More often than not these days, when an actor makes headlines it’s largely a result of some kind of scandal. Such is our penchant for gossip it appears, that those headlines we gravitate towards are often those that spell some kind of conflict or trouble for the characters involved. But thanks to Michael Sheen, an actor who has played some of film’s most iconic and celebrated roles, we now have a good news story. Sheen has declared himself a “not-for-profit actor”, having sold his houses and given the proceeds to charity.
At 52, the actor and activist experienced something of a turning point after organising the 2019 Homeless World Cup in Cardiff. When funding for the 2 million pound project fell through at the last moment, Sheen sold his own houses in an effort to bankroll it. “I had a house in America and a house here and I put those up and just did whatever it took,” he told the Big Issue for their ‘Letter to My Younger Self.’ Sheen added, “It was scary and incredibly stressful. I’ll be paying for it for a long time.”
But when he came out “the other side,” Sheen realised he could do these kinds of things and, should he keep earning money, find that it also wouldn’t ruin him. He’s now pledged to carry on using the money he earns from his acting pursuits to fund more projects that champion community and are more accessible for all.
“There was something quite liberating about going, all right, I’ll put large amounts of money into this or that, because I’ll be able to earn it back again. I’ve essentially turned myself into a social enterprise, a not-for-profit actor.”
Sheen has long concerned himself with social enterprises and activism. In 2017, he set up the End High Cost Credit Alliance to help people find more affordable ways of borrowing money. He also pledged over 50,000 pounds over five years to fund a bursary to help Welsh students go to Oxford University. As well as this, Sheen is a patron of a number of British charities.
But while the Homeless World Cup was certainly instrumental in shifting Sheen’s perspective, perhaps it was a 72-hour production of The Passion through the streets of his hometown Port Talbot in 2011 that proved most significant. “I got to know people and organisations within my hometown that I didn’t know existed. Little groups who were trying to help young carers, who had just enough funding to make a tiny difference to a kid’s life by putting on one night a week where they could get out and go bowling or watch a film and just be a kid.”
He added, “I would come back to visit three or four months later, and find out that funding had gone and that organisation didn’t exist anymore.”
It was then that Sheen realised the importance of funding, and the difference it could make to someone’s life. “I wanted to help those people. I didn’t just want to be a patron or a supportive voice, I wanted to actually do more than that. That’s when I thought, I need to go back and live in Wales again.”