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THE ACTORS

Michael Sheen relishes vamping it up in 'New Moon'

Used to playing a werewolf in the 'Underworld' series and other colorful characters, he likes the switch to playing an evil character in the 'Twilight' series.

November 01, 2009|Gina McIntyre

VANCOUVER, CANADA — It's a crisp May morning on the set of "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," and Michael Sheen strides into an elaborate reconstruction of an Italianate marble hall in costume as Aro, the head of the Volturi, a menacing group of age-old vampires that metes out justice in the realm of the supernatural. Dressed in a cloak, he's sporting long, black locks, bright red lips and matching tinted contact lenses that give him a distinctly malevolent look.

When a reporter asks if it's uncomfortable to look through the eyes of a monster, he suggests, quite politely and quite to the contrary: "No, I think it's more uncomfortable for you."

Sheen does seem right at home on the Vancouver soundstage, inhabiting his villainous role in the second movie adapted from Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" novels with unbridled glee.

In "New Moon," due out Nov. 20, Robert Pattinson's handsome vampire Edward leaves his human girlfriend Bella (Kristen Stewart), hoping that his departure will enable her to live a happy, supernatural-free life. But the breakup has devastating consequences for both characters, who find themselves facing down the Volturi about the nature of their relationship and Bella's knowledge of the undead.

In take after take, Sheen's voice glides upward as he welcomes the young lovers into his chambers, a fairly forbidding place, what with a coven's worth of other vamps lurking around.

Throughout his career, the Welsh actor has demonstrated a rare willingness to move between two distinctly different cinematic planes -- critically acclaimed prestige films and not-so-acclaimed but more commercial genre fare. He's portrayed former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the 2006 historical drama "The Queen" and the half-werewolf Lucian in two of the movies in the "Underworld" series.

It's a pattern he's continuing to embrace. He's currently starring as soccer coach Brian Clough in "The Damned United," and following "New Moon," he'll appear in Disney's sci-fi outing "Tron Legacy" and Tim Burton's lavish fairy tale "Alice in Wonderland," both due out next year.

"I think a good story's a good story and a good character's a good character," Sheen said. "There are things that I've done . . . especially, 'The Queen' and 'Frost/Nixon,' they just happen to be in the world of politics. The thing that draws me to them is they're compelling stories. . . It doesn't matter to me if they're in the world of politics or in the 'Twilight' world of vampires."

Sheen said he was first introduced to that world of "Twilight" through his daughter, a devoted reader of Meyer's bestselling series. A fan of science fiction and fantasy, Sheen found the opportunity to don Aro's robes particularly appealing. "I thought it would be exciting to play a vampire instead of a werewolf, go across to the other side of the tracks," he said with a red-lipped grin. "I've never played a character who delights in his own evil before."

When filming breaks for lunch, the actor, clutching a copy of "New Moon," says he understands just how important it is to get every detail of his performance right. He doesn't want to disappoint Meyer's legions of fans.

"People have such passionate feelings about the books as I know through my daughter -- there's nothing more terrifying in some ways than the passions of teenage girls," he said, adding that it will be impossible for him to embody every reader's notions about Aro. "I remember my daughter said, 'Aro is bald.' Clearly he's not, but that's her picture of him. Maybe she was thinking of Nosferatu."

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gina.mcintyre@latimes.com

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