|13 November 1992
Terrorist Sean turns to crime as Hollywood beckons
SEAN BEAN makes little concession to success. Home is a council house in a
London suburb, his best friends are the mates he grew up with on a council
estate in Sheffield and he returns there as often as possible.
He starred in one of the hits of 1992, playing the terrorist stalking
Harrison Ford in Patriot Games, has just finished portraying the gamekeeper in
Ken Russell's ú4million film of Lady Chatterley's Lover and is now snowed under
with offers from a very keen Hollywood.
His one extravagance, a Jaguar, is the kind of car that would certainly
get you noticed on a council estate but Sean is happy to let wife Melanie Hill,
the second Aveline in TV's Bread, be the star accepting the recognition of fans
whenever they step out with daughters Lorna, five, and Molly, one.
'It's usually my wife who gets noticed on the street which is fine by me
although I'm not a recluse in sunglasses. Fame has been a gradual thing for me.
It did not happen with any one thing. It was an accumulation of roles,' he says.
'It was hard when I started. I've had periods of unemployment. Mel and I
lived in a bedsit. I've toured the provinces staying in dingy boarding houses.
'I've felt I've really taken off in the last three years. I'm still
prudent with money. We don't go out partying or to restaurants, although we do
buy our food at M & S now.
'We moved into our three-bedroom council house in Muswell Hill just
before Lorna was born. I don't take particular pride in living in a council
house but there's nothing wrong in it. I like it round here. It's quiet. We're
thinking about buying a house now for the kids' sake.
'My only extravagance is my Jaguar. I've wanted one ever since I was a
kid. It's light green to match my eyes,' says 33-year-old Sean with a grin. He
has kept the soft Northern accent of his childhood: 'I like the way I talk. I
don't see why I should change it except when I need to for a role.'
He needed to for Fool's Gold, a film-length dramatisation of the Brinks-
Mat gold bullion robbery, which is screened on ITV tomorrow evening and in which
he plays London gang boss Mike McAvoy. While preparing the role, he made a
point of not visiting McAvoy, who was jailed for 25 years in 1984, and is in a
secure unit at Whitemore Prison in Cambridgeshire.
'I would rather just do what was set out in the script. It's made up of
different pieces of information including evidence given in Court. Most of the
things in it are true,' says Sean.
THE FILM shows McAvoy planning the theft from a security warehouse at
Heathrow, using an inside man, and expecting to pull ú1million in cash. When the
raid was carried out on November 23, 1983, the gang got away with ú26million
worth of gold bars en route to Asia.
The police later recovered UKL20million in cash and goods but only 11 of the
6,800 gold bars were recovered. It is said that anyone who bought jewellery in
Britain after 1984 may be wearing Brinks-Mat gold.
Despite the brutality of the armed raid, Sean has some sympathy for
McAvoy, who refused to say who his accomplices were, even though it would have
meant a reduction in his sentence.
'McAvoy is stuck in prison with years and years to go,' says Sean. 'You
get people raping and killing kids and they get out much sooner and, to me, that
is a complete injustice.
'McAvoy was very determined. I suppose once you've made up your mind to
do it 100 per cent, there's no point in shrinking back.
'He was a hard man but everyone has got a soft side. He obviously loved
'I don't usually take my work home with me but with this part I started
talking a bit different, a bit Cockney. It was so intensive.
'The most chilling moment was when I saw myself in the mirror wearing a
'There's an environment McAvoy grew up in, which is South London, and I
could identify with that having grown up in a close community myself.
'When I was growing up, I had to assert myself and find my place in the
hierarchy. It was hard and it was sometimes violent but not with knives and
things you get now. There was no drugs-related violence.
'My family live in the same house where I was brought up. We were given a
good grounding in life. We had fist fights, we used to play football, swing on
trees, spend time sitting about in fields, making dens.'
Although Sean squirms a bit when talking about emotions, he reveals his
romantic side when he says of his childhood: 'It was like that film Kes in a
He didn't enjoy school - 'although I was popular, a tearaway' - leaving at
16 with two O levels, and joining his father's welding business.
'All the time I was thinking about things I really wanted to do. I had to
get out, to do something myself. As a teenager there was a bit of distance
between me and my family but I'm close to them now. My father came from nothing and he keeps his old values.
'I don't want to interfere in my parents' lives and I don't want to
patronise them but if I could ever help, maybe financially, and they needed it,
then I'd like to.
'I still go back and everyone knows me. My old friends there are now
tradesmen, builders, carpenters, welders.'
Sean made the leap into a different kind of life by giving up welding,
going to art school where he became interested in acting, and finally training
at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he met Melanie.
Along the way his first marriage split up. 'I got married to Deborah very
young, about 20, because that was the thing to do. Maybe down in London it's the
trendy thing not to get married until later but all my pals in Sheffield were
When Sean went to RADA, Deborah remained in Sheffield and the marriage
quietly disintegrated. He married Melanie in February 1990. She wore white, he
wore a ring in his left ear and their eldest daughter was their bridesmaid.
'With Mel, I eventually got married just because I wanted to. It was a
BEING MARRIED to an actress means that his wife understands the demands of
the job, such as love scenes with beautiful actresses. When he played Mellors
the gamekeeper opposite Joely Richardson as Lady Chatterley (the ú4million BBC
film will be shown next year) all the seduction scenes were filmed over a five-
day period. Was that a difficult week for his wife?
'She didn't get worried or jealous. She understands. Mind you, all my
mates pulled my leg. I don't get embarrassed because lovemaking is a very
natural act. For a while it felt odd to be stark naked, then I got used to it.
'The most important thing is to treat it as a job. It's a mistake for
actors to fall for their leading lady. I wouldn't want to bring my working life
into my personal life like that.'
Exposure of a different kind was guaranteed with the release of the film
Patriot Games two months ago. It has been a huge box office success across the
Having often watched Harrison Ford on screen, Sean admits it was an 'eye-
opener' to work with him, even if their first conversation was somewhat prosaic.
'We met in a basement in London where part of the film was shot. We talked
about haircuts and how he was going to have his hair for the film. I wasn't in
awe of him. He was good to work with, intelligent.'
Sean has come a long way since he was a rebellious schoolboy, whose pet
hate was Shakespeare. He learned to enjoy the Bard at RADA and later was a
leading player for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Sean may be proud of the distance he has travelled, but he's even prouder
of his roots. As he says: 'I never felt I had to prove anything.'
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