Heads up! Martin Sheen
will play hooky from The West Wing
's Oval Office to call the shots on a high school basketball court when the teen drama O
hits theaters April 27. "It's a modern version of Shakespeare's Othello
," the actor tells TV Guide Online. "A guy named O is this magnificent black high school basketball player who's in love with a white girl."
Proving what a small town Hollywood is, it turns out the lead hoopster's portrayer, Mekhi Phifer, is pals with Dule Hill, who toils away in The West Wing as Sheen's presidential aide, Charlie. "There's a lot of kids in this who I didn't know, man!" admits Sheen, who was chosen Actor of the Year in a Drama Series at the TV Guide Awards, airing March 7 on Fox (8 pm/ET). Even so, the veteran thesp seems awestruck by his younger colleagues: "Julia Stiles (Save the Last Dance) plays Desdemona and my son, Hugo, is played by this young guy, Josh Hartnett (Pearl Harbor). He's a big star [he] reminds me of James Dean."
Sheen drives the film's Bard-inspired teen treachery as a gym teacher from hell. "They call me Coach Duke," he grins. "He's like Bobby Knight. He's not like Phil Jackson, calm and deliberate. No, no, no... he's out there yelling and screaming and pushing. His son is troubled and the father's not listening."
The actor can't praise O director Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) enough though he does insist on leaking one of Nelson's trade secrets. "They practiced these basketball sequences for weeks with real high-school level basketball players," Sheen chuckles. "But they lowered the net a foot. You can't tell the way it's shot, but it's so the kids can dunk."