played where don’t think of the character on its own. I only ever think of the character in relationship to David’s character. They’re such a pair.