June 5 2010 12:01AM
The actor tells us why he's much happier swinging a sword outdoors than being stuck in a library
Though he's best known for playing the Napoleonic swashbuckler Sharpe and Boromir in The Lord of the Rings, Sean Bean's meat and drink has been portraying baddies in films including GoldenEye and The Hitcher. "The Americans see me in something like Patriot Games and say, 'Yeah, that's great', and I say I'd like to play other stuff and they say, 'No! You make a great bad guy'," Bean, 51, says, in his soft Sheffield brogue. "I love playing villains but you have to be careful." Recently, he was praised for his role in the dark TV crime drama Red Riding - as another nasty piece of work. But in Black Death, a new British horror film by Christopher Smith, the director of Severance, he enters more ambiguous territory, playing Ulric, a medieval knight who is sent to investigate rumours of witchcraft in a village that has remained stangely unaffected by the plague.
It's not clear at the start if your character is a hero or a villain
He's a man who's just as likely to say a prayer for you as cut your head off, really. At first he appears to be quite a brute but he does mean well. In 1349 it was a different world - if you weren't a Christian, if you were a heretic, you'd be killed. That's his view of things - he believes being a heretic spawns evil and mischief. He's very clear about his agenda.
Are you religious yourself?
Not that extreme! [Laughs] Around that time there wasn't much choice one way or another. There's a certain comfort in religion. You are a part of a group of people, a mass, going in the same direction. That can be a bad thing - people can become maniacs and fanatical, and they did. When you think that the plague killed half the population of Europe, and they tell you that it is vengeance from God, that really scares the pants off you.
After Sharpe and LOTR, you must be comfortable with swordplay
It's always a pleasure to swing your sword about. It's good fun. There's not many fellas that don't love that sort of thing [mimes cutting a throat]. Ulric is not a man of many words but you know his intentions. Those are the kind of roles I like. I hate the parts where you have to explain what's happened, what's going to happen - I think, "F***ing hell, I'm just the mouthpiece for the screenwriter here".
There's a scene in Black Death where you're strapped between two horses, about to be torn in two
I was a bit worried about that when I first read it. I said: "I'll be strapped to one of them but there's no f***ing way I'm going to be strapped to both of them. No chance!" You don't know what horses are going to do.
You're also up to your neck in water and swamps - do you like getting your hands dirty?
I do. At the time, sometimes you wish you were doing a film set in a library, because it's cold, you get bumps and bruises. But you get a real sense of satisfaction at the end of the day. I've just done this war film in Norway, Age of Heroes, and that was really tough, trudging in snow with bergens on your back. It's hard work, but it adds to the film. You don't have to pretend to be knackered because you really are.
Why did you become an actor?
The thrill I got when I first tried it - it's like a high. I'd done other things before that. I'd dabbled with being a painter, I'd been in a band. I tried acting by accident. I got that high, and I still get it. You get it when you're acting the scene. When you finish you feel pretty good. That's the best part of it, the actual process. I knew that's what I wanted to do and for that feeling to carry on for ever.
What would you have been if you weren't an actor?
Something outdoors. A landscape gardener.
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