Michael Sheen's character in sequel to hit 1982 film draws inspiration from David Bowie
Michael Sheen has earned a reputation for specialising in the portrayal of ambitious men who know how to get what they want: in a 15-year film career, he has already played Brian Clough, David Frost and Tony Blair (three times).
But while the 41-year-old Welsh actor is leaving behind the serious-minded biopic for his latest film, he still modelled his performance on a real-life figure.
Speaking at Comic-Con, the film and comic-book convention in San Diego, Sheen revealed that his approach to playing the villainous Castor in Disney's forthcoming blockbuster Tron: Legacy was informed by the master chameleon – David Bowie.
"I was going for a sort of albino Ziggy Stardust," Sheen told the Guardian. "A one-man walking Andy Warhol Factory."
The film, directed by first-time director Joseph Kosinski, is a belated sequel to the 1982 hit Tron, set within a deadly computer game in which players are forced into combat much in the manner of Roman gladiators.
Sheen is one of the new members of a cast that also includes Jeff Bridges, star of the original Tron. Eight minutes of 3D footage were unveiled at Comic-Con last Thursday to enthusiastic fans, who also learned that the French electro-pop band Daft Punk had composed the movie's score.
"Joe wanted the character to look completely different to everyone else in the Tron world," Sheen noted, "so whereas everyone is in black, he's in white: white hair, no eyebrows. It's a good choice, I think. Castor is a character who reflects and assimilates everything around him, then adapts to survive. I liked the idea of him as a shape-shifter who keeps reinventing himself, and the obvious reference there has to be Bowie."
Sheen confessed that he also took inspiration from Frank-N-Furter, the "transvestite from transsexual Transylvania" played by Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as well as from Mae West. "I wanted him to be a human pop-cultural jukebox."
"Joe said he needed my character to bring a whole different kind of energy to this film, and that I had to be the biggest showman ever. Then I'm given that amazing nightclub set with hundreds of extras, that dazzling white costume, contact lenses and six-inch heels, and a cane that lights up, and I've got Daft Punk as my house-band … well, it was like a red rag to a bull."
Sheen is the latest in a long line of British actors (including Alan Rickman in Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Alfred Molina in Spider-Man 2, and Sir Ian McKellen in the X-Men series) to bring some flamboyance to the role of baddie in a Hollywood blockbuster.
The actor, who lives in Los Angeles, is currently filming Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris alongside Marion Cotillard and Carla Bruni. He has already completed The Special Relationship, in which he plays Blair for the third time, with Dennis Quaid taking on Bill Clinton.
Tron: Legacy will be released in December.