|11 May 1996
"The middle-class woman's bit of rough? That's fine by me."
He arranged has honeymoon around the football fixtures, and his
love for Sheffield United could cost him his marriage. He may be
a heart-throb but what woman would take on Sean Bean?
Appen, I'm stook in this field at a stately 'ome near Barnet, north London,
while 'e's prancing about on his nag, all togged in tight breeches, 'aving foon.
I wait, and wait, until the final scene of the fourth series of Sharpe is
satisfactorily shot, and Sean Bean lollops amiably over to discuss life in the
saddle, and elsewhere, between puffs at an endless conflagration of Silk Cut
cigarettes and in an accent loyal to his upbringing in South Yorkshire. He has
just separated from his second wife, actress Melanie Hill (Aveline in Bread)
caused by what he says is pressure of work, but she suggests is more to do with
a laddish obsession, at 36, for his tenacious, lifelong mistress, Sheffield
United, shared also by his father and grandfather.
She had fair warning. He arranged their honeymoon in 1990 to coincide with
the team's fixtures ("You've got to get your priorities right," he explained),
had a ú2 tattoo - 100% Blade - on his left shoulder to remind him of their
nickname, and bought the marital home in Totteridge partly because it was close
to the M1 and escape to Sheffield. "On the few occasions he's in Britain he
seems to think it's more important to watch his blessed team than spend time
with the family. I'm sick of being treated like a doormat," says Melanie, adding
that he never folds his clothes or helps around the house.
New man he ain't, he admits. "Well, if I weren't working, and at home, I'd
look after the kids [Lorna, nine, and Molly, five]. It's important for the
mother to be there during the formative years. I always remember me mam being at home. Children appreciate it when they're older. That's just my opinion. I'm not
trying to throw it down anyone's throat." Like many photogenic "heart-throbs" he
is less commanding off screen. It is difficult to penetrate his polite mask, or
discover much behind his fairly banal conversation, assuming there is anything
there, which there should be because he is far more versatile than the image
that has haunted him since he cavorted bare-bottomed as Mellors with Joely
Richardson in Lady Chatterley's Lover. "It's fine by me if I'm called the
middle-class woman's bit of rough. You have to be 'tagged', and that's not the
worst thing. I have a little chuckle about it."
He grew up in a happy family, the son of a welder who started his own
business and employed Sean for three years as an apprentice after he left school
at 16 with a couple of O levels. "I weren't really cut out for it but it were
good experience. You need a bit of proper work under your belt before you start
prancing about being an actor in tights. It gives you a more stable outlook on
life. You realise other people are doing a hard day's graft while we're posing."
His real ambition, apart from playing for Sheffield - "but I didn't have the
discipline, and probably not the talent" - was to be an artist, so he tried
several colleges, but "I couldn't get me 'ead round being a student. I left one
at dinner on the first day, stayed a week at another. I had a talent but I got
waylaid by drama and that were it. I had no intention of being an actor. It
happened by accident when I were at Rotherham Art College and joined a drama
course because it looked interesting. Everyone said, 'You can't do that,' so I
thought I'd show 'em. And I did."
At 20 he married his childhood sweetheart, Debra Anderson, a hairdresser- "it
seemed like the right thing to do" - but wedded bliss didn't survive his move to
London when he won a scholarship to Rada, and met fellow student Melanie. "Rada
were OK. They encouraged me to keep my accent but to learn RP [received
pronunciation] as well. It were just another accent, important if you want to
get the classics under your belt, but not at the expense of losing your own way
of talking. If you do, you lose a little of yourself and sound so false." After
Rada he toured in rep and worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford
for a year. "It were all right for a while, but you tend to be cut off and think
you're the centre of the universe. I lived in digs, put 10ps in electric meters
and all that stuff. It's not as if I just came on, 'Bang,' and got all these
His latest was as the baddie, 006, in Goldeneye. "That were great. Nice to be
involved with a Bond film. I like playing villains. You know they're going to
beat someone up during the course of the film. I like the physical aspects of
the job, I must say. I don't like being stuck in a studio for days on end. I
want to run about, throw me sword around. I used to box at school. It were great
for discipline and learning to stick up for meself. You don't want to get your
'ead bashed in, but it's good to have a crack at it. Most boxers aren't vicious
or aggressive. They've been taught to fight and don't need to be malicious."
Nevertheless he was once fined ú50 for actual bodily harm when he took exception
to someone trying to prevent him gatecrashing a party. Now he channels his
aggression into his work.
"I'd like to go to Hollywood and make movies for a while. Patriot Games [he
played an IRA terrorist] were the nearest I got. It were great, yeah. I led a
really quiet life, never went to parties. I'd do a day's filming, come home,
watch television, make meself something to eat. I were quite happy that way.
Some people are natural party animals and like going to premieres, but I want to
switch off and get away from it. It's not real. It's make believe, and it's so
easy to start living in a world where everything is fantasy."
Apart from his strong roots in Sheffield, he tries to avoid "fantasy" by
taking parts that test his physicality, like swashbuckling Lieutenant Richard
Sharpe, Napoleonic war hero. "It's a chance to have lots of adventures. Viewers
like the fact Sharpe stands up for himself but hasn't trod all over everyone.
He's a goodie, but a hard goodie." Because the programme starts at eight, before
the "watershed", it relies more on derring-do than sex and violence. "If it were
later we could have more blood, guts and bad language, but that would limit the
audience, which would be a shame. Not that I think there's too much sex and
violence on television. I weren't bothered about nudity in Lady Chatterley.
There's lots of different aspects of human life, and that's just one. It's
strange that even though making love is the most natural thing in the world it
can't be seen. Maybe we're a bit more strait-laced about sex than on the
continent where anything goes. America is even worse. They show people being
shot, but you can't see tits, know what I mean? That's the wrong way round."
He is now in Russia, playing Volonski, the dashing young cavalry officer who
sweeps the married heroine off her feet in Anna Karenina. "I've done pretty
well, had lucky breaks. At the end of the day I'd never moan about my work. It's
so boring when actors complain. Stress is part of the job. That's what you're
getting all the money and acclaim for."
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