Michael Sheen says 'it fills my heart' in passionate message about Wales that will give you goosebumps

Michael Sheen has been reflecting on what it is he loves about Wales ahead of his debut as Aneurin Bevan in new stage drama Nye - and his passionate message is enough to give you goosebumps.

Speaking to WalesOnline ahead of the play’s Cardiff run, Sheen opened up about why he keeps coming back to Wales and indeed now lives here again, even though his work takes him all over the world. “It’s my home,” he says. “It's where my family are, where my friends are, where I grew up. It's the country whose history is closest to my heart, whose people I care about the most, the communities that I care about the most. It is what shaped me, informed me, and what continues to shape and form me.

“Aside from anything to do with the natural beauty of the country, the warmth of the people, the history of the communities, how we grew up here, the challenges that we've had in the past and that we still face and that have shaped who we are now and why we are the way we are now and what our aspirations are, all of those things. [Wales is] what fills my head and fills my heart.”Join our WhatsApp news community here for the latest breaking news.

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The Newport-born, Port Talbot raised actor is recognised for his ability to transform into his characters, notably real life people like former Prime Minister Tony Blair, broadcaster David Frost, and controversial football manager Brian Clough.

Sheen, 55, who has more recently played Chris Tarrant in ITV drama Quiz and the angel Aziraphale in Good Omens opposite David Tennant, is now looking forward to starring in the title role of Nye, a co-production between the Wales Millennium Centre and the National Theatre, which sees the actor portray the founder of the National Health Service.

Sheen during his Passion play performance in 2011
Sheen during his Passion play performance in 2011 -Credit:South Wales Evening Post

Interestingly, Nye will be the first time that Sheen performs on stage in his home country. Despite his groundbreaking performance as Jesus Christ in National Theatre Wales' The Passion which was staged on location across Port Talbot during Easter weekend in 2011, the actor revealed he's never actually fronted a show at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff.

“To be able to do this play and tell this story about this man on that stage is really exciting,” Sheen commented. “When we got there to start doing the tech and just stepped out onto the stage, it was really exciting. You could feel the whole company getting really excited and just looking out into that beautiful auditorium and just thinking about it being full of people coming to watch this play.

“The fact that we're telling this story, which is such a Welsh story about a Welsh legend, has been exciting from the very beginning. When we first started rehearsing, knowing that we'd be coming to Wales at the end of it, everyone was incredibly excited about that. To now actually be here and be just days away from starting the performance is quite thrilling.”

Michael Sheen as Aneurin Bevan in Nye
Michael Sheen as Aneurin Bevan in Nye -Credit:Jonah Persson
Sheen says that playing Aneurin Bevan was a 'huge responsibility' -Credit:Jonah Persson
Sheen says that playing Aneurin Bevan was a 'huge responsibility' -Credit:Jonah Persson

Sheen said that, perhaps for the first time in his career, he knew ‘everything’ about the man he was playing. A new play written by Tim Price, a synopsis for Nye reads: “Confronted with death, Nye's deepest memories lead him on a mind-bending journey back through his life; from childhood to mining underground, parliament and fights with Churchill in an epic Welsh fantasia.”

Sheen said of playing Bevan: “In the last 10 years I've come to really appreciate who [Aneurin Bevan] was and what he did and what he achieved. This was an opportunity to be able to put everything I knew and felt about him into a piece on stage.

“It’s a very particular challenge playing a real person who is very well known by the audience. That brings all kinds of unique challenges that you wouldn't normally get if you're playing a fictional character, obviously, or a real life person that people don't really know that well. And with playing Nye as well, it feels like a huge responsibility. I mean, it's a privilege to play him and to tell his story, but it's also a massive responsibility because there have been very few things out there about him, and it's such an important story.

“I already had such a strong feeling about him, a strong relationship to him and what he achieved. I know people who feel incredibly passionate about him and what he did. That brings an even greater level of responsibility to it. It was a great relief to know that once we started performing the play, people were accepting of me playing the part and were enjoying it and felt that it portrayed Bevan in a way that did him justice.”

Anna Lundberg and Michael Sheen attend the Premiere of Universal Pictures' "Dolittle" in 2020
Sheen with his partner Anna Lundberg -Credit:Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Sheen added that the NHS itself has “always” been there for him throughout his life, citing moments in which he has lost family members and friends, as well as caring for his two children with Swedish actress partner Anna Lundberg, Lyra and Mabli. “It's not just one moment, it's a lifetime, lifelong relationship.”

Sheen with David Tennant in Amazon Prime's Good Omens
Sheen with David Tennant in Amazon Prime's Good Omens -Credit:Prime Video/Amazon Studios

Another relationship that Sheen has developed in recent years is with Doctor Who star David Tennant. The pair have been firm friends since appearing in both Staged and Good Omens with each other – both of which were hugely successful. Of his friendship with Tennant, Sheen jokes: “David and I will keep working together as long as we don't fall out!” While he ruled out more episodes of Staged, Sheen will reunite with Tennant when the third and final series of Good Omens enters production next year. When asked whether he knows what the future holds for his character, the actor said: “I know what's going to happen in the entire story but I'm not going to tell anyone.”

Before then Sheen will take on another real life role, playing Prince Andrew in a new series about the infamous Newsnight interview the royal did with Emily Maitlis. The story was adapted into Netflix film Scoop earlier this year – which you can read a review of here. “I thought Rufus was fantastic,” Sheen said of Rufus Sewell’s performance as Prince Andrew in Scoop. “I thought he was brilliant as Andrew, he was much better than me. He was more a supporting character in that though. Our story is about Prince Andrew and Emily, it's much more they are the lead characters. It's a different focus and requires a different approach to the character. I was having to look at, as I'm sure Rufus did, the interview in particular. When we were working on it I was listening and watching the interview multiple times a day, every day for months.”

Reflecting on playing the divisive member of the Royal Family, Sheen said: “The level of controversy in that story brings an extra layer as well. The fact that for whatever all our personal opinions might be about what did or didn't happen, or what he did or didn't do, we don't know for definite. There's been no actual court case. We don't know exactly what happened.

"That requires a real level of sensitivity in how you deal with the story, apart from anything else because of legalities and that stuff, but when I read the script I thought that was handled really well. I thought it was a very clever way of allowing the audience to have a satisfying dramatic experience, but still keeping a level of ambiguity, which I thought was done very well on the script. Playing that character was challenging in all kinds of ways, as it is with every real-life character, but I also had to make certain choices and decisions about what was going on for him in my version.”

Michael Sheen directed The Way which was set in his beloved Wales
Michael Sheen directed The Way which was set in his beloved Wales -Credit:BBC

2024 has already been a busy year for Sheen as a few months ago, his directing debut The Way was released on BBC One – to mixed reviews. Reflecting on the project, which was shot in Wales, he said: “It was quite extraordinary to be attacked by Conservative ministers in the press on the day that it came out, and then to have right-wing newspapers having a concerted plan to try and smear it.

"We didn't expect that just before it came out the news would come out from the steelworks. It was a huge shock and obviously affected the way people perceive the story of the drama. It was never intended to be a socio-documentary about what was going on at the steelworks. It was my first time directing something and to be able to tell that story and film it around south Wales with an amazing Welsh cast was such a brilliant experience.”

Tickets are still available for Nye, which is at the Wales Millennium Centre between May 18 and June 1. Find out about the latest events in Wales by signing up to our What's On newsletter here.