Many actors would agree: When playing the part of a real-life person, especially someone who has impacted the masses and is still alive, the pressure is on.
And “The Special Relationship,” HBO’s telepic that pivots on the bond between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Clinton, is no different. As Blair, Michael Sheen was already at ease with his real-life character, having delivered two performances as the former PM (“The Deal,” “The Queen”), but Dennis Quaid and Hope Davis hadn’t yet attempted Mr. and Mrs. Clinton.
Quaid in particular never saw himself as Clinton, a figure more often portrayed by comedian Darrell Hammond on “Saturday Night Live.”
“I almost turned it down,” says Quaid. “I really had a fear of failure. I don’t really look like him; everything — mannerisms and everything else — is different. But I was offered (the role), and sometimes I feel like you should do the things you’re most afraid of. Fear is a great motivator.”
Quaid claims to have never gotten comfortable in the part, not even after shooting. But Davis wasted no time settling in as Hillary Clinton.
“I watched hours and hours of footage, just picking up bits of body language,” Davis says about her study of the former first lady. “I had help from Tim Monich, who is an amazing dialect coach; I had incredible teeth made. We did a lot of little things to try and put a physical appearance together and create the reality for people who watch the movie.”
Any challenge Sheen may have faced in his part as Blair was gone by his third turn in this series.
“Playing real-life characters, I spend as much time as I possibly can watching them, reading about them and listening to them so that I can slowly start to inhabit that character and it’s not an impersonation. You have to get beyond the whole surface stuff and begin thinking and feeling and reacting the way that character would, so it’s just about spending a long, long time with him.
“In the case of (‘The Special Relationship’), I actually met Blair. I got to be around him and watch him and be in the same room as him, which really affected how I played him.”