Acting is not about imitation, Michael Sheen – it’s the art of pretending to be someone else

Actor Michael Sheen at the global premiere of 'Good Omens' in London - WireImage
Actor Michael Sheen at the global premiere of 'Good Omens' in London - WireImage

The acting you see on stage is only an approximation of how people behave in real life. Nevertheless, I think actors should make an effort to do their job, which is to act. Welsh performer Michael Sheen disagrees. In an interview in this paper, he argued that only Welsh actors should play Welsh characters and, per corollary, that only the disabled will be permitted to play “disabled characters” like Richard III.

Of course, this would destroy the performing arts completely. By his own argument, Sheen would have to ban himself from playing English or Scottish people, though he became famous for his portrayal of Tony Blair in the film The Queen, and has been raking in the chips ever since.

Non Jews would be banned from playing Shylock, though one of the greatest interpreters of this role was the 18th century gentile, Edmund Kean. For some time, white actors have not been allowed to play Othello, even though he was a Moor, which denoted religion, not race, and covered the area of Sicily.

And where would this leave opera? Carmen to be sung only by a Spanish mezzo? But its composer, Georges Bizet, was French, and Carmen is about as Spanish as the Rue Cambon. Norma, realised so superbly by Maria Callas in the opera of that name, was a Celtic Druid priestess, which would make casting problematic; particularly as she was a Celtic Druid imagined by a 19th century Italian.

It’s time it dawned on Hollywood and elsewhere that performing is not about verisimilitude and imitation, but the art of pretending to be someone else.

As for the suggestion that Richard III should only be played by a bloke in a wheelchair, this is an insult to Ricardians. I must declare a family interest here. Richard of Gloucester is my brother’s collateral ancestor, through his direct descent from Richard’s sibling, George, Duke of Clarence. In fact, we call him Uncle Dickie at home.

So hands off him. While examination of Richard’s skeleton revealed severe scoliosis, the spinal curve was sideways. Ergo, he had neither a large hump, a withered arm or a limp. Moreover, Richard was one of the most feared and able warriors of his age, commanding armies from the age of 17.

A foreign visitor to England, who dined with Richard twice and had no reason to lie, described the king as small boned and slender, but handsome and a graceful dancer.

He did not become “disabled” until Tudor propagandists, the fake historians of their day, chose to paint deformities onto his portraits, and then William Shakespeare, the most talented propagandist of all, drew a picture so vile that it has been impossible to dislodge: “Scarce half made up… dogs bark at me as I halt by them.” It would be a further injustice if the last English king to die in battle was henceforth portrayed as completely out of commission.

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