Best known as movie Tony Blair, actor plays another real-life role

John Anderson
Newsday (MCT)

Music Within

Director: Steven Sawalich
Cast: Ron Livingston, Melissa George, Michael Sheen, Yul Vazquez, Rebecca De Mornay, Hector Elizondo
MPAA rating: R
Studio: MGM
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-10-26 (Limited release)

LOS ANGELES -- He's quite possibly as famous among some Americans for playing Tony Blair as Tony Blair is for being Tony Blair. Michael Sheen has played the ex-prime minister in two Stephen Frears-directed features ("The Queen" and "The Deal"), and defined the stage role of TV interviewer David Frost in "Frost/Nixon."

Currently at work on director Ron Howard's film adaptation of the Peter Morgan play, Sheen can also be seen in "Music Within," in which he plays another real-life character, Art Honeyman, whose body is afflicted with cerebral palsy, but who's mind is a weapon of minor destruction. Honeyman inspired the movie's main character, Richard Pimentel, in his work on behalf of the Americans with Disabilities Act; he inspired Sheen in his work in Steven Sawalich's film.

If you wanted to distance yourself from Tony Blair -- or David Frost -- Art Honeyman would seem the way to go.

Yes, it's quite different, isn't it? I hope that when people see me in a different role they'll stop thinking of me as Blair. Or Frost.

What was your preparation for playing Honeyman?

I knew there would be two areas of preparation. One was CP (cerebral palsy) itself, getting all the physical symptoms right. The other was about playing another real-life person. Unlike Blair or Frost, he's not familiar to most people. Nevertheless it's largely the same process.

How does the process start?

I did research, reading, watching videos. I went to a CP day center in Santa Monica where they were very generous and let me participate in activities. I had a wheelchair sent over to my apartment and started getting used to that. I took it out to get a feel of what it's like not walking around. And I met Art. That was the real challenge, to let Art's qualities through in the performance.

In the film, which begins in the Vietnam era and proceeds through the passage of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), Art is sometimes relatively easy to understand and at other times he's utterly incomprehensible. How did you folks come to a conclusion to portray him that way?

When I first met Art, I said, "Hello," and about a minute later he said "Hello" back. I said to Steven, "This isn't going to work -- we want to be accurate, but no one's going to understand me." But he felt it was all in the script, and that what we see is Art through Richard, who understands him. We get Art through Richard's eyes and ears. There are a few moments when Art is hard to understand, but that's when the perspective shifts from Richard to the rest of the world.

There's a lot of responsibility involved, no?

It's a twofold responsibility: to the one person you're representing, and to anyone with CP. There's a question, a very valid question, of `Why didn't you get someone with CP to play the part?' And it's a good question. But Richard Pimentel said the idea of the Americans with Disabilities Act was not to ensure that a person with a disability would automatically be chosen for a job, but that the disability wouldn't prevent them from getting one. So that the best person for the job would be chosen. So that's another responsibility, proving myself the best person for the job.

Why take on a role like this?

I've always enjoyed the physicality of acting, which is partly why I've been playing real-life characters. There's a physical transformation that's required. The stage work is inevitably more physical, of course. And I'm drawn to outsiders.

What do you feel you've accomplished with Honeyman?

Art's disability scares people. They don't know what it's about; it's unknown, it's frightening. But if I can portray that, maybe it shows there's not that big a difference between us after all.

In other news, David Frost was on the ("Frost/Nixon") set?

Yes, he was here yesterday. My parents were here, too, so they got to meet him. It was a bit peculiar having the person you're playing watching you through a monitor. On the other hand, he's seen the play many times.





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.