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Award-winning Welsh actor Michael Sheen first appeared as Aro, the leader of the ancient Italian coven of vampires called the Volturi, in "The Twilight Saga: New Moon." Since then he has played the delightfully unhinged character in every "Twilight" movie leading up to "Breaking Dawn - Part 2," in which the Volturi clan and the Cullens face off in the series' grand finale.
Sheen is no stranger to fantasy roles, having played Lucian the werewolf in a few "Underworld" films as well as the flamboyant Castro/Zuse in "TRON: Legacy." The 43-year-old actor also earned accolades playing real-life figures like David Frost in "Frost/Nixon" and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in "The Queen."
During the press conference for "Breaking Dawn - Part 2," which opens everywhere on Nov. 16, Sheen was hands-down the most charismatic and humorous panel member. We sat down with the witty actor afterwards, during which he talked about the pleasures of playing an off-kilter character like Aro, if he thinks Lucian from "Underworld" or Aro would emerge victorious from a fight and what's in store for his new show "Masters of Sex."
It's safe to say that Aro is crazy in "Breaking Dawn - Part 2." Can you speak about how his laugh speaks volumes about his mental state?
I like the idea that, at times, for someone who has been alive centuries and centuries, one of the biggest problems is boredom. He's sort of seen everything and done everything. So when something new comes along, something surprising, then I think it would fill someone with delight. For a character who is so in control most of the time, there is something completely out of control inside. When something unexpected happens that delights him, that sort of hysterical quality can come out. In a laugh, it's a perfect, economical way of showing that.
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Is that kind of insanity delicious to play as an actor, or do you have to always be mindful of not pushing it too far?
I think you have to be judicious about how to show those elements because it can become slightly meaningless otherwise. You have to have a logic to how that character works. I like the idea that the character has been alive so long that he keeps himself amused by role-playing a little bit. I think he likes the idea that he's this sentimental old fool who is a romantic at heart and a bit of a softie, but he's not that at all — he's a psychopathic killer underneath. To be able to play with those elements is quite fun.
When Aro touches someone, he can read every thought the person has ever had. If you could use that power on one person in the world, who would that be?
Wow. Gosh. I don't know … I've played [Tony] Blair a few times, so I suppose that would be quite interesting just to find out what the real story is in there. At the same time, I think I'd rather allow people to keep their mystery for me. If you knew exactly what everyone thought, then there's no mystery to people anymore. Part of the fun of life is interacting with people and not knowing what the truth is inside. Letting them reveal that to you is what binds you to people.
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You've said that Aro is like a cross between the Pope and the mafia. When he's not obsessing over the Cullens, how do you think Aro spends his time?
He's just fighting boredom all the time. He's probably read all the great literature and poetry of the world. I like the idea that he likes to read trashy romantic novels with Fabio on the cover. [Laughs]
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Aro has always coveted Alice's gift of seeing the future. Do you see a future in this franchise beyond "Breaking Dawn - Part 2," and do you think you could be a part of it?
I don't know how it could carry on, really. It's come to the end of the story. I've thoroughly enjoyed being a part of it and playing Aro, so I would always be open to doing something else. But sometimes you just have to let things finish. As bittersweet as it is to come to the end, part of the enjoyment is always the demise or its end, at least. I'm not sure how good an idea it would be to do any more. I'm sure Stephenie [Meyer] wants to write something different.
You have a daughter. What underlying message do you think these movies have for young girls?
I'm not sure if there is a message, really. Through Bella's journey, it's something that allows people to understand their own journey. For someone like my daughter, who is 13, who is growing from being a little girl to a teenager to a young woman, Bella's experiences are similar to what other girls are going through. It can give you hope and some kind of guidance about how to navigate these sorts of experiences. Granted, people aren't necessarily going through them with vampires and werewolves, but the kind of choices and dilemmas that Bella experiences and the choices that she makes are ones girls are making all the time.
Now that "Twilight" has wrapped, did you get to keep any of Aro's period finery?
He had some nice threads! There were a couple of things that we never got to use that I kind of liked. There was this half cape that was kind of like what the Beatles wear on the cover of "Help" with little black capes. We were trying to get one of those, but never got a chance. I want to introduce the cape into modern society. That would be quite fun. In the end, I didn't keep anything.
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You've played a vampire in the "Twilight" series and Lucian the werewolf in the "Underworld" series. If those two characters faced off, who would be the victor?
Oh gosh, that's a good question. Well, Lucian is stronger physically and a bit more rugged. Aro is probably cleverer. It would be a nasty, messy fight. If Lucian transformed into his Lycan self, I think it would be a fight worth watching. Aro would like to have Lucian curl up on a rug in front of a fire and Aro would be stroking him all night. Aro doesn't want to fight. He'd want to spend a warm winter night with his shaggy dog on the rug.
Do you ever think about what happens to any of your characters after the credits roll? What do you think happens to Aro?
I think Aro still craves certain things about certain members of the Cullen family that he is desperate to collect. He probably still schemes about that and goes back to waiting for another opportunity.
You have had so many roles on stage and on screen. If given a chance, what is a character that you would love to play again? Maybe your "TRON: Legacy" character?
Yeah! I really enjoyed playing the "TRON" character — that would be nice to do again. A lot of things have changed at Disney since "TRON: Legacy," so I don't know about that. Or maybe Wesley from "30 Rock," because it's always fun to work with Tina [Fey].
You're reuniting with your "30 Rock" co-star Tina Fey on the romantic comedy "Admission." What can you tell us about that?
That was directed by Paul Weitz, the brother of Chris Weitz, who directed "New Moon" when I first played Aro. It's set in Princeton, and Tina plays the admissions officer of Princeton and I play her English professor boyfriend. In some ways it's similar to the dynamic on "30 Rock," so it was good to kind of revisit that. Tina and I have a shorthand and it was great to get back into that dynamic again. We did some improvised videos to promote [the movie].
Tell us about Showtime's "Masters of Sex," which you are producing and starring in.
It's a series that we did the pilot for earlier this year that is based on real people, William Masters and Virginia Johnson, who in the late '50s and early '60s were pioneering sex research. A lot of their work was controversial and, when it was published, led to a huge reaction and the sexual revolution. Their private lives were very complicated and unusual. Their story plays out over the decades and their lives reflect the changes in society over that period of time. It's a fascinating story with a lot of potential, so I'm looking forward to it.