|Monday February 26, 1996
by Jan Moir
Not many film stars live in Totteridge, but Sean Bean likes it there. "It's a bit more green, a bit more peaceful, and it's close to the M1 so I can get to Sheffield that bit quicker." He speeds up there regularly - to see United play and visit his parents - in the pale green Jag he bought because it matched his eyes. It is the only bit of flash he is willing to admit to.
He turns up for our lunch date in his local country club dressed down in red track pants, squashy trainers and a sweatshirt. His blond hair, darkened by a thick cap of gel, is scraped back over his head and reveals an alarming amount of pink scalp.
A chunky metal watch rattles on his thin wrist and he wears three gold rings; his wedding band, one he's had "for ages" and a pinky ring of yellow gold which he brought back from a filming trip to Russia: "Nice colour, but I don't like the quality."
He also brought back lots of caviar, for which he has developed a passion. "I could eat pots of that, me. I like that Beluga caviar, that's the best, isn't it? With chopped egg and onion and toast. Yes please."
Today, he wants only coffee, no food, thanks. He is going for a jog afterwards, an attempt to keep in shape for his next film role as the smitten, lovelorn soldier in Anna Karenina. It will be another opportunity for Bean - our hottest male sex symbol - to do what he does best: give good brood.
But, in much the same way that supermodels can look like pasty shopgirls on their days off, Bean in the flesh does not look like a love god - in fact, he looks like a runty wee guy from Sheffield. The camera doesn't just love him; it wants to marry him, settle down and have his babies.
However, he has excellent bones and a rather winning smile. But are those gleaming teeth his own? Well, no. As a child, he says, he was given five shillings pocket money a week, which he spent on sweets. "There wasn't anything else to spend your money on in those days. That's why my teeth fell out and I had to get all of them replaced."
"No. No. Heh. Um. Yes. I'm kidding. I've had a couple crowned because they got a bit damaged. I got one knocked out in a fight, but that was years ago."
He obligingly taps a tooth with a nicotine-toasted finger, and lights up the first of many Silk Cuts. He smokes heavily, and often gnaws the skin around his fingernails like a particularly anxious squirrel. However, he looks startled when I ask is he is a nervous person. "Me? Nah. I have a problem controlling me temper, like, but I've learned to be calmer over the years. Emotional, yes. But you have to be, to be an actor."
If Sean Bean is the thinking girl's bit of unbuttered crumpet, then what exactly is that girl thinking? Possibly she is remembering him in tight breeches and a cropped jacket as Sharpe, the brave rifleman in the successful BBC series. Or perhaps as the priapic Mellors, who romped naked through Ken Russell's Lady Chatterley and somehow managed to keep a straight face when he told Joely Richardson: "We came off together that time, m'lady."
He was a rapist in Clarissa, a madman in The Field, an IRA terrorist in Patriot Games and in Caravaggio had his throat slit. In GoldenEye, he played a curdled 006 to Pierce Brosnan's milky Bond. It is an impressive range of roles, each cherry-picked to make the most of his wolfish features and the villainous jut of that jaw, which just begs to be walloped - or kissed. His greatest talent on screen is that he always looks like he could do some serious damage - to your heart if he liked you, to your skull if he didn't. He also has a reputation for stripping, and handling his love scenes with gusto - relish, even.
In his latest film, When Saturday Comes, he is Jimmy Muir, a factory worker who dreams of playing for Sheffield United, and who scores with Emily Lloyd.
As usual, we see more of his body than anyone else's, and although I'm all for gratuitous nudity when applied to male actors, I do feel that - human physiognomy being what it is - I am now more familiar with Sean Bean's bottom than I am with my own.
"I get it written into every contract now. I've got to get me bum in. Didn't you like it?" he says, guffawing. And then, to make things exceptionally clear: "Look. I never know how many times my a-- is in shot. I've got my back to the camera, remember."
He handles the domestic scenes with sensitivity, showing a deeper range than his swashbuckling roles normally allow. However, as a 36-year-old - and a pretty battered one at that - he is not very convincing playing someone 11 years his junior. Jogging on to the pitch with his mates in the pub team, he looked at times more like the schoolboy imposter Brandon Lee pitching up to play for Bearsden Academy's First XI.
In another scene, he is called upon to weep copiously after a bereavement - a task he found difficult: "I suppose you just think about all the things that are sad in you. Or experiences that you have been in before that have upset you and made you cry."
So when was the last time he cried for real? "I got a snowball right in the bollocks when I worked at me dad's welding shop. I cried at that, all right."
He does not like having to explain himself, hiding behind either a brazen South Yorkshire bluff - which seems coarser in print than it does in conversation - or a string of cliches of quite dizzying banality. In Bean's world, things are taken "with a pinch of salt", situations are seldom "the be-all and end-all" and even if they are, well, "that's just the way the cookie crumbles."
It is not that he is inarticulate or stupid. Rather, he has the mien of someone who has come to learning late in life, who has culled his knowledge voraciously from books and rarely been given the opportunity to discuss what he has discovered. I expect he has a wonderful and rich vocabulary, but it is all locked inside his head. He will speak someone else's words and lines with knowledge, understanding and fluency, but will flounder helplessly without a script.
"At school, I just had a good time and a laugh. I wasn't ready for education, but afterwards I made up for it. I just got this massive appetite to read literature; Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, all the classics. I would do that in my spare time. I suppose it was an odd thing for a welder from Sheffield to want to do."
He had a typical, working-class northern upbringing: cherished by his parents - his dad drove a concrete mixer before starting up his own company, his mum was a secretary in the steelworks - and adored by his childhood sweetheart, hairdresser Debra Anderson. He married Debra at 19 and worked, as expected, for Darwin & Bean, his father's small welding and fabrication firm. He could, he says, still use a welding rod and an acetylene torch, should the occasion arise, but his heart was never in it.
So he left after three years to enrol at Rotherham Art College - "I always wanted to do something different, to be different" - but didn't like that either. "Everyone else was so posey and pretentious, the work seemed so secondary to them. I wanted to learn."
Luckily, the college had a drama course, which he joined. "I had never really stuck at anything, but from the first second, I thought, this is me. And since that day, I haven't looked back."
His first role was in a production of The Owl and the Pussycat. "I was a jumbly, wrapped up in a five pound note, and then I was a kind of monster in a play called Arsenic and Old Lace. People seemed to think I was good. That was about the time I applied for Rada."
He passed his audition and came to London in 1981, the same year he got married. If he hadn't got in, he thinks he would just have gone back to his dad's welding shop. His wife did not want to move south, and the marriage quickly disintegrated. In one newspaper interview, she explained that they were just too young, never even had a proper home of their own. She talks of him fondly and wishes him well, which is a great credit to them both. She even thinks that it is quite funny that she was there when he first met Melanie Hill - the actress who played the second Aveline in Bread - who is now his wife and the mother of his two small daughters.
Recently, there have been persistent rumours of discord in the Bean household, which seemed to start when Melanie attended the London premiere of GoldenEye with another man (a family friend, as it happens). "I was in the Ukraine filming Sharpe," complains Bean. "Still, you've got to take it all with a pinch of salt.
"I can't complain about my situation. I've got two lovely children, a lovely wife and a nice place to live in. Things seem to be going okay; I've got no gripes. We have our ups and downs like every other married couple. It is not a Stepford Wives situation. And it is not a marriage made in heaven, by any means."
Are you faithful?
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. I am. I've got everything I want, in a way. I'm faithful to my wife. I'm faithful to my friends as well."
Over the past three years, Bean has edged his way to centre-stage, and there is no indication that his success will wane. He has been a professional actor for 13 years and done his time in the trenches, sometimes a Royal Shakespeare Company regular, sometimes out of work. "I never thought about giving it up. What else could I do? There isn't really anything."
Now he is in the happy position of picking and choosing his roles. "I wouldn't like to play a mass murderer," he says. "I don't think that is something which should be glamorised or sensationalised. I would never play someone like Peter Sutcliffe, because it could be very upsetting for people's families. Too awful to even consider."
But you played an IRA terrorist...
"I looked at that as a personal vendetta between two people rather than a political situation. That's how I saw it. I wouldn't play an ordinary terrorist. Do you know what I mean?"
Well, um, not exactly...
He knows it is unusual for a welder from Sheffield to become a successful actor, but still gets prickly when someone else suggests this might be the case.
"What's so strange about that?" he will snort. "Why shouldn't someone from my background do this? People like me are a breath of fresh air in this business."
He is different, but not in the way that he thinks. He has a compelling screen presence and is that rare creature; a natural, instinctive actor who cannot explain what it is that he does. "But I know when I'm crap in a scene," he says. He stubs out his fag and goes off for a jog around Totteridge. What a star.
When Saturday Comes opens on Friday, March 1.
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