Great Moments in New York Theater: Michael Sheen in Amadeus
When I became obsessed with Amadeus, I picked up a copy of the play. I was acting then. It became my most fervent wish to play Mozart, a wish that never came true because I had stopped acting by the age of 25 or 26. 25, I think. It really just wasn’t for me. I did, though, really want to play the part; for I truly felt I understood him, truly felt I understood how.
I was wrong.
In 1999 the play Amadeus was revived on Broadway starring two English actors named David Suchet and Michael Sheen. The former was playing Antonio Salieri, the latter: Wolfgang Mozart. Pat and I had heard of both actors, in fact, even seen them in some movie roles. I never much cared for David Suchet (I cared for him even less after he earned the top spot for the nastiest celebrity I ever booked a photo shoot with – a story for another day) but I had always felt an affinity for Mr Sheen, since I first saw him playing Robbie Ross in the lovely film WILDE. My affinity for this beautiful actor has been growing through the years, most notably through performances as David Frost, Tony Blair and any other cast of characters. He is simply one of the great new actors to come out of the UK in last decade (give or take a year or two). However, my deep and abiding love of the man and his art is based, almost entirely, on the performance he gave in that revival of Amadeus. It was a performance that opened my eyes and reached inside of my heart and threw the “on” switch. He showed me what Mozart was all about; and why he had to go mad.
Maybe it is because, in 2000, when I saw the play, I had been beating my head against the pavement of New York, in the attempt to gain a little respect and some success. Oddly, when I went to Los Angeles to work, people treated me like I mattered; agents, managers and publicists took my calls, said yes to me and got me shoots with their star clients (so long as it wasn’t Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt or Cher I was asking for). When I visited London, artists invited me to do their photos in their dressing rooms, in their homes, on the streets of the city. Maggie Smith hugged me after our shoot – twice. In New York I couldn’t get people to take me seriously, couldn’t get people to pay me for my work, couldn’t get publicists to line me up with their stars for my book, couldn’t get publishers to publish my book. I felt every inch the failure.
In Act Two of Amadeus, I watched Wolgang Mozart fall apart because he believed in his work so much that, each time one of his operas closed after half a dozen performances, he died. Not every day a little death was it; every hour a lot of death. I saw it happening as he began to question himself, his artistry, the music that was his children. His devastation and confusion, his self loathing and despair – these are the things that drove him mad. As much I had loved Tom Hulce’s work in the film Amadeus, I never saw that. Maybe it is because, at the time, I was a child of 20; at the time, I didn’t know how it felt to be a failure. In 2000, I was 35 and I knew how it felt. I knew what Wolfgang Mozart was feeling when he questioned himself and his work. I don’t dare compare myself to that musical genius or even the thespian one that was playing him; I merely say that the journey each artist takes is similar in this manner. I saw the madness and the reason for it and, in those moments, I became the man on the stage… the MEN on the stage. The brilliant Michael Sheen had taken me out of my seat, out of my life, and dropped me onto the stage of the Music Box, into the role of Mozart, where I agonized over defeat.
What more could an actor ask for?