However his role as Mr Woodhouse – the anxious, hypochondriac father of Emma Woodhouse in Sandy Welch's BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's comical novel, Emma – is a first for the acclaimed actor.
It is the only Jane Austen adaptation that the Irish-born actor has worked on in a career spanning some 50 years, which has seen him play in classics such as Othello and Macbeth and saw him hand-picked by Laurence Oliver as one of the founding actors of the National Theatre Company back in the Sixties.
Michael doesn't claim to be well-read on all of the classics – in fact he admits to not knowing the original story of Emma or much about Jane Austen.
"I didn't know Jane Austen nor had I read the books," he says.
"I have been in five Harry Potter films and never read a Harry Potter book! If you are an actor all you have is the script you are given. If you read the book you might get disappointed about what's been left out. All you have got is the script so I think it's safer just to follow that – well that's my excuse for not reading the book!
"If you obey the writer it will play the part for you – that's the same with every role.
However, any lack of familiarity with Austen's original text certainly didn't deter Michael from taking to Sandy Welch's script adaptation immediately and also enjoying the experience immensely.
"It's been one of the happiest things I have ever been in! It was a flawless, very happy experience and we all got on like a house on fire – all of the actors. That's quite an unusual thing.
"Sandy's dialogue is very good. It's quite complicated dialogue for the period – I like the way she writes. There is no modern stuff in it. It's quite accurate for the period and it's a good, intriguing story. Emma grows up and becomes a woman of the world in the end."
With fresh eyes on the character the star of Harry Potter and Gosford Park was able to inject his very own interpretation on the complex character that is Mr Woodhouse.
"He is a bit old-fashioned and stuck in a time warp, and during the film he changes and becomes more aware that Emma has to go and he can't continue like this. He becomes more worldly.
"He is living in a society where germs are everywhere, unlike today. In those days there was no medicine, no cure for anything so he is panic-stricken about someone getting sick or falling down or getting a cold. I suppose many people must have been like that, we think it's unusual but it must have been quite common then."
On the root of Mr Woodhouse's insecurities, and his dependency on his young daughter Emma, Michael says: "He is frightened of being alone. I think it was a lot to do with losing his wife and the fear that the same thing might happen to his children. He doesn't want Emma to run away and for him to be left alone in that house with no one to look after him. I suppose he is a bit selfish in the way older people can be.
"It's not evident he ever feels guilty about it though. Maybe he does at the end when he realises that the girl has got to go free and fly away. Maybe then he realises what he has been doing all of these years.
"Emma is quite an independent strong-willed girl. I suppose she doesn't want to go down the road that other women of her age go down; she is a bit of a loner and likes to have control. That's her journey through the story."
And the actor, whose next role will see him back at the National Theatre in a play by Alan Bennett, has a fatherly affection for Emma's character: "She is very bright, hugely intelligent. I think it wouldn't have mattered what happened. She'd always be on the right path, I think."more on the BBC's upcoming production of Emma