While ramps, wider doors and other necessities for people who get around in wheelchairs are part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, that doesn’t mean every public establishment provides easy access for people with disabilities. “Like for instance, what you find is that there might be a ramp there, but it’s a movable ramp so they have to have the opportunity,” explained Michael Sheen. “But you still might get somewhere and go, ‘I can’t get in,’ and then you have to wait. Then an assistant manager comes out, and then you go, ‘Hi, can you…?’ and they go, ‘Oh yeah, where’s that ramp?’ Or there’s a special entrance.
Like Richard always says, ‘If you’re living with a disability, you don’t feel disabled until there isn’t a ramp there, or until the door’s not wide enough.’ It’s other things that are manmade choices, things that actually people can make a difference about. It’s only those things that reflect your disability back to you, or the perceptions of other people.
One of the great things about Art as a character is that he doesn’t give a f--k what everyone thinks. He is who he is and other people have to deal with it. And that’s the source of his happiness and the source of his - what is attractive about him as a character is that it’s other people’s problem. He’s not disabled, he’s just Art, and other people have to deal with it. But when you get it reflected back to you, every time you want to go to the bathroom you have to have someone go and help you, it’s tough.”
Sheen shared one of his first experiences dealing with people who have cerebral palsy. “There's a daycare center for people with CP here in Santa Monica, and that was kind of my first port of call in terms of the research for doing the film, before I met Art. And I remember going down there and I'd called up -- we had arranged for me to go down. I said, ‘I just want to be able to, if it's okay, stand at the back of the room and just watch what's going on and all that. I'll just slip in. I won't get in anyone's way.’ ‘Yeah, fine.’
So I turn up at this place thinking I was just going to stand at the back and someone said, ‘Oh, we've been waiting for you. Everyone's waiting in the other room.’ ‘Okay.’ I walk into this room, and there is a big room with 50 people in these electronic wheelchairs all kind of CPing away, all waiting for me in a semicircle. And I had to stand there in the middle and go, ‘Hi, I'm Michael and I'm doing a film about...’ And then they all wanted to come up and say hello. It's overwhelming to be surrounded by 50 people who are like, you know, arms flailing, spit going everywhere, noises, all kinds of stuff. It's really overwhelming.
And then I got into one of the classes and it was a small class. It was about 6 or 7 people there of varying levels of extremity of CP. I would say within 15 minutes of being in that class, I stopped being in a room with people with CP and I was just in a room with people. You know, as extreme as it is and as difficult as it is to understand, once you kind of zone in and you start engaging with people in terms of what they're saying and what they're feeling and how they want to express themselves, you very quickly get past the other stuff, you know? So I think that's the key to it, that things change, people's perceptions change. It's just literally being around people more, just getting over the fear of the other, the fear of what is different. It's always going to scare us. And as soon as you get past all that... You know, I walked out of that center that first day and my perceptions had changed. Not because I had done anything. It was just literally by spending time with people.”
Looking Into the Future: Sheen’s about to revisit a very familiar character – Lucian from the Underworld vampire versus werewolf film franchise. He’ll be heading to New Zealand early next year for the next Underworld which will be a prequel to the first Underworld movie. “It's sort of more about the story that you saw in the first one of my character and the daughter of the head vampire. So it's kind of that kind of story, I guess,” said Sheen. “But that could all change.”