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Michael Sheen Does A Better Tony Blair Than Tony Blair

December 7, 2007

I've been thinking a lot lately about why it is that whenever I see a politician at a political rally or on TV, I feel like I am being lied to, whereas when I see an actor playing a politician on the stage or screen, I feel like I'm glimpsing the soul of a real human being?

It's a strange paradox. Surely the real life politician should resonate more strongly with me. The actor, on the other hand, is impersonating someone else. He or she is not being themselves. Therefore, by most standards, that makes the actor a liar.

I wonder if it all comes down to the quality of the performance? Politicians and actors have much in common. It’s no accident that several prominent political figures in recent history have backgrounds in acting including Ronald Reagan, Fred Thompson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Neither is it a coincidence that some actors, such as Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Ian McKellen, are well known for their political activism. Also, it's amazing how many lawyers I know who have backgrounds in acting, and how many actors go into law when they decide that paying the bills is more important than strutting the boards. Law, of course, is the most direct route into a career in politics.

Politicians often seem disingenuous because they are not very good acting. Some actors, on the other hand, are superb performers. So perhaps my feelings are not that strange after all. Tony Blair's appearances on TV might have made me reach for the remote (particularly during the last few years of his rule. But Michael Sheen's awe-inspiring turn as the former UK Prime Minister in the movie The Queen made me see Blair in a whole new light.

It's official: only art can save politics.

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