|Sean Bean's a man of steel
Jun 8 2010 WalesOnline
When a member of the Hollywood elite deigns to promote their latest movie, they usually ensure there’s an entourage of stylists on stand-by to make sure they’re looking immaculately groomed.
But there’s always the odd exception. Take Sean Bean for instance, who turns up to do an interview for his new film Black Death, looking somewhat dishevelled.
Post-cigarette, the 51-year-old actor appears unshaven, wearing a pair of old jeans and a grey jumper and his famous green-eyes looking on the tired side.
Perhaps realising he needs a helping hand in getting camera ready, he quietly asks if anyone’s got eye-drops. “It’s the air conditioning,” he explains with a sheepish grin. It’s then that you see a glint in his eye that hints at the heartthrob status he forged in those risque scenes with Joely Richardson in 1993’s Lady Chatterley and cemented as Lieutenant Colonel Richard Sharpe in the long-running TV series, Sharpe.
His roguish good looks also made him the perfect choice for playing brooding, tortured and often villainous roles such as the Irish republican terrorist in 1992’s Patriot Games, (he still bears the scars of that film after co-star Harrison Ford accidentally clocked him in the face with a boat hook), James Bond’s nemesis in 1995’s GoldenEye and the iniquitous treasure hunter in 2004’s National Treasure opposite Nicholas Cage.
“Yeah obviously that’s what directors and casting directors think,” he says on having the ’look’ of an authentically menacing villain. “I’m usually quite optimistic and positive but tend to play these dark characters, which I find very interesting actually as an actor.”
Quietly spoken, his strong Sheffield accent remains in tact despite the nomadic life of an actor, something he’s bemoaned as it’s meant spending lengthy periods away from his daughters, Lorna, 22 and Molly, 18 from his second marriage to Bread actress Melanie Hill, (his first wife was his high-school sweetheart Debra James), and then Evie, 11, from his third marriage to actress Abigail Cruttenden. The current Mrs Bean is the actress Georgina Sutcliffe who he married two years ago.
His tumultuous love-life has only exacerbated his reputation as a ’macho man’. But Sean turns out to be more charming than you’d expect. That’s not to say he can’t turn that intensity on when needed, which he does with aplomb in Black Death.
The title alone tells you this isn’t going to be a cosy rom-com. Set in 1348, the plague is decimating all in its path, and fear and superstition are rife. Sean plays Ulric, a knight and envoy of the bishop who’s charged by the church to investigate rumours of an isolated village hidden in marshland that the plague cannot reach and where a necromancer brings the dead back to life.
“I was fascinated by the script because it deals with the moral issues of religion and faith and the moral dilemma of what to believe in when there is such tragedy, chaos and mayhem, almost like hell on earth,” says Sean.
As you’d expect from Christopher Smith, the director of Severance and Creep, the mission brings its share of gruesome horror to the screen, but Sean says he liked the script because it wasn’t just a horror story.
“It wasn’t about people being burned, it wasn’t about witches and bats flying around and horror for the sake of horror. The whole structure is based around the dilemma of religion and how far one goes to protect oneself from these horrors with belief.”
The director has described Ulric as “a killing machine for Christianity”, and Sean agrees.
“Yeah, that’s about right really,” he says laughing. But then he adds: “Ulric’s a man who totally believes in what he’s doing. He’s got a very pure belief, he totally believes it’s his mission to root out heretics and to promote the faith of the Church, so he doesn’t ever ask questions about what he’s doing. I’m sure there are some who will think Ulric has a point and I’m sure others will believe he’s a kind of monster. I personally believe he’s quite a good man for that period of time.”
To stress his point, he mentions a moment when Osmund, a novice monk, who Ulric enlists to lead him and his band of mercenary soldiers into the marshland, accuses him of not having a heart.
“Ulric is quite devastated and hurt by that,” says Sean. “He’s appalled that this should be levelled towards him and he goes on to explain that he had a wife and child but ’they sit at God’s side now’. At that moment you see something of the man he was and it makes you question how he came to be who he is today and that’s something I always bear in mind when I’m playing a character.”
The young Sean never contemplated a career in acting, instead half-heartedly learning to become a welder in order to join his father’s business and dreaming of becoming a boxer or a professional football player for his beloved Sheffield United football team. It was while at college that a drama class caught his eye and six months later he’d successfully auditioned for RADA. He hasn’t looked back since.
Aside from travelling the world and not having to worry about his bank balance, he says that a bonus of his job is getting to act out a boyhood dream of brandishing a sword in battle scenes, whether that’s alongside Brad Pitt in Troy or as Boromir in Lord Of The Rings.
“It’s always good fun to be doing that sort of thing. It’s something I always enjoy physically.”
He says the fight scenes in Black Death were a particular favourite. “They were good because they were so realistic,” says Sean. “The way Chris Smith shot those fights was incredible, he actually got everybody in a real skirmish. There were swords flashing everywhere, boots flying, fists flying – it was mayhem!”
The movie was filmed on location in Sachsen-Anhalt, the medieval heartland of Germany, and it’s ironic that, given Black Death’s subject matter, Swine Flu broke out in Mexico just as they started shooting.
The near-hysterical reaction hammered home the fact even now, the fear of disease remains the same. “The numbers were going up and up and up and people were walking around with masks on and it almost became quite primitive what we were seeing on television,” says Sean, who admits he’s always had a morbid fascination with the period of the plague.
“At school I think most kids are fascinated by the period. The symptoms of the Black Death were quite horrendous and the graphic pictures you’d see in history books were almost like a small horror film within a history book. There is kind of a dark, macabre, gloomy quality to it, the torture and punishment and cages with men rotting in them and various superstitious beliefs like witches.”
As for whether he’s ready to lay down the sword and turn into an all-out Mr Nice Guy, he says with a smile: “Yeah maybe if one comes my way but I don’t really get that many types of scripts.” Sean’s set to be a man of steel for some time yet.
EXTRA TIME – SEAN BEAN
:: He was born 17 April 1959 in Sheffield.
:: His breakout role was in Stormy Monday in 1988 after co-star Melanie Griffith exclaimed ’I wanna make a movie with this guy!’ after seeing a picture of him.
:: He appeared in Moby’s video for We Are All Made of Stars.
:: His fear of flying led him to walk a mountain in full costume while filming Lord Of The Rings, while his co-stars arrived by helicopter.
:: He only stepped into the role of Richard Sharpe when Paul McGann had to pull out after an accident.
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