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A Damned Good Acting Lesson From Michael Sheen

A Damned Good Acting Lesson From Michael Sheen (photo)

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Michael Sheen is an excellent interview, not that he hasn’t had the practice. Coming off an acclaimed turn as journalist David Frost in last year’s “Frost/Nixon,” Sheen once again plays a man who sits in judgment as Brian Clough, the brash soccer manager given to tossing out bon mots like “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I wasn’t on that particular job” before he’s humbled by a disastrous 44-day stint in charge of the revered Leeds United squad in 1974. Although Clough spends much of “The Damned United” in the hot seat, Sheen clearly relishes playing the alternately cocky and vulnerable tactician who struggles in the shadow of his successful predecessor Don Revie (Colm Meaney) and without the help of his trusted assistant Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), who’s since moved on to coach another team. Although Sheen was already comfortable on the practice pitch — he was recruited to play for Arsenal when he was 12 — the actor could also rest assured that “The Queen” screenwriter Peter Morgan would make the most out of Clough’s colloquialisms in their fourth collaboration together. Sheen recently sat down to talk about his relationship with Morgan, the thrill of playing iconic roles and why jawlines are so important.

How did the love story between you and Peter Morgan start?

It started out the same as any other love story, really, with the two main characters not liking each other. Stephen Frears was doing a film called “The Deal” for British TV, about Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, and I’d worked with Stephen many years before on “Mary Reilly,” which is the first film I’d ever done. Stephen decided that he was not going to make the film unless I played Blair, but I was doing a play at the time in London, so it meant that they had to change the filming schedule around to accommodate me doing this play.

Peter [who wrote “The Deal] was very annoyed that his film wasn’t going to happen at the time he wanted because of this upstart actor he’d never heard of and never met. So it started not particularly auspiciously, and then we got to know each other on the film and it all went from there.

I’d heard “The Damned United” director Tom Hooper say that you had watched the television interview between Clough and Don Revie that serves as the film’s climax close to 40 times for preparation — what do you pick up on the 40th time that you might not necessarily on the first or 15th?

More than [40 times]. I need to watch it that many times so that I stop listening to the surface of it. To begin with, you’re obviously listening to what [Clough] says and the way he looks and all that stuff and eventually, you go past that. I get so familiar with it that something else starts to speak to me. It’s like there’s some sort of subliminal message in it, but I have to distract my conscious mind in a way so that as I’m watching it and listening to it, slowly as I come to know every word he says, every inflection, every movement, everything that he does in it — not because I want to copy that, I just want to get past that. I need to get to the point where I’m getting something invisible off it, and that’s when I understand what’s actually going on, or I feel like I’ve made an imaginative connection to him.

Looking at your upcoming films as well as what you’ve done in the past few years, you’re portraying so many iconic figures, historical or fantastical. Does it ever get daunting?

10062009_DamnedUnited2.jpgIt’s always daunting, yeah. I think that’s part of what I like about it, the risk factor. At first, when I started playing real-life characters [like Tony] Blair that people were very familiar with, it was frightening. As it got closer and closer to doing it, I thought “oh, no one’s going to accept me as this character. What was I thinking?” And that’s never really changed. [slight laugh] I thought it would get easier, maybe, but it hasn’t really gotten easier at all. But I like that, the thrill, the motivation of it — it makes me work harder, go further and push myself — I’ve come to really appreciate that.

So when you play an iconic character like the White Rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland” or Aro in “Twilight” or whatever it might be, I like the fact that people have expectations, and that you can use those expectations and subvert them.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.