Page last updated at 10:12 GMT, Thursday, 26 March 2009

Talking Shop: Michael Sheen

By Genevieve Hassan
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

The Damned United
Sheen stars as football manager Brian Clough in The Damned United

British actor Michael Sheen is known for his portrayals of real-life figures.

Having been nominated for a Bafta for his role as former Prime Minister Tony Blair in The Queen and winning praise for his take on Sir David Frost in the Oscar-nominated Frost/Nixon, he has now decided to take on the world of football.

In The Damned United, he plays the late football manger Brian Clough, chronicling the doomed 44 days he spent managing Leeds United in 1974 before he was sacked.

At a press conference in London he talked about how he prepared for the role and his chequered relationship with the beautiful game.

How did you go about perfecting the role of Clough?

About three months before we started filming, I started researching Clough. I had just finished filming Frost/Nixon and the first thing I did was go on YouTube and put in "Brian Clough".

The very first thing that came up was Clough being interviewed by David Frost - that was a bit of a weird moment.

I just watched every bit of footage that there is and read all the books. Luckily, there is a lot of footage of Brian Clough and there is a lot written about him because he was so media savvy.

Of the many challenges in this film, how did taking the ball on your chest and volleying it into the net on the first take rate?

Words like "natural ability", "genius" spring to mind…! Having said to all the other lads who play football in the film "I'm better than you", I had to prove it - and the good ladies and gentlemen of the press decided to turn up that day too, so I felt a bit of pressure.

Do you take your characters home with you when you play a role?

I did find myself being a bit bossy during that period. I fill myself up with all this, what is now, useless knowledge about people. I watch so much footage I quote things and all I want to do is talk about them and it drives everyone mad.

The Damned United
Real footballers were cast in the film for authenticity

Can you give an example of times when you were bossy?

Some of it is in the film - it was my idea to have the players running around the stadium whilst I sat there with my feet up, reading the newspaper. When they were doing it, I just shouted at them.

If I saw all the players training somewhere, I'd just walk over and be bossy with the excuse that I was in character, but it was because I enjoyed shouting at them.

Are you a football fan and which team do you support?

I've had a chequered past with teams. I used to support Liverpool when I was a kid as I lived there. Then, I went back to Wales and in my head I thought I couldn't support Liverpool anymore because I don't live there and nobody told me any different.

So I started supporting Swansea, then I supported Chelsea for a bit because Glenn Hoddle was there and he was my favourite player. Now I'm a Derby fan.

What was your opinion of Leeds United when you were growing up?

Leeds were the big team when I was growing up. I was often influenced by people I knew who supported them - so depending on how I felt about them, depended on how I felt about Leeds.

And also a lot of it depended on Panini football stickers. If I was doing well with my Leeds stickers I felt good about them and if I wasn't then I didn't.

So, I can't really say that my feelings towards Leeds United were based on their actual play - it was more to do with sideline issues.

Michael Sheen
Sheen will be providing the voice for the White Rabbit in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

Does having curly hair cause you problems playing characters with straight hair?

Curly hair is always a problem. All the real-life characters I play have straight hair so some poor person has to sit there and have a nervous breakdown.

Has anybody suggested you make a compilation CD of all your greatest voices since you've portrayed so many famous people?

Maybe I'll do a David Frost mix tape with him interviewing myself as all the different characters.

We'll next see you in cinemas as the White Rabbit in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, what was that like to do?

I have no idea what the film is going to be like as I don't physically appear in it, so I don't have to do very much - in fact I've done nothing!

I went in to a studio one day and recorded some lines and I'm going to go in and record some more, but I'm sure it's going to be marvellous.

The Damned United is released in cinemas on 27 March.

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