Michael Sheen: Our culture is obsessed with serial killers

Michael Sheen has said that the reason people are fascinated by stories about murderers is because “they are our predators”.

The actor, 52, said that our culture is “obsessed” by serial killers.

The popularity of fiction about the threat they pose to society “is a way of being able to somehow acclimatise ourselves to the things that terrify us about our world”, he added.

Graham Norton Show – London
Graham Norton Show – London

Sheen was speaking ahead of the broadcast of the series Prodigal Son, in which he plays a convicted serial killer, in the UK.

The actor said that being interested in killers is rational.

“I think there’s an element of it is probably a good idea for sheep to take an interest in wolves or foxes, because they literally prey on us,” he said.

“So serial killers are our predators, they are one of our predators.

“We are sort of interested in films about sharks as well, aren’t we, and we are interested in anything that will kill us and there’s probably a good reason for that.”

Stories which feature characters that pose a threat to humans also reveal things about ourselves, the Quiz star said.

Pride Of Britain Awards 2018 – London
Pride Of Britain Awards 2018 – London

Predatory characters can take on a “bogeyman element” he said, adding: “I think we also like to think about the dark and the monster being out there, but we know that the monster is in here, we know that it is us.

“As well as it being the other, it is also about us as well and that is a way to engage with the darkness in us that we don’t really want to admit to a lot of the time.

“We can engage with it by making it outside of ourselves, so I think there’s lots of things going on in this genre.”

Prodigal Son sees Sheen play convicted murder Martin Whitly, whose son is tasked with investigating a copycat killer who is mimicking his father’s methods.

Castle Community Bank opening
Castle Community Bank opening

Sheen said he researched murderers including Harold Shipman and Ted Bundy for the part.

He said his character’s “biggest weapon” is his ability to be funny and amiable.

“People like him and warm to him and enjoy his company and he has cultivated that because he wants people to let their defences down,” Sheen said.

“If he can make you laugh, he knows he can manipulate you… and if he can get you to drop your defences he can kill you if he seduces you in that way.”

The series has previously aired in the US.

Prodigal Son airs on Sky One and Now TV on Tuesday.