Sheen's scaled-down take on Frost is a shrewd combination of the cerebral — in the British tradition, as he puts it, of "acting from the neck up" — and the intensely physical American style. Both come from his background and training. Sheen grew up in the town of Port Talbot, which also produced Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins, now a friend, whose 70th birthday party Sheen attended with his parents. He comes from a long line of street preachers and carnival workers, his family dabbled in amateur operatics, and his father still moonlights as a Jack Nicholson impersonator. Sheen is careful to point out that neither acting nor mimicry is required of a look-alike, "though I don't want to do him out of work."
A gifted and obsessive footballer, Sheen turned down an offer to join Arsenal's youth team when he was 12 because it would have meant his whole family moving to London. Instead, he attended a local youth theater company that he considers one of the best in Britain, if not the world. Having flunked entry to Oxford to read English by telling his interviewers that his favorite writer was Stephen King, he ended up at London's prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and he was on his way. If the youth theater gave him discipline and a work ethic, RADA broke down his tendency to be "too formed and performance-oriented."
These very different men have more in common than they or the audience have realized.
"It's no coincidence that I've ended up playing these real-life characters," says Sheen, who will star again as Blair in the third part of Morgan's trilogy, focusing on the P.M.'s partnership with Bill Clinton. "On the one hand, it requires a lot of discipline, research, and technique to do the imitation part. On the other hand, there's the absolute spontaneity of being in the moment. Playing real-life characters puts that combination of control and spontaneity to the test. People can say, 'He really is like him, yet he doesn't seem to be acting.'" All that is pretty exhausting, which may be why Sheen says he hates acting: "I love lots of things about it, and I love being part of the profession. But if I'm enjoying it too much, I'm doing it wrong."