"A gung-ho Candide with a taste for places it is wiser to avoid. . . the reports collected in 'I Wouldn't Start From Here' are graphic, comic, bemused and properly contemptuous of faith and ideology."
- Jonathan Meades, Books of the Year, Evening Standard
"An utterly sui generis report from the world's plague-spots."
- Michael Bywater, Books of the Year, New Statesman
"I can think of no more entertaining companion on a perilous journey than the ever hopeful, wildly optimistic yet clear-thinking Andrew Mueller."
- Rory MacLean, The Guardian
"A tour-de-force of hilarious, harrowing and ultimately enlightening reportage that will remind readers of the work of P.J. O'Rourke, Jon Ronson and David Foster Wallace."
- The Washington Times
"Unafraid to portray the world's warring people not just as victims and sufferers of legitimate grievances, but also as bloody-minded bastards and ill-informed fools."
- The Kathmandu Post
"A mix of dark humour and incisive political discourse."
- CNN Go
"His sardonic, self-deprecating perspective makes for unstuffy company."
- The Los Angeles Times
"Peppered with trenchant observations that reflect a nimble, cut-to-the-chase practicality, Mueller's interviews with everyone from terrorist warlords to international peacemakers are refreshingly irreverent yet astute."
"Travel writing in the danger zone that maintains its hipness and humanity."
- George Dunford, Books of the Year, Readings Monthly
"An addition to the genre founded by P.J. O'Rourke's 'Holidays In Hell', but it is one that pushes the boundaries."
- The Australian
"Mueller is the embodiment of what can happen with a fire in the belly and a desire to write out loud."
- Australian Book Review
"Mueller's travel writing is as incisive and entertaining as anything he's ever written about music."
- Financial Times
- The New Statesman
"Alternately chilling, funny and surprising, there's some great reportage here as Mueller struggles to reach an understanding of the world, quizzing the highest minister and the lowliest peasant."
- The Glasgow Herald
"His acerbic wit is matched by true empathy. . . we need this kind of gonzo journalism more than ever."
"Mueller spins what could have been the grimmest geopolitics into the finest black comedy. Like a print version of 'The Daily Show'."
"Lively reporting from a gently humorous narrator."
- Chris Ayres, The Times
"Touching, often blackly comic reportage."
"Brilliantly observed, articulate, often funny and immensely readable."
- The List
"Snappy, self-deprecating and sometimes outright hilarious."
- The Age
"Indelibly humorous and heartfelt."
- Sydney Sunday Telegraph
"An instructive ricochet between cities and continents and war zones."
- Time Out
"He brings to his material the mixture of rage and earthy irony that is the mark of a great satirist
. . . rewarding, thought-provoking and ludicrously funny."
"Mueller's book is an excellent example of why today's brave, lucid hacks are forced to admit fear and confusion."
- South China Morning Post
"His reporting is sharp, his experiences terrifying and funny."
- Melbourne Herald-Sun
"If you enjoy your international affairs and politics with a good dose of cynicism and black humour, then this book is one to read."
- Brisbane Courier-Mail
"Often laugh-out-loud funny, the writing is utterly engaging."
- Launceston Sunday Examiner
"Mueller's irreverent reportage from abroad is fundamentally a clever cover for the author's ruminations on race, religion, revolution, rock'n'roll and other important issues since September 11, 2001."
- The West Australian
"As hilarious and sardonic a host as this ridiculous world of ours demands."
"Mueller busies himself with finding the odd, the surreal and the laughable as much as the shocking and upsetting."
- New Zealand Herald
"A real eye for surreal moments of black humour. . . Mueller's work here digs much deeper than the standard newspaper travel essay."
- Sydney Sun-Herald
"His best story, about his brief, bizarre jailing in Cameroon, reads like a 21st century 'Goon Show' script."
- Good Reading
"A rollicking ride through some of the world's scariest scenarios."
- Kalgoorlie Miner
"A strikingly funny book about some seriously unfunny places."
- Perth Sunday Times
"Not bad for a guy from Wagga Wagga."
- The Wagga Wagga Advertiser
"Andrew Mueller's piece about my band's tour with The Hold Steady is my favourite thing ever written about us. The fact that he is a war correspondent (though he claims otherwise) and music journalist and
approaches both with a similar slant makes him one of the most interesting
writers out there to me."
- Patterson Hood, Drive-By Truckers
"The most important critical anthology on popular music from a single author in a long time, its humour and insight equal with collections by Nick Tosches or Robert Palmer."
- KEXP Seattle
"The most enjoyable travel book of 2010."
- Sydney Morning Herald
"Take one part P.J. O'Rourke, a healthy dose of Lester Bangs and a dash of Hunter S. Thompson, and you've got Andrew Mueller."
"This is a wonderful, exuberant and eccentric collection of articles."
- The Sydney Morning Herald
"Sharply observed and wittily constructed."
- Honolulu Star-Advertiser
"Andrew Mueller plays the hapless hack brilliantly, with lashings of irreverence and self-deprecating humour."
- The Age
"New edition of the rock classic."
- NY Press
"Mueller's humour makes for some enlightening reading."
- Biloxi-Gulfport Sun-Herald
"Sharp, witty and sarcastic."
- Chicago Tribune
"Equally hilarious and insightful music journalism and foreign correspondence."
- The Vine
"Gonzo journalism at its finest."
"Really rather good, in a barnstorming, country-punk sort of way. . . a highly capable ensemble."
- The Quietus
"Guaranteed to raise a chuckle, if not a tear."
"A more than capable debut - allusive country-tough songs."
"The Blazing Zoos are undoubtedly fun, but they also have depth. . .
everything from Mueller's extensive use of brackets to the band's loving
recreation of classic country riffs bespeaks sincerity."
- Americana UK
BLAIRS AND GRACES
Michael Sheen interview
The Independent, December 2003
A FEW nights before this interview took place, at London media haunt Soho House, Michael Sheen had a dream.
“I was on a bus in London,” he says, “sitting on the top deck, and Tony Blair got on and sat a few seats away, but facing me. And I thought ‘Look, Tony Blair, on a bus, that’s fantastic,’ and then I realised it was a photo opportunity thing, and there were all these press people downstairs. Then he saw me, and knew it was me, and that I’d played him, and he gave me a smile, as if to say ‘You cheeky bastard’. That’s the closest I’ve got to actually meeting him.”
One would require only the barest pass in Psychology from the University of Armchair to read reams into this. There is the preoccupation with power, and what draws people to it, and what it turns them into: aside from his celebrated turn as Blair in Stephen Frears’ Channel 4 drama “The Rivals”, Sheen has played Henry V and Caligula on the stage; later, he’ll tell me that the one he always really fancied was Alexander the Great (Colin Farrell and Leonardo DiCaprio have beaten him to it, in rival productions shortly to begin shooting). There is the scrutiny of the media: in the last year, Sheen has been introduced to his widest audience yet, in the most disagreeable circumstances imaginable, as tabloids on both sides of the Atlantic made sport of the breakdown of his relationship with Kate Beckinsale – mother of Sheen’s four-year-old daughter, Lily – and her subsequent engagement to Len Wiseman, the director of “Underworld”, in which both Beckinsale and Sheen appeared. And there’s the easy, self-deprecating charm: Sheen is funny, affable and singularly unpleased with himself. Last month, he collected the Best Actor gong at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, for his starring role in the Donmar Warehouse’s “Caligula”. The nominees he tipped out were Kenneth Branagh and Warren Mitchell.
“Do you ever,” he wonders, “lose the sense that you’re still sort of getting away with it? Does that ever leave you? The person who wins Best Actor. . . they’re always really established, a leading light. I felt a complete fraud. Not about the production I was part of, because I thought it was terrific. But in that setting, you do feel that someone’s going to go ‘No, there’s been a dreadful mistake. You haven’t won it. Ken Branagh has. He always does’.”
SHEEN’S latest film, Richard Donner’s “Timeline”, is not award-winning stuff. It’s a pacey, mildly entertaining, but fundamentally silly matinee romp based on the Michael Crichton novel. The premise is that an archaeology professor, played by Billy Connolly, disappears via a space-time wormhole into 14th century France, so a posse of his students, accompanied by his son, go travelling back through time to rescue him. Events unfold with entrancing predictability. The peripheral cast die in the order you expect, the bad guys get it – literally – in the neck, and after a few narrow scrapes, our heroes make it home, other than the drippy one with the beard who you just knew, about 10 minutes in, was going to opt to stay in a castle shacked up with Anna Friel.
Sheen plays the bad guy – a swaggering, obnoxious, inevitably English nobleman, Sir Oliver de Vannes, a hybrid of Richard III and Rik Mayall’s Lord Flashheart from “Blackadder II”. Sheen clearly has a whale of a time, striding the castle walls during the undeniably spectacular battle set-pieces, and swashing his buckle – or buckling his swash, whichever it is – with aplomb when the forces of good (the French, oddly) come crashing through his portcullis.
“The films I’ve done in Hollywood so far,” he says, “have all been things you wanted to do when you were 12, stuff you used to play in your bedroom. There was ‘Four Feathers’, where I got to be a soldier on a horse in the desert, and that was great. In ‘Underworld’, I got to jump around and be a werewolf. And in ‘Timeline’, they built the entire castle for the film. I remember standing on the battlements shouting ‘Fire!’, and seeing blazing arrows flying overhead. Great fun. Really, I could have spent the entire time doing swordfights, which I loved.”
It can’t be easy, in those circumstances, to entirely banish the spectre of “Monty Python & The Holy Grail”.
“No,” he agrees. “It’s never far away. You do keep finding yourself wanting to go ‘Ni!’.”
Sir Oliver isn’t much more than a standard-issue pantomime villain, but he is in keeping with some of Sheen’s most significant roles: Blair, Caligula, Henry V (with the RSC). Does he, I wonder, worry that he’s becoming typecast as a dysfunctional leader with delusions of grandeur? Especially during the period earlier this year, when he was being Blair by day, doing shoots for “The Deal”, and Caligula by night at the Donmar, doubtless struggling to reconcile the relative wisdom of making one’s horse a consul or John Prescott one’s Deputy Prime Minister.
“There is an element of performance to leadership,” says Sheen, “because you’re on public display, and I suppose I must be attracted to that. Although, probably more than the leadership, I’m more attracted to characters who are quite extreme, and could be considered borderline monsters. It’s something you can get your teeth into, and I find the psychology fascinating. It’s interesting that in searching for monsters to play, you often end up playing leaders.”
Do you start to pick up on things they have in common?
“With Caligula, definitely, if he hadn’t been an emperor I doubt he would have become the person he was, so in that case it was the position that spurred the psychosis. With Blair, from everything I’ve read, his personality changed to a large extent after he became prime minister. Which I guess is the pressure of being a leader.”
The success of “The Deal” owed much to its casting – David Morrissey playing Gordon Brown as a rumbling volcano in a suit, Sheen absolutely inhabiting Blair as an earnest, intelligent, faintly creepy opportunist. Sheen’s task would have been far more difficult than that of a Rory Bremner, whose job is to exaggerate, to caricature. I imagine that Sheen must be plagued by people asking him to do a bit of Blair.
“Once in a while,” he says, sounding abashed, and suddenly very Welsh. “I never would, because I was never confident about it. But I feel I have this strange kinship with him now. Whenever I watch people doing impressions of him, I find myself going ‘Oooh, that’s not right,’ or ‘Yes, that’s very good’. At the Evening Standard awards, Rory Bremner was presenting, and after I’d got my award and come off stage he said ‘By the way – great Tony,’ which was praise indeed.”
Do you know if Blair saw “The Deal”?
“Blair and Brown and Mandelson all say they haven’t seen it. But they must have. A party that is so aware of their public image would have to have seen it. Actually, at the Evening Standard awards I was sitting next to Peter Mandelson. The first thing he said was ‘I haven’t seen it. I have it on DVD, but I don’t have a DVD player, so I haven’t watched it’. . .”
I don’t know whether Sheen has put much work into it, but his Mandelson is, also, unnervingly good.
“And, you know, bollocks,” he giggles. “Because he then said ‘But from the clips I’ve seen, and what people have told me,’ and proceeded to critique the whole thing scene by scene. I think he wanted to say that Brown isn’t as noble as the film puts forward, and that Blair isn’t as manipulative. One thing he wanted to say was that on the day John Smith dies, in our piece Brown is constantly working on writing obituaries, and Blair calls Mandelson and says they need to meet to talk about the leadership. Mandelson told me that someone did call him that day about the leadership, but it was Brown, not Blair. But, you know, everyone’s got an agenda.”
SHEEN was born in Port Talbot (also the birthplace, he proudly reminds, of Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins) 35 years ago in February. Sheen’s family still live there – his father, wonderfully, is a part-time Jack Nicholson impersonator – but Sheen doesn’t see as much of Wales as he’d like. For the last year or so, since his split with Beckinsale, he has lived partly with friends in Kilburn – he has ambitions of buying something in London – and partly in a rented place in Los Angeles, a city he doesn’t sound keen on.
“Not hugely, no. My daughter’s there, which is why I’m there.”
Sheen seems commendably indifferent to the tabloid ballyhoo incited by the breakup (“The coverage was because of Kate – she’s much more famous than I am”), but I’d wondered whether having your personal traumas turned into such a circus might, in some way, help. After all, when such things happen to we mortals, we do feel like it’s the most important thing going on in the world – possibly, indeed, in all of human history – when the truth is that nobody but us, or as many friends as can stand listening to us, gives a hoot. Does knowing that millions of people are interested somehow – I dunno – validate it?
“No,” he laughs, “because nobody’s really that interested. It’s just something that fills newspapers. People have a superficial reaction, but nobody really cares that much. What I found it did do was it sped the whole process up. I saw a picture of Kate, with Len, with my daughter there as well, and that’s upsetting, but you have to deal with it, and quickly. In some ways, that’s good, because you have to get through a lot of shit that you’d take longer to deal with if it wasn’t in the newspapers. But mostly, yes, it is quite shocking.”
Sheen can also be seen now in “Bright Young Things”, Stephen Fry’s adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s “Vile Bodies”. He’s also finished work on “Laws Of Attraction”, in which he plays a rock star – another adolescent fantasy ticked off – who he winningly describes as “a mish-mash of David Bowie and Lou Reed, but very stupid”. He reckons he’s in the running for Ridley Scott’s soon-to-be-shot film about the crusades, and he’s doing some writing of his own, a 13th century Welsh historical drama.
“It has been exciting, learning the history,” he says. “I’m thinking of doing a crash course in Welsh, as well. I’m also playing Dylan Thomas next year. And that made me think about a trilogy of iconic Welsh figures. Dylan Thomas, Richard Burton. Then Shirley Bassey.”
The last is a joke, the first a job that Sheen might have been born for – aside from the Converse sneakers, he looks the part, artistically dishevelled, dressed in black. It’s the middle of these three names which offers the best clue as to where this bright and versatile actor could be heading. Sheen has already filled Burton’s shoes in a couple of roles – Jimmy Porter in “Don’t Look Back In Anger”, Henry V – and nobody drew unflattering comparisons. A bigger part, as the third face, alongside Burton and Hopkins on the thespian Rushmore contributed by Port Talbot, would appear to be Sheen’s for the taking.
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