No matter how you might feel about the ending of Season 2, we can all agree that Michael Sheen completely steals the show in the second season of Prime Video's adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens. It's the sort of performance that not only tends to win any actor a legion of new fans but one that sends viewers scrambling into their back catalog to catch up on their previous work. (Which, you know, welcome, it's fun here.) But viewers new to Sheen's career may be surprised to find how extensive and varied it is — or precisely how many things they've seen him in before without knowing it.
A strident and often outspoken Welshman, Sheen hails from working-class roots, really loves football, and is genuinely charming — if you don't follow him on Twitter or whatever we're calling that app now, please fix your life immediately — not to mention a thoughtful spokesperson for a variety of causes and charities. As an actor, his resume is entertainingly diverse, with villainous stints in action blockbusters balanced by brilliant portrayals of real-life historical figures. (Not to mention a should-have-been-nominated-for-a-Tony-Award run in the Broadway revival of Amadeus.)
Here are our picks for some of Sheen's all-time best roles.
A true guilty pleasure franchise, the Underworld series of films is primarily notable for the sheer array of talented actors that someone somewhere convinced to perform ridiculous stunts while wearing a variety of tight leather clothing. (True facts: The outerwear in these movies is particularly banging, and everyone looks amazing in it.)
The story follows an age-old battle between vampires and werewolves (here known as Lycans) and features such recognizable faces as Kate Beckinsale, Bill Nighy, Scott Speedman, and more. Sheen pops up in several installments (the original Underworld and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) as Lucien, the tortured leader of the werewolf faction who has his own tragic past with the leaders of the vampire coven.
Though most people (rightly) remember The Queen for Helen Mirren's towering (and Oscar-winning!) performance as Elizabeth II, nothing about the film works without Sheen's quiet turn as Prime Minister Tony Blair, the leader who was so key in pushing to Royal Family to adopt a more public approach in mourning Princess Diana's death.
He more than holds his own against Mirren's regal iciness (a compliment in and of itself), finding the quiet steel underneath the new PM's relentless charm.
Sheen has a long history of playing real-life historical figures — he's starred as British PM Tony Blair on three separate occasions, including the one mentioned above, as well as controversial football manager Brian Clough (The Damned United) and the game show host at the heart of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? cheating scandal (Quiz) — but what makes his work so remarkable is that every one of those performances feels deeply true without devolving into anything that might be called mimicry.
And nowhere is that particular skill more apparent than in Frost/Nixon and his truly exceptional portrayal of legendary broadcaster David Frost. Sheen goes toe to toe with Frank Langella and still manages to make a recreation of something many people saw happen in real time feel new.
It's a truth universally acknowledged that almost every British (or British adjacent) actor has done a spot on Doctor Who. And that's true for Michael Sheen as well, though probably not in the way you expected. (And in a role you may not even know about!)
It's true Sheen has never physically appeared in the classic sci-fi series, but he does play a key part in one of the franchise's best episodes, "The Doctor's Wife". He voices the mysterious House, the malevolent and ancient asteroid-sized being that existed in a pocket outside the universe and lured Time Lords to him so that he could devour their TARDISes and consume their artron energy. In the wake of the Time War — and the annihilation of the Time Lords — House decides to try and possess Eleven's TARDIS and escape back into the main universe.
"The Doctor's Wife" — which also features an anthropomorphized human version of the TARDIS named Idris and was written by Neil Gaiman — is one of the series' all-time greatest installments, a love story between a boy and his blue box, and well worth a watch for anyone who knows anything about the basic premise of the show.
'The Twilight Saga'
No matter how you feel about the overall quality of the films in the Twilight films — the megapopular teen vampire romance franchise that spawned a generation of copycats — Sheen's performance is an undoubted bright spot.
Sheen plays the vampire Aro, head of a powerful coven known as the Volturi. The royalty of the vampire world, the Volturi enforce the laws of their kind and generally lord it over everyone else. They're interested in Bella and Edward and the hybrid child they create, and the plot is profoundly unimportant because it's just an excuse for Sheen to be as high drama as possible every second he's onscreen. (Seriously, if you can't stomach four movies about Bella Swan's tortured love life, track down a few YouTube clips of Sheen, if only because the man is having the time of his life in a ridiculously over-the-top role and no piece of scenery is safe from his enthusiastic chewing of it.)
'Far From the Madding Crowd'
Not sure if I'm the only one with this opinion, but Michael Sheen should really be in more period dramas. (Preferably as a...less problematic romantic hero if at all possible, just in case anyone out there happens to be listening.) Sheen plays William Boldwood in the 2015 feature film adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, a character who isn't technically a romantic hero at all. In fact, in the original novel, he is actually a lot more of an overt creep who basically becomes obsessed with his neighbor Bathsheba after she sends him a valentine on a whim.
Sheen softens up the gentleman farmer quite a great deal, making the character a bit more endearing and less threatening than his on-page counterpart and playing everything with a quiet vein of humor and self-awareness that isn't in the original text. (And, hey, he looks great in the outfits. Just saying.)
'Masters of Sex'
One of the best shows you may have never heard of is Showtime's critically acclaimed drama Masters of Sex. A period piece set during the 1950s and '60s, it follows the story of two pioneers in the field of human sexuality, William Masters and his associate Virginia Johnson, who studied real men and women in various states of sexual arousal and attempted to understand the psychological impact of sex. But despite its seemingly salacious subject matter, this is a complicated series about relationships and what it means to be human.
Sheen stars as Masters alongside Lizzy Caplan (Fleishman Is In Trouble) as Johnson, and his performance as the petty, sexist, and often misogynist and emotionally abusive doctor is as impressive as it is uncomfortable to watch. (Sorry in advance to everyone coming to Sheen's body of work from his lovely turn in Prime Video's Good Omens, he is an actor who plays complete jerks so often it's truly incredible.) His work as Masters nabbed him a very deserved Golden Globe nomination during the series' first season -- it ultimately ran for four -- and remains one of his most complex and compelling performances.
Prime Video's note-perfect adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's beloved 1990 novel, Good Omens stars Sheen as the prim angel Aziraphale opposite David Tennant's (Doctor Who) swaggering demon Crowley and their enchanting odd couple love story for the ages covers everything from Biblical history to the impending Apocalypse and all of Creation in between.
Season 2 of the series ends on a rather devastating emotional cliffhanger, but Sheen's performance throughout is a masterclass in quiet, complicated facial expressions as an Aziraphale who feels much more fully Crowley's equal (both narratively and metaphorically speaking). Season 3 better be part of the ineffable plan, is all I'm saying.
FOX procedural Prodigal Son technically followed the story of Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne), a damaged FBI profiler struggling with his own mental health issues because he's the child of an infamous serial killer known as The Surgeon. But Sheen steals every scene he is in as the genius, thoroughly unrepentant killer Dr. Martin Whitly, who is a slightly more warm and fuzzy take on Hannibal Lecter.
Sheen's performance is charmingly unhinged, from his cozy cardigans and fluffed-up hair to his Peak Dad Vibes and seemingly well-meaning relationship advice. We're not meant to be rooting for a mass murderer, but it's hard not to find Martin's ferocious love for his kids just a little bit compelling. (It also doesn't hurt that he consistently gets the best lines in the show.)
A charming oddity birthed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the oddball comedy Staged is a product of the moment it was created and existed almost entirely because of the insane chemistry and real-life friendship between its two leads. Yet, it’s also a ridiculously fun slice-of-life experiment that made us all feel a little less lonely and lost at a time when I imagine most of us needed it.
A comedy about life in lockdown, the series is little more than a high-end Zoom call, particularly during its first season, as Good Omens co-stars Tennant and Sheen play exaggerated versions of themselves in a fictional universe where they’ve been tapped to star in a West End production of Luigi Pirandello’s 1921 play Six Characters in Search of an Author. (Which is something I wouldn’t precisely hate to see happen in real life, is all I’m saying, in case anyone with power is listening.) But with the COVID-19 pandemic raging, their director Shawn Evans decides to hold rehearsals remotely, and comedy ensues as those meetings devolve into...well, what all our meetings were like back then. As COVID restrictions eased and life began to regain a more standard feel, Staged subsequent seasons shifted focus as well, but to tell you exactly how...well, it’s more fun if you don’t know.