Michael Sheen on playing Chris Tarrant in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? drama

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Actor Michael Sheen has revealed he was avoiding playing real people before being tempted to transform into TV host Chris Tarrant.

Sheen is known for his unerring portrayals of high-profile figures including former prime minster Tony Blair and football manager Brian Clough,

His latest role sees him taking on Tarrant in ITV drama Quiz, which explores the infamous Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? cheating scandal.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Michael Sheen will play Chris Tarrant in ITV drama Quiz (Matt Frost/ITV/PA)</figcaption>
Michael Sheen will play Chris Tarrant in ITV drama Quiz (Matt Frost/ITV/PA)

Major Charles Ingram – who will be played by Succession’s Matthew Macfadyen – was accused alongside his wife Diana – Fleabag’s Sian Clifford – and a third man of using an elaborate coughing system to defraud the show and win the £1 million prize.

Sheen said he was lured back into playing a real character by the “extraordinary” series.

Speaking via a video link at an event in Pasadena, California, he said: “I’ve been more resistant to playing real people for a while now because I became so known for it, but this project I just loved. The story was so extraordinary.”

Sheen, 50, opted against heavy make-up or prosthetics to play Tarrant, who was a similar age when the so-called “coughing major” scandal broke in 2001.

Instead, Sheen, who recently dyed his hair to star in fantasy series Good Omens, wore a blonde wig.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? host Chris Tarrant arriving at court to give evidence in the cheating scandal that rocked the show (Stefan Rousseau/PA)</figcaption>
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? host Chris Tarrant arriving at court to give evidence in the cheating scandal that rocked the show (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“When I’ve played real people, characters based on other people, I’ve never wanted to get into the sticking things on your face,” he said.

“I try to do as little of that as possible because on the one hand it tends to draw attention to how much you don’t look like the person. And I just find it restrictive.

“We just went with a wig and having had my hair bleached blonde for Good Omens for six months, I wasn’t going down that road again. So we went for the wig. And the wig does all the heavy lifting, really.”

Sheen said he intensely watched Tarrant’s performances on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? especially the two episodes featuring Ingram.

“The more i watched the Charles Ingram episodes the more, I realised how brilliant Tarrant was, he said.

Sian Clifford

Sian Clifford features as Diana Ingram in a TV drama adaptation of the infamous Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? cheating scandal (Ian West/PA)

“We know he was brilliant at it because it was such a huge success, and he was loved during it. But to watch it really forensically and to see just what he’s doing there, he’s kind of running the show.”

Sheen described Tarrant as an “extraordinary conductor” adding: “I had a real new-found respect for what he did on that show.”

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? was one of the most popular shows on TV when the Ingrams were accused of attempting to cheat it.

Prosecutors alleged the couple and their accomplice Tecwen Whittock used a coughing system to cheat their way to the grand prize, with the major in the hot seat listening out for cues from the audience when he read out the correct answer.

All three were found guilty following a high-profile 2003 trial at Southwark Crown Court, though doubt remains over their guilt.

ITV’s Quiz is a three-part series directed by Stephen Frears, whose other credits include The Queen and A Very English Scandal.

Aisling Bea and Helen McCrory will also star. The script has been written by James Graham, whose play of the same name ran in the West End.

Quiz is due to air on ITV later this year.