A Certain Campness: Michael Sheen on Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 2

The leader of the Volturi details the origin of his laugh as well as his upcoming Showtime series, 'Masters of Sex.'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Just in case any Twilight fans didn’t know there was one more film coming, Breaking Dawn – Part 1 put an Easter egg with the Volturi vampires in the end credits. That ensured Michael Sheen would return as Aro, and he does, in the climactic confrontation with the Cullens. He thinks Bella and Edward’s daughter Renesmee is a threat to the secrecy of vampirekind, but little does he know she’s actually part human. We got to chat with Michael Sheen about his performance as Aro, his upcoming Showtime series “Masters of Sex” and his Tina Fey comedy Admission.

CraveOnline: What was that little shriek Aro gives when he meets Renesmee?

Michael Sheen: I think it’s more a laugh than a shriek really I suppose. It’s I think delight, both delight and I think one of the things I always thought about for a character who’s immortal or been around for centuries and centuries is that you just get bored. Really, really bored with the same things over and over again. You’ve sort of seen everything and done everything. So when something new comes along, the extraordinary delight of that would be amazing. I liked the idea that Aro’s so controlled all the time, so in control of what he’s doing. The idea that now and again you just get a little glimpse of what’s going on underneath, something that’s out of control. So I like the idea that in that moment, when he hears her heart beating, he senses the extraordinary uniqueness of this child, that it kind of both delights him and you get a sense of this out of control, hysterical thing that’s underneath the surface.

You said in New Moon the voice of Aro was inspired by the Blue Meanie. Was the laugh part of that?

The laugh is in New Moon as well when I first played Aro. There was a bit of that in there so it was always a kind of string to the bow. So yeah, me and Bill [Condon] talked about maybe reintroducing that again in this one. Someone used the laugh from New Moon as a ringtone. I seem to remember hearing that.

How was the snow scene broken up? It’s such a long epic sequence.

Yeah, it is. Well, I fully expected us to be in some forest somewhere for weeks and weeks doing night shoots and all that kind of stuff. But in fact, obviously it was on a soundstage with green screen all around it. So we were there for weeks and weeks as well. We were on this snow covered, false, fake snow-covered soundstage and just working through it. It was a huge sequence, the biggest sequence in the film so there was a lot of standing around, a lot of vampires standing around and it played havoc with the contact lenses but it was great because we got to hang out together all day.

You have some great speeches in that scene, so how long a stretch would you go through in one take?

Regular. You do the take, whatever that one bit of the scene is. But yeah, speeches are easier to deal with than the physical stuff because a speech you just shoot. That was the most straightforward part of it really.

Bill told us you did a full day of rehearsal with no shooting. Was that nice and unusual to have?

Well, I think that a sequence that’s that large and given that you’re going to spend a lot of time on it and chop it up into little bits, the times that you can actually get a sense of the whole thing are really important because you can lose sight of what the sweep of the whole thing is after a while. You’ve been shooting something for three weeks, one scene for three weeks, you sort of lose sight of what it is, what’s the story you’re telling and how do these bits all fit together. Being able to rehearse like that is essential I think.

Bill also said he saw the story as melodrama. How did Chris Weitz see it on New Moon?

I don't know, you’d have to ask Chris I suppose. I don't know how he saw it. I think there’s obviously a consistency through all the films but each director brings something different to it. And those were still early days. I think there’s a big difference between Catherine [Hardwicke]’s vision of the first film and then subsequent films, a sort of shift in tone and style I suppose so in a way Chris doing New Moon brought that different kind of look to it. I’m not sure what influenced him in that but those were still early days so Chris was introducing all kinds of new elements to it. By the time Bill has come to it, he’s coming in towards the end of the story and certain things have been established. I really like the way Bill has somehow managed to incorporate some of the reactions to the other films. There are certain things like, for instance, Jacob taking his top of. There’s a kind of knowingness or a slightly tongue in cheek, self-parodying element to this film that I think Bill has brought which is great and not only pays homage to the books but also pays homage to the fans and the reactions to the books as well.

Self-parody is a better word than camp, which is what I used at first.

Well, I think I brought a certain campness to the role of Aro and I don’t mind calling it that as well. What you’ve got to play with, with Aro, is that under everything, he is this kid. So then being able to give him a sense of campness is I think actually quite useful because then you can cut against that at times. The campness of him can slightly misdirect people and it can be fun and that can be enjoyable but it can misdirect people as well, so then you’ve got license to go hard with the more chilling aspects of it.

I got to see a preview of “Masters of Sex” at the Television Critics Association this summer. What sort of research did you do on Masters and Johnson?

There’s the book obviously about Masters and Johnson which I read, which was fantastic and really useful. I met an OB/GYN guy here in L.A. who had been working around the same time that Masters was working, so I got a sense of what the world was like at that time as well. As we go into series now, in late January I think we start shooting, then I’ll start doing more and more research again but it’s a fascinating, fascinating story. There’s the possibility of telling that story season after season if it goes that long, but their story goes through the ’50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s. Who knows? We’ll see but their story actually goes through that time because their story is mirrored by what’s going on in society in each decade in terms of their relationship to sex. So it’s kind of fascinating, the sexual revolution of the ‘60s into the ‘70s. Then the influx of porn in the ‘70s and the sexual liberation. Then you’re starting to see the advent of AIDS in the ‘80s and how all those things affect their work and how their work affected all those things, so it’s a fascinating story. I’m looking forward to it.

Of course they probably showed us the most outrageous sexual clips, but is every day a closed set on that show?

Pretty much, yeah. It’s kind of full on. It’s pretty intense with all that stuff because obviously the nature of their work is sex research. He started off by working with prostitutes, watching prostitutes at work through a little peephole, writing everything down to then working in secret within the hospital and doing research with women. He invented this machine which was this sort of glass dildo really with a light inside it that you could look through and watch what’s happening whilst a woman brings herself to climax. That’s not something you see every day on a TV show. And then eventually he’s monitoring people having sex with each other, strangers having sex so it’s pretty intense every day, but fascinating.

Do you have to be prepared to go full frontal, or is your character safe from that?

I don't know, we’ll see. I don't think anyone’s safe. I think at some point everyone will get involved, so we’ll see what the writers come up with.

So that’s the outrageous side. What is the meaty drama side of it?

Well, it’s about these people and the relationships between them because for all the work they were doing on sex, their own private lives were very, very complicated and not as open as the work they were exploring. It is a really fascinating dynamic between these characters.

What do you get to play in Admission?

I play similar to the role on “30 Rock” really, Tina’s British boyfriend but in Admission he’s an English professor at Princeton where she works. So similar sort of dynamic.

As contentious as your relationship on “30 Rock?”

In some ways yes. In a different way but yeah, in some way. It was great to work with Tina again.


You can follow Fred Topel on Twitter at @FredTopel.

Photo Credit: Andrew Cooper, SMPSP