Michael Sheen, to many the most exciting young actor of his

generation, will forever be football crazy. He talks tactics with Jackie


MICHAEL SHEEN is the leading Latin lover of the age. ''The best Romeo

I have ever seen,'' raved one critic, when Sheen, barely a year out of

drama school, burst onstage at Manchester's Royal Exchange in Gregory

Hersov's superb production of Romeo and Juliet last year.

His star-crossed young lover entered, ''lazily, almost sluttishly'',

in loose silk blouse and tights, ''the smog of love made real in a haze

of cigarette smoke, pulling on a bottle of Jack Daniels''. Hailed as the

most exciting young actor of his generation, Sheen has invited

comparisons with that dangerous duo, Nicol Williamson and Jonathan Pryce

-- ''like the latter, he is markedly Welsh, with a strong vibrant voice

and a devilish saturnine demeanour,'' wrote the Observer's Michael

Coveney of ''this lanky, elfin, volatile, electrifying and technically

fearless'' performer.

What Coveney didn't add is that -- unlike Pryce -- 24-year-old Sheen

is sexy with it, having been blessed with exceptional good looks, a mop

of curls, and a smile that could melt the hardest of hearts. If you

don't believe me, dash to the Tron in Glasgow tonight for the final

performance of Don't Fool With Love. In Cheek by Jowl's version of

Alfred de Musset's On ne badine pas avec l'amour, Sheen gives ''a

blistering, puckish performance'' -- Coveney again -- ''without which

the play would surely collapse'', while the Independent's Paul Taylor

thought him ''quite thrilling'' as Perdican.

So here we have a mesmerising actor, giving a truly wonderful

performance. Kick yourself if you missed it, although on this showing

young Mr Sheen is going to clean up on all the leading classical roles

around for several decades. His will be a name hard to avoid because

it'll be blazing in neon up there on the marquee.

Who is he, this young Welsh wizard of the theatre? A Merlin among

mummers, he was born in Newport and brought up in Port Talbot, with a

talent so white-hot it seems to have been forged in those dark satanic

mills of the land of his fathers. He has no idea where it came from,

this desire to act, he says over coffee at London's Young Vic. He might

very well have been a professional footballer. The Glenn Hoddle of his

generation. And, actually, now he comes to think of it, his acting style

owes a lot to Hoddle, who remains his greatest hero. Centre, midfield,

in control. ''Yeah, that's me, the midfield general. That's how I act.''

When he was very young, playing football was all he wanted to do.

Arsenal showed interest in the 12-year-old Michael, after seeing him

play while on holiday. He was invited to London to join the youth team,

but his father -- ''a Jack Nicholson lookalike'' -- thought he was too

young to leave home, advising him to wait until he was older. By then it

was too late, he had caught the acting virus. He is still fanatical,

though, about the football, was captain of RADA's football team, playing

whenever he can, although nowadays he can't afford to run the risk of

injury on the soccer pitch.

''Because I have this big football thing,'' he says, ''I kind of

relate football to acting and the theatre in a lot of ways, sometimes in

quite jokey ways. But, yes, you are part of a team, players pass the

ball to each other like actors handling the text, and acting is also

about scoring goals, getting through to the end of an act. It is also

about grace under pressure, all that sort of stuff. So I aspire to being

the Glenn Hoddle of the theatre world. God, I'd just love to be that


Sheen's parents were keen amateur operatic performers when he was

growing up amid all the small-town frustrations of a Welsh steel town.

His mother has since packed it in, but his father is now a Master of

Ceremonies and a toastmaster, to boot. ''He's a real showman and a few

generations back in the family there was a female lion tamer and a

Shakespearean actor. I always think those two things are what I'm all

about, the classical actor who wants to tame wild beasts, full of

dazzling showmanship.''

The acting started with school plays and singing in the chorus, where

Sheen says he was in a play before he had ever seen one. He progressed

to the local South Glamorgan youth theatre, where the work was of a

particularly high standard. ''It was such a colourful thing to do, it

had such a marvellous atmosphere. All the people involved were really

good and we did some wonderful plays and it was also a great way to get

off maths and things. It was a world of its own in a way and that's

something I've always liked -- anything that creates its own world has

always attracted me. That's what I've always liked about football, it

has an aesthetic about it. I think theatre is as aesthetically pleasing

in the same way that a football pitch or a snooker

table is pleasing. They are all very specific and specialised worlds

and that means they have a power and a magic all of their own and that's

what I love about them.

''I think that is probably what drew me to the theatre in the first

place. And now I can't say I regret not being a footballer because I so

love what I do. I can't remember when I knew it was something I could

do, but when I was much younger I was quite an extrovert and a show-off.

Slowly, though, the balance changed as I came to do more and more

performing onstage.'' Nobody, he adds, would ever describe him as an

introvert, but he has calmed down an awful lot. ''I was very, very

hyperactive as a child, very energetic, very enthusiastic, wanting to do


He still overextends himself from time to time, he says, ruefully, but

it is important as an actor to hang on to the child in yourself. ''You

have got to be completely open and positive and optimistic, and you have

got to have that self-perpetuating energy.'' While in his second year at

RADA, Sheen won the SWET/Olivier bursary. Every drama school put up two

students, so competition was fierce, but the boy wonder from Wales

scored the winning goal.

Straight from drama school, he went into When She Danced, in which

Vanessa Redgrave wonderfully became Isadora Duncan for the second time

in her brilliant career. ''At the time I took it all in my stride. I had

to, if I'd let it get to me, playing with all these wonderful actors

like Vanessa, Frances De La Tour and Alison Fiske, I'd have freaked. It

was an incredible experience because Vanessa Redgrave is a genius, she

seems to tap into some spiritual creative process that she has no

control over. Every single time she performs, she is electric, alive

with energy. There are no half measures with her; I love that. So every

night it was really exciting to watch her.''

From his much-lauded small role as a Greek pianist, in which he made a

definite impression, Sheen won a leading role in the TV dramatisation of

Barbara Vine aka Ruth Rendell's thriller, Gallowglass. For his part as

the dim, disturbed boy, Joe, he researched mental disorders at a

Cambridge hospital, only to be told that Rendell had written a

nigh-perfect psychiatric profile for the character. Virtually at the

same time he was seen in a Maigret episode and in In Suspicious

Circumstances on TV. Cheek by Jowl's run -- only his third stage role --

ends at the Tron tonight. Sheen will not be resting on his laurels,


NEXT Monday he starts work on a BBC radio version of Much Ado About

Nothing, in which he plays Claudio (Jack Shepherd is Benedick), and in

August he is to appear opposite Ian Holm and Sinead Cusack in Harold

Pinter's first new play for many a long year. Moonlight opens at

London's Almeida Theatre and is about a family in crisis, according to

Sheen. ''I'm one of the sons of a dying father, looking back at his

life. If I told you what was going on, I'd spoil it, but it is very

funny and incredibly moving. It is also quite spiritual; it really

creeps up on you because when you first read it, like a lot of Pinter,

it seems impenetrable. But the more I think about it the more I realise

that the dialogues I have with my brother in the play (Douglas Hodge)

sound just as obscure and obtuse as the way me and my two best friends

talk when we're together.''

With an actor friend, Sheen has formed his own theatre company, Thin

Language, which is committed to Welsh issues and actors, in a bid to

celebrate and question their native culture. They have staged one Michel

Tremblay play and plan to adapt Caradoc Evans' novel Nothing to Pay,

which satirises the hypocrisy and puritanised lusts of the Welsh, for

the stage. He and a friend are also writing a low-budget film to be made

in Port Talbot and London, and he is desperate to make his own film of

Richard III, in which he would play the bottled spider as a frustrated,

violent teenager ruling by fear, ''a sort of Clockwork Orange version of

Shakespeare made in Wales''.

At RADA, he says, he is grateful they let him keep his own voice.

''They didn't try to iron out the Welshness, they simply said, use RP as

another accent. So nowadays I always play Welsh unless the accent is

specified. In any case, the more worked up I get the more Welsh I sound.

My Romeo often sounded as if he hailed from the valleys, rather than

Verona.'' The gut-wrenching Celtic passion is always there. ''I really

do feel that if you want to do something, you have to get on and do it.

I'm passionate about that. No one else is going to do it for you and I

don't really want to be a pawn in the theatre. I want to be part of one

group where each component helps to make the whole.'' There speaks the

true team player.