March 31, 2016 — For those accustomed to seeing Michael Sheen play either former Prime Minister Tony Blair — a part he has tackled three separate times — or William H. Masters, the less-than-charming researcher of human sexual response, watching Sheen tackle the role of English comic actor and comedian Kenneth Williams may be a bit of an eye-opener.
Of course, any examination of Sheen’s career should make one thing plain — there are few parts beyond his capabilities. The Welsh actor trained in the classics at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and has appeared in Henry V, The Seagull, The Homecoming, Amadeus, Caligula, Charley’s Aunt and Look Back in Anger, among many other titles, on stage.
His film performances have been brilliantly-received, whether he plays the ambitious but anxious David Frost in Frost/Nixon, Tony Blair in The Queen (or in The Deal or The Special Relationship) or football coach Brian Clough in The Damned United.
But surely one of his most unusual — and most lauded — performances was as Kenneth Williams, the actor and comic best-known for his work over the course of 20 years in the Carry On series of films. Although Williams had hoped for a stage career, he was a household name in England through his television, film and radio appearances.
Much of what is known of Williams’ private life was revealed after his death when his diaries, which he kept for more than 40 years, were made public. Williams had much to say about fellow actors — most if it caustic and uncomplimentary — and just as much about himself. He had a deep-seated self-loathing, based in part on being a homosexual in England when it was still a crime, which made him deny himself any serious romantic connection to another person.
Sheen said of his preparation for the role, that he was “fascinated by finding the private side of the public face.”
Michael Sheen’s 2006 portrayal of the troubled and depressed (but also outrageous) comedian in the BBC Four’s Fantabulosa! earned him ecstatic reviews. The Observer called it “…a characterisation for which the description tour-de-force is, frankly, pretty faint praise.” The Times called him “mesmerising.” He would win a Royal Television Society Award as Best actor for the performance as well as a BAFTA nomination.
Watch Fantabulosa! and see Michael Sheen in one of his most acclaimed performances.