Why does Michael Sheen keep coming back to the Underworld?

Michael Sheen, all cleaned up as Tony Blair in The Queen.

There's just no keeping a good werewolf down.

In Underworld: Rise of the Lycans—the third installment of the vampires-vs.-werewolves franchise—Lucian, the Lycan leader played by Michael Sheen, is back again, despite having died in the first Underworld movie.

That's because Lycans is a prequel, and Lucian is now the central character, contending with the cruel vampire king Viktor (Bill Nighy, also back from the earlier films) and making the acquaintance of the gorgeous, sword-wielding vampire named Sonja (Rhona Mitra).

Sheen is also back, despite having moved on to such acclaimed films as The Queen and Frost/Nixon, for which he is getting serious Oscar buzz.

SCI FI Wire recently caught up with Sheen for an exclusive interview about the Jan. 23 release. Following are edited excerpts of the conversation.

You've been working on some very serious, Oscar-worthy films lately, such as The Queen and Frost/Nixon. Did your agents say, "Michael, do you really want to go do an Underworld prequel?"

Sheen: No, no, not at all. They know that I'm very passionate about the Underworld films. I'm a huge fan of sci-fi and fantasy and that kind of stuff, and I love these Underworld films. I love the world of it and the characters and the passion of the fans for it. I had a great time making this last one. I saw it for the first time yesterday, and I really enjoyed it. It's really good fun.

In your own words, give us the basic setup of Rise of the Lycans.

Sheen: This one is a prequel, of course, because I died at the end of the first one. So they had to come up with very clever ways to get me back in them again. This one is a prequel, and it shows the life of my character, Lucian, and how [he] became the man, or the Lycan, that he is in the first film. So it shows the story that you saw in some flashback bits in the first film. We see that whole story now of forbidden love.

And your forbidden lover is Sonja. How did you enjoy working with Rhona?

Sheen: She's done a few films where she's had to wield a sword of some kind. She's an incredibly good physical actress. Rhona was fantastic.

What do you get to do on this one that you'd not done in the previous two Underworld films?

Sheen: I suppose that the love story allows you to see a much more tender, sensitive side to Lucian. There's much more of a journey there for him in this piece. He begins the film with Viktor, Bill Nighy's character, asking him, "How does it feel to kill your own kind?" And he is someone who is in denial of his own nature at that point. The journey of the film for him is one of accepting that, of accepting who he is and this power that he has, this sort of wild side of himself that he's felt ashamed of for a long time. So it's a great journey for the character.

What are the chances you've played Lucian for the last time? And how interested would you be in reprising the character again?

Sheen: There is a limit on how much I can do it, because I do keep getting older. Given that he died at the end of the first one, that's the oldest he ever looked. So the older I get, the harder it is for me to do it. I guess they'll see how well this one goes down and see if they can keep going with it. I'd love to do it, but it's dependent, I guess, on how well this one does. You never know. I'd love to play Lucian as an older werewolf. I think he'd be great with white hair. I think it'd be fantastic, but we'd have to come up with some loophole in the logic of the Underworld story to let that happen.

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