Written by Dean Pomeroy, edited by Victoria Jenner
Earlier this month, newspapers broke the story that Michael Sheen, a wildly successful actor who has been nominated for, and won, numerous Olivier, Emmy, BAFTA, and Golden Globes awards, would quit acting to enter into the world of politics.
Sheen quickly refuted this, stating that he has “become more involved with [Welsh] community issues back at home over the last few years and because of the political situation it’s something I would like to focus on more… I said it might mean I work less as an actor and maybe even stop for a while at some point. But I don’t really know yet.”
The choice as to what he does next, is, of course, his decision to make, and his alone. Indeed, he may find his work to be enough of an influence on the political landscape. He is no stranger to the use of art as a political tool, with his research and the immersion in the community of Port Talbot for his 2011 performance The Passion, leading to more political engagement “as an absolutely natural progression”. Sheen has also been noted for his impassioned speeches, most notably in defence of the NHS in a 2015 march.
Suffice to say, he is not the first actor to consciously and publicly engage in politics. Within the last two years alone, Benedict Cumberbatch with his speeches on Syrian refugees, Leonardo Dicaprio with his Before The Flood documentary, Emma Watson with her HeForShe campaign, have used their fame in controversial ways to express their political beliefs.
If Sheen now wants to raise the stakes and commit to becoming an official representative of the people, good on him. He follows a well-trodden path here too: there are examples of Academy Award winning MPs (Glenda Jackson), Golden Globe Award winning Mayors (Clint Eastwood), and Hollywood Walk Of Fame starred Governors (Arnold Schwarzenegger). There have even been heads of government who have starred in films – Jarosław Kaczyński, Prime Minister of Poland, and Ronald Reagan, President of the United States.
Without delving into the inevitable discussion around President-elect (and star of The Apprentice) Donald Trump, we can nevertheless contemplate whether we are witnessing the end of career politicians. Although it is an idea that has been discussed for decades, if not centuries, it appears that public consciousness is notably rejecting representatives who have spent their entire lives devoted to politics, preferring those with ‘real world experience’.
This shift presents an opportunity for everyone, not just the privileged few who are able to dedicate their lives to politics. It allows for far fewer barriers to entry in politics, no matter your slant, and allows democracy to flourish, as the general public can have an input on how they want to be governed.
If anything, Sheen should inspire us all to get involved however we can, as we have access to direct input on a huge amount of political topics that affect us on an everyday basis – from neighbourhood community planning (Falmouth Neighbourhood Plan), local representation groups (FXU’s Make A Change) or national policy (petition.parliament.uk). Only by engaging with politics can we make it truly represent us. As Sheen himself succinctly concludes: “Our democracy must be defended and each of us needs to decide how we can contribute to that effort.”