Michael Sheen Gets Real in ‘TRON: Legacy’

When I first heard Michael Sheen talk about the original TRON I figured he was pulling my leg. I mean, how can it be possible for a Welsh actor best known for his spot on replications of Tony Blair and David Frost to actually claim the original TRON was the film that made him want to become an actor. Ridiculous, I thought. But when I talked to him later that day it became obvious he wasn’t pulling my leg.

“This film was special for a number of reasons. TRON really was the first film I ever saw as a child that made me want to be an actor.” He explained. “The film stayed with me. It showed me the power of cinema and its ability to transport you into another world. So getting to act in this new TRON film was a dream come true,” he said.


“I didn’t even know the original was considered a failure until I started working on TRON: Legacy,” Sheen told me. “For a twelve-year-old boy in southern Wales, TRON was just a lot of fun. And it was every bit as influential to me as when I saw Woody Allen’s movies later in life.”

I nodded knowingly. Being immersed into another world is the celluloid smack that all cinema junkies crave. When it happens on a cellular level you never forget that feeling and you want it to happen every time you step in a darkened theater. Whether it happens at five watching a great Disney animated film, when you’re 12 and get the wits scared out of you by a by the numbers horror flick or when you’re 21 watching that obscure foreign film at the local college theater.

“It’s funny some of the films that didn’t succeed when they first came out.” Sheen went on to say. “I worked with Ridley Scott and he’s still upset that Blade Runner failed at the box office when it first came out. He talks about it to this day.”

I’d almost forgotten about Blade Runner‘s disappointing first run box-office. It truly is amazing when you think about some of the films that failed to catch on at the box-office when they first came out. Especially films that pack the kind of wallop that a TRON did for many young fans around the world just like the young Michael Sheen.

As for TRON: Legacy, it certainly has its moments. This includes a lightcycle race as good as any action scene I’ve seen recently, a second chase scene that’s nearly as exciting and an incredible throw down involving Sheen’s Bowie-esque underground nightclub owner, Zuse, and his henchmen.

Sheen is anything but mannered and buttoned down in Legacy as the effusive Zuse (watch the clip to the right). The club itself is a wonderful invention featuring Daft Punk as the house deejays and a dance floor filled with some of the sexiest digital creations in the whole TRON world. They made me want to be sucked into the grid for an eternity.

I asked Sheen if it was easier to play a larger than life character like Zuse or a real life character like Tony Blair who Sheen has played twice in his career. His answer surprised me.

“Playing a real life character is actually more liberating because there is a structure set in place and you know you have to play within it. It narrows the possibilities down, but within that you can do whatever you want. With Zuse there was almost too much freedom. I had to be constantly aware so that I didn’t overwhelm the scene.”

When asked how it was to work with such a great group of actors he smiled like a kid in a candy shop. “They were not only great actors, they were a great bunch of people. And to get a chance to work with Jeff Bridges, who is just the coolest actor. With so much integrity.”

“What’s your favorite Jeff Bridges film?” I asked.

He bounced the question back at me, “That’s a tough question. What’s yours?”

Rancho Deluxe,” I replied.

“That’s interesting,” he said. “I like so many of them. The Big LebowskiSeabiscuitStarmanThunderbolt and Lightfoot.” Sheen fired back like a true fan. “But I guess because it’s the last thing I saw him in, I’m going to have to say Crazy Heart.”

I couldn’t really argue with him. That movie was an acting tour de force. Without Bridges it is simply another festival flick that shows late night on IFC. With him it was a must see film.

Sheen has done similar work in several films. His work in The Damned United made that film work in my opinion. And although Frank Langella got the Best Actor nods for Frost/Nixon it is hard to imagine that film working nearly as well without being able to spar against Sheen’s knowing turn as the dapper David Frost.

“Anything else?” I asked.

TRON: Legacy is the kind of film you would do for free, but you end up getting paid for it if you live your life right. Or maybe I should say, if you handle your career right,” he said with a smile… a big smile that never seemed to leave his face.


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