|The University of Sheffield
Degree Congregation, 20 July 2007
`Elizabeth Hurley gave him her heart. Harrison Ford gave him a scar. And Sheffield gave him his accent´. Such headlines often stand above articles chronicling the numerous achievements of one of Britain´s best-loved and most acclaimed actors, Sean Bean.
Of course, Sheffield did not just give him his accent, but a lifelong passion for Sheffield United. The oft-noted tattoo on his left bicep proclaiming he is `100% Blade´ (recently joined by SUFC on his wrist), his membership of the Board since 2002, and his famous declaration that `to score a goal for United would be better than sex´ all testify to his devotion to a club that he even tried to prevent from being unfairly relegated to the Championship by leading a delegation to Parliament last month.
A sense of the depth of this passion can be gauged by the fact that he once stated that the worst thing that anybody had ever said to him was: `Do you support Sheffield Wednesday?´
Sean Bean was born in Handsworth. After leaving school at the age of sixteen, he went to work as an apprentice welder at his father´s steel fabrication workshop, but he soon discovered acting at Rotherham College of Art and Technology, where he had begun a Fine Arts Foundation course. He had first been awoken to the thrill of theatre by seeing Trevor Nunn´s groundbreaking production of Macbeth (which starred Ian McKellen and Judi Dench), where the entire action took place within a circle etched onto the floor of The Other Place.
Roles in Arsenic and Old Lace, Cabaret and The Owl and the Pussycat quickly followed at the College, and his talent and aptitude earned him one of only 30 scholarships out of a field of over 11,000 applicants to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. At RADA he continued to flourish and was awarded a silver medal for his graduation performance of Pozzo in Waiting for Godot in 1983.
Although now an international film star, Sean Bean followed the pattern of so many of Britain´s finest performers by receiving his earliest professional experience in repertory theatre, making his debut as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet at Newbury´s Watermill Theatre. He was then invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Company for the 1986-7 season and performed in Fair Maid of the West, A Midsummer Night´s Dream and this time as the lead in Romeo and Juliet.
During the 1990s he made his first major breakthrough as the eponymous 19th-century soldier Richard Sharpe in the massively popular television series Sharpe (adapted from Bernard Cornwell´s Peninsular War novels). He then furthered his growing reputation by appearing in dramatisations of classic novels such as Clarissa, Lady Chatterley´s Lover (in which the tattoo was airbrushed out of the nude scenes) and Anna Karenina, earning particular acclaim as Count Vronsky in the latter. And in 1999 he showed his versatility by playing a much more contemporary hero, Sgt. Andy McNab, in Bravo Two Zero (the story of the SAS´s ill-fated mission to Iraq in the Gulf War).
Sean Bean is now perhaps best known for his roles in blockbuster Hollywood films. His most recent ones include National Treasure (opposite Nicolas Cage), Troy (playing the cunning Odysseus alongside Brad Pitt and Peter O´Toole), Flightplan (with Jodie Foster) and the supernatural horror based on a popular video game, Silent Hill. He also played one of the best ever James Bond villains in GoldenEye, as Alec Trevelyan, double agent 006, and Harrison Ford´s terrorist enemy in Patriot Games (which earned him his scar when Ford hit him above the left eye with a boat-hook in the final fight sequence). However, it is his role as the warrior Boromir in the multi-Oscar winning The Lord of the Rings trilogy which has brought him truly international recognition, and cemented his reputation as one Britain´s finest character actors.
Vice-Chancellor, I should also mention his role in When Saturday Comes, when the character he played scores the winning goal for Sheffield United in the Cup Final – a rare excursion into fantasy.
In 2002, Sean Bean returned to the stage as Macbeth at the Albery Theatre in the West End, a role he had long coveted. The production was critically acclaimed and proved so popular that the run was extended – the first occasion in recent times that a Shakespeare play has been extended in the West End.
Sean Bean is a household name in the UK – he was voted the UK´s most attractive man by Hello readers in 2006 – and is known the world over, yet he is still fiercely proud of his Sheffield roots and has never lost touch with them. He is much in demand for voiceover work, having appeared in notable adverts for blood donors (`This woman is about to save someone´s life: yesterday she gave blood´), O2, Morrisons and Barbican alcohol-free lager (something he does not mention on the Kop at Bramall Lane). Earlier this year he narrated a new medical DVD which will help hundreds of patients at the Northern General Hospital who are preparing for hip and knee replacement surgery. In 1998 he officially opened the Osteoporosis Centre at the Northern General Hospital, where his grandmother Ann acted as a volunteer for clinical trials researching bone disease. He is now a patron of the National Osteoporosis Society.
A connoisseur of art, a knowledgeable gardener and a long-standing supporter of charitable causes – Sean Bean boasts a wide array of interests to add to his love of football. He is, Vice-Chancellor, cast in the mould of Francis Bacon´s "wise man", `who makes more opportunities than he finds´.
We honour today one of the most talented British actors of his generation, admired for his versatility on stage and screen and for his relentless commitment to quality.
Vice-Chancellor, I present Sean Bean as eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa.
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