|Source: Daily Express - Saturday Review
April 16, 1994
He likes soccer, a pint with his mates, and thinks a wife's role is to raise
Wendy Oberman talks to Sean Bean
Sean Bean has taken up a lot of column inches in his 34 years and there is
always one recurring theme. This is a man who is a difficult subject. He
understands that one of the tools of his trade is the need to let the
journalist see "the man behind the role". Contractually, he has to do the
publicity round. By now every journalist knows the route. Yes, he is married,
yes, he has children, he loves Sheffield United, he drinks his beer, and he
loves his parents. He has a sister. And he has old fashioned courtesy. And
that, thank you guys, is about as far as you are going to get.
Give us more, they plead. Triumphantly like conjurers dishing out the bag of
tricks, one or other discovers a former marriage, and a bit of bother when he
was at drama school. The answers are bland and non-committal. So adroit is Sean
Bean, that even admission is unexploitable.
"He doesn't give anything," is the constant wail. That is not the case when he
acts. Renaldo Vasconcelos, who produced Lady Chatterley, says that Sean "is the
most emotionally honest actor I have worked with. And he has never been
anything other than direct and straightforward. He is never manipulative."
If there is an industry reflection, it is that perhaps Sean confines himself to
the kind of roles that reflect his own careful reserves. All his characters are
multifaceted, interesting men, who are not easily able to confront themselves.
Scared of revealing too much, they hide behind their masculinity, but always
betraying a vulnerability that sets them apart from the characteristic goodie
Sean is indeed proud of his masculinity. He likes that club. Masculine temples
are his places of worship, he loves soccer and is an excellent fencer. Sean
used to box. When he talks about it, his eyes light up as if he himself were in
the ring, eating up the adrenalin.
"It's a man's game, the pinnacle of masculinity -- and that's something to be
proud of. It's a fine thing.
"When I was about 15, I used to box at a good old boxing club called Croft
House. I carried on until I was about 17. My father had boxed in the army, he
won medals and cups. I just did it at the local youth club. At the time, I
didn't drink or smoke. I just had a lot of milkshakes. I was very fit. It was a
very good experience for me. It taught me self-control. I do think it's very
good for kids to learn how to box even if they don't follow it up
professionally at the end of the day. It gives them a place in society,
something to aim for."
He pauses for a moment, thoughtful: "Perhaps it is the catharsis of being able
to challenge aggression within a controlled environment."
Amidst all those badges of machismo, however, Sean Bean enjoys women; he knows
how to flirt. I suspect, however, that Sean believes that women should be
wives, or mothers. He doesn't cherish their companionship, thinking that he
prefers the easy world of unchallenging masculine acceptability.
So how is it that he is probably one of the best of the current crop of English
screen lovers? Perhaps it is because Sean Bean seems to instinctively
understand a woman's body. The Press have unfairly tagged him as someone who
"gets his kit off", which seems a little simplistic for a man who can handle a
range that spans Chekhov to Patriot Games. Unless of course, the talent can be
put down to instinct, a natural skill, like playing the ball down the rich
green turf of the Church of Soccer.
You can't learn the magic, it is something you have or you don't ... and Sean
certainly has it. He eats up a scene, dominating it, and the camera loves him.
He has the kind of film technique that licks the screen alive. He honed his
craft at RADA, in a golden year of talent that included Kenneth Brannagh, Janet
McTeer and James Wilby.
He is a very attractive man, with a sensitive and rather fine face which has a
somewhat stubborn jaw but is dominated by clear, expressive eyes that seem,
even on a rather formal knowledge, to be the passport to his feelings. When he
comes out from behind the carefully constructed wall to his private world, he
is still charming, extremely funny, very direct, and disconcertingly
perceptive. He is passionately loyal.
But Sean is no pushover. He is resilient and he doesn't moan unnecessarily --
being a trouper is important -- but he will certainly voice his disquiet if he
is dissatisfied. Muir Sutherland, who together with Malcolm Craddock produced
the Sharpe series to be shown by Central Television in May in which Sean plays
Richard Sharpe, says: "If Sean has a complaint, you had better listen, because
there will be a very good reason why he has something to say. I've only once
heard him blow on all the months we've worked in the Ukraine, in not the
easiest of situations, but when he did, we knew about it."
Sitting easily in my kitchen, Sean laughed when I relayed Sutherland's words.
"Yes," he confessed, "I did lose my rag. We were right at the end of the shoot.
The weather had changed and I knew the scenes we were shooting wouldn't match
in. It had gone on for days, everyone was very tired, we were shooting
complicated fight scenes. It finally got stupid. You can't shoot one part of
the action in fine weather and the rest of it in a blinding blizzard, so I said
Sean Bean's career is now at an almost frightening ledge on the sheer face of
fame. He has reached the summit of his performance level in British film and
television. He is highly in demand, he is expensive. And he delivers an
audience, but what now? Does the great big U.S. of A beckon?
"Of course, I'd like to act in international movies. That's where I am now,
wanting to reach the widest possible audience."
But would he take his much loved family -- his wife is Melanie Hill, an actress
in her own right, and their two children, Lorna six, and Molly two -- and go
and live in Hollywood? "No, I'd go there for the work but I'd never buy a house
there. God knows what the surveyor's report would be like after all them bloody
Sean clearly understands about that kind of thing. "I once built a wall that
fell down after about two days. Good job I was working for the council."
His roots are very important to him. His sister Lorraine is married with a boy
and a girl. Part of his mother Rita's family originally came from Limerick, his
father Brian's came from Sheffield where Sean was born.
"You can drive out of Sheffield and in 10 minutes you're in the country. I know
there's Hampstead Heath near here, but it's not quite the same thing, is it?
I've good friends here, but the people I've grown up with, my friends from
school, well, it's different. And the thing about the north is that people
aren't bothered about what you do. I was in this pub one day and this lad was
reading a newspaper. I could see he was looking at photographs of me. I carried
on drinking my pint and then he noticed me. He said, 'Hey, that's you isn't
it.' And he held up the paper and showed it around to everyone. I didn't mind.
It was all good-hearted. A bit of fun. We had a laugh and then they let me get
on with my drink.
"I was brought up in that kind of atmosphere, you can't put on airs and graces.
My mam used to be a secretary, but she stopped work when we were born, until we
were about eight or nine. My dad runs his own steel fabrication shop
manufacturing gear wheels and plant machinery. If anything taught me to grow
up, it was working there. I was working with a lot of good blokes and they
didn't take no s***. The fact that my dad was the boss didn't reflect on me and
that's the way I liked it."
He is very proud of his father. "He did it all himself, built up the business.
In some ways I wish I'd followed him, stayed working in the factory, and that I
didn't have this need to do something different. It would've been good to have
been with him, working with him, carrying on after him. But the difficulty was
I always felt I wanted to do something else, be something different.
"I wasn't much interested at school, although I loved art and I was quite good
at English. I mucked around though, preferred to be off with my mates, rather
than studying. I started reading properly, getting into text, when I was about
19. One thing that triggered me off was Macbeth. It's about power and ambition,
and where it all goes wrong."
Is power and ambition important then? "I don't know about power, but I do want
to achieve. Be at the top of what I do. Arrogance doesn't bother me, it's a
quality that is quite important. It's stupidity I can't abide. And people
following other people's orders without thinking for themselves."
Sean is a contained man, there is a stillness about him. He is a watcher,
rather than a participator. "I observe people. I like to see how they react. I
can draw on that and, of course, my own experiences."
Sean Bean has no artifice, what you see is what you get. Even so, I contest,
his mind is at odds with his own inner needs. There is a considerable intellect
trapped in a need for security.
He was a wilful child. Given to temper tantrums, he would throw himself against
walls and beat his fists in anger. On one particular afternoon, after he had
spent the day with a cousin at Clumber Park, he was tired and fractious. He
came home and sat in the front room cutting out shapes from paper. His cousin
had the scissors. Sean wanted them. He was told to wait. His fury erupted and
he ran to the glass door that lead to the kitchen. He pounded against the
glass, hitting it so hard that it fractured into pieces -- the jagged edges
rained down on him and one embedded itself in his thigh, slicing through skin
and sinew to the main artery.
"I fell back on to the floor, blood pouring from everywhere. I don't remember
the pain but I do remember the carpet, it was patterned, blue with beige
diamonds. My uncle wrapped me in towels and rushed me to the hospital whilst my
mother ran over everyone's gardens to get to my father who was in the pub. They
saved my leg, but I wouldn't walk for a year. They used to push me around in a
big pram. I still remember it. One of this old big black ones. I didn't like
A deep scar runs around his thigh. "I tell people it's a shark bite."
There is very little written about Sean Bean the family man. He lives with
Melanie and their children, in an Edwardian house in North London. They try to
bring up the youngsters themselves, although when they are working they have a
"I am the provider," he says. "I look after the family. I think the mother
should be there. We try not to work at the same time, so one of us is always
with the children. It's important. It's not easy leaving them. When I had to go
away for four-and-a-half months to the Ukraine and I looked out of the car and
saw the children, and Melanie, I realised I wouldn't see them for all that
time. I won't do it again, not for that amount of time, being away from home.
"We're lucky, in our sort of work, we can spend a lot of time together as well.
But Melanie's working now on a series and she has to go away every other week,
so I am at home."
He pauses. "Although I am going to Africa to do this movie (Jacob) with Sir
Peter Hall, but it's not for long. About three or four weeks. I'll fit it in
before I go to Ireland to finish Scarlett (the TV sequel to Gone With The Wind
in which he plays aristocratic rake Luke Fenton)."
All this might make one believe that Sean is a stranger to his children. That
is absolutely not the case. I have seen him coping with Molly in one arm and
Lorna by his side. He was completely in charge and totally relaxed. The
business of potty training didn't faze him; he made coffee for me, tea for him,
and organised Molly.
Despite the domesticity, he is not, however, a New Man. "No, it's a mother's job
to raise her children."
One might well ask what would happen if Melanie had to go to the Ukraine for
"It would be very difficult. The children would have to go with her, but then
Lorna would have to come out of school. I s'ppose I could go and see her...."
The emancipated woman could enquire if Sean might not consider staying at home.
But I didn't bother to pose the question. I can only imagine the kind of reply I
would have received.
Mention Sean Bean and women think about sex, but he says: "I laugh at this
image of myself as some sort of sex machine. If an alien came to this planet
and read some of my reviews, they would think I only acted in porn movies. I am
not complaining, but I find it very strange. The image from the roles on film
and television are very different to who I really am. I sometimes think that
people must think I am some sort of sex maniac or something. I am not thinking
about sex all the time. I am like everyone else. I am not saying sex isn't an
important part of a relationship -- most would flounder without it. It's a
perfectly natural thing -- that's why I don't worry when I have to act it."
Talking about sex, what about Lady Chatterley? Lady C attracted the kind of
damning reviews that would have sunk the Titanic without the held of an ice
floe. "People were attacking it before it even came out. No one gave it a
chance. It wasn't accepted as a whole piece, the four hours together. But the
audiences liked it. I actually thought the bonking guide (in one tabloid
newspaper) was a good idea. We'd have been in trouble if the sex scenes hadn't
lived up to what the audience wanted. I would much prefer it to be over sexy,
rather than not enough. I tried to treat it as a piece about sex. After all it
is about sex. It's a great love story. People can switch off if they don't like
Sean is absolutely candid about the decision to play the part of Paul, a
university lecturer in A Woman's Guide to Adultery. "I did it because I wanted
to work with David Hayman, the director. I didn't think the scripts were
particularly brilliant. They improved my character slightly. I made what I
could out of the part. At the end of the day I don't regret doing it, but
perhaps there should have been a bit more thought.
"We had a great time making it. It was a great cast. And the producer Beryl
Vertue was wonderful. But in the end I think my performance could have been
better. It was a weak performance, I can accept that. I've got no argument with
His next appearance on screen will be as Sharpe in Central's three films based
on Bernard Cornwell's novels. Sean loves the character. He understands him.
"Richard fires warning shots across the barrel of privilege. And he's got a
fiery ambition, nothing's going to stop him."
Sean admits that it was quite difficult to get back into character after a
year's absence (the first films were made in 1992). "When you've finished a
role, you bury the character. It's dead. I got very uptight about it for the
first few weeks of the shoot. But then I found him again and it was OK.
"It's funny, but Sharpe is about the class system too. And those battles should
have been much more violent and shocking than we can show at eight o'clock. It
is quite frustrating, not being able to do things as realistically as one would
have liked. Myself and Tom Clegg, the director, both felt that. I'd love to see
them as films. Sharpe's Company has the weight to become a feature film in its
own right. There are such restrictions to what you can do on television, mid-
evening. You can't even approach the sex properly.
"You have to be governed by the kind of subject you're working with. Underworld
situations are not very pleasant. If you don't show how the people play the
game, you are not being true to real life.
"It all depends on what extremes you go to -- there are certain things I would
not do. Mass murderers, those Moors Murderers -- it was disgraceful. I know
what I'd do to them. It's immoral to justify what they do. God forbid anyone
should ever see it. Let them lie -- don't raise them up again.
"Schindler's List is different. Everyone should be reminded of what happened.
All society is at risk from that kind of brutality.
"So I s'ppose if you're asking me where I draw the line I'd say violence has to
be justified. Gangsters and villains operate by different rules to us. The
justice meted out to them is part of the way in which they live. They
understand how it operates."
Sean takes his responsibility as an actor very seriously. He has no patience
with the "safe" school of acting -- slipping into the tried and trusted modes.
"You have to create your characters afresh. And it's important to know the
producer's genuine ambition. If they are really interested in the truth of the
piece. You have to dig deep to bring out the truth and I expect others to do
He is equally vehement about scripts. "A script has to have good characters. It
can't be two dimensional."
Sean has worked in a lot of adaptations: Lady Chatterley, Clarissa, A Woman's
Guide to Adultery, Lorna Doone. "In adaptation, I get really angry when the
adaptors' egos get in the way of the source material. If a book is good enough
to put on the screen, then stay true to it. Don't tamper with it. It never
Eventually, he admits, he would like to direct, "but not yet." He cares about
how a film is made, the way it is shot and, of course, the way it is edited.
"I was lucky in Patriot Games. All my scenes were left intact. Harrison Ford
had a lot of say about the way it was edited and I am grateful that he thought
they were important."
Sean relishes film, recognising it as his medium. Although he started as a
stage actor: "My first job was at Newbury, I earnt 70 pounds a week. I remember it
was a blue wage packet -- it was wonderful, at last I was getting paid."
But he does not favour the theatre. "You have to be on stage for two hours,
every night, recreating the same character, which after a while becomes
monotonous. I prefer the spontaneity of film acting where every day there is a
Sean believes in God, but he doesn't go to church. He likes them though.
"Particularly the old ones. There was one up the road from where I lived. It
has those massive, old, stained glass windows. It dates, I think, from the 16th
Century. It has roots. I like that feeling, that something has been there for a
He has a very precise view of morality. "You have to be able to confront
yourself. You can't run away from anything. You have to stand up and face
things you fear. Face up to your actions. There are certain things I've done --
and I regret them," he shifts uncomfortably, "but you put them out of your
mind. Don't think about them."
Before he left for Africa this week, I asked Sean if he had a favourite
painting. He wrote it down for me. Saturday Afternoon At The Lane by Joe
Scarborough. I don't know it myself, but I assume that it is something to do
with Bramall Lane and a football match. His taste in music is catholic, "all
kinds - Tamla Motown, Madness, Mozart, Handel, brass bands." His favourite
movie is The Duellists directed by Ridley Scott.
Stardom is a dangerous game. We create our idols to sell our product. We cosset
them and care for them and we pick over their talent like vultures. If they
slip just once, we begin the horrible business of tearing them down. We demand
In Norman Mailer's book on Marilyn Monroe he quotes from an essay: "Film is a
phenomenon whose resemblance to death has been ignored for too long."
The contention is that the actor consigns to celluloid his innermost passion
and when it is gone from him he is left with less than he started. Sean Bean is
careful of it: "I think you've always got to keep a little bit of yourself to
yourself -- that reminds you that you still have something left that is yours,
and yours alone."
It is probably that ethic which protects Sean Bean. And his belief in himself.
"I am fairly confident about myself. I don't mind if some people don't like me.
I have a lot of people who do like me."
With Thanks to The Compleat Sean Bean