|2 July 2000
As his latest film reveals, there’s more to Sean Bean’s acting than romantic leads. Alison Maloney meets the screen star who hasn’t let success go to his head.
ACTOR SEAN BEAN has had the kind of life that movies are made of. A working class welder’s son from Sheffield, he went from a job at his dad’s workshop to lead roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company, a starring role in a hit TV show and numerous Hollywood films.
He’s starred with Harrison Ford (Patriot Games), Robert de Niro (Ronin) and Richard Harris (The Field), appeared in a Bond film (GoldenEye) and has become a household name and a much loved actor in TV shows such as Lady Chatterley and the long-running Sharpe series.
In his latest film Sean’s character, Jason, is anything but lovable.
Essex Boys sees him become a violent, unpredictable drug-dealer determined to gain the respect he believes he’s due from the criminal fraternity.
Egged on by his ambitious wife, played by ER’s Alex Kingston, Jason becomes increasingly dangerous as bitterness begins to take over his life.
Also starring Tom Wilkinson and Larry Lamb, the film is based on a real-life event when three men were found shot dead on a farm track in Essex in 1996.
Sean, who still has a strong Yorkshire brogue despite his 20 years in London, had to work on his accent to become an archetypal Essex boy and, as an enthusiastic Sheffield United supporter, he was forced to make one final sacrifice for the role.
He had to cover up his famous tattoo, bearing the legend “100% Blade”, with a West Ham transfer!
Growing up, he dreamed of being a footballer and playing for his beloved team and, he admits, acting never crossed his mind.
“We had the usual end-of-term shows at school,” he says, “but I was never involved in them. I didn’t think it was very cool.”
After leaving school he went straight into his father’s welding business but after a few years he decided on a change of direction.
“I was always good at painting and drawing so I finally left my dad’s place and said, ‘I want to be an artist’ — which is even worse than saying you want to be an actor!
“I went to three art colleges and couldn’t stick it. I left one of them at dinnertime! None of them was my idea about what art should be. One did have a drama course too, so in effect I switched courses from art to drama.
“It gave me a taste of what acting could be like and I felt at home there. Up until then I hadn’t been very good at anything in particular. I was all right at football and art but when I started playing a part I felt really comfortable with it.”
Having been bitten by the bug, Sean applied to RADA and moved to London.
After several successful shows with the Royal Shakespeare Company he landed the lead role in Sharpe’s Rifles, the first of five series.
Sean’s rugged good looks and brooding manner may be the key to his place in the (female) hearts of the nation but in the flesh he’s also chatty and charming, with a slight air of vulnerability that makes him all the more attractive.
He’s modest, too, and, despite his roles in Lady Chatterley and Sharpe, he finds it difficult to accept the tag of “romantic lead”.
“I don’t get up in the morning and think ‘I wonder who’s going to offer me the romantic lead this week’. I’ve played a lot of criminals and villains too.”
Last year Sean celebrated his 40th birthday on the set of Essex Boys, but age is not an issue which seems to worry him.
“I feel OK about it,” he says. “I suppose it’s just a different phase of my life. In your 20s you’re striving to be what you want to be, in your 30s you are quite comfortable, but in your 40s you see things a bit more clearly. There are ups and downs with every age.
“I hope I’ll still be in demand. When you look at Anthony Hopkins and Sean Connery, age doesn’t seem to be a problem for them.”
Sean lives in London with third wife Abigail Cruttenden and their 20-month-old daughter Evie.
He also has two daughters, Lorna and Molly, from his earlier marriage to Playing The Field star Melanie Hill but, he says, playing a vicious character like his Essex Boys role won’t bother his girls.
“They know I’m playing a part, so I don’t think it would disturb them if they see it in years to come. I wouldn’t show them anything too violent now.”
THE GIRLS won’t have to wait so long to watch Daddy’s next role, in the epic fantasy film Lord Of The Rings.
“I was really pleased to get the part but it’s a very long shoot. It’s taken about two years to film and it won’t be finished until Christmas.”
Sean is currently in New Zealand, making three films back to back, with big names such as Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler and Christopher Lee.
“I’m over there on my own right now but I’ll be bringing the family across when we get a break.
“I do miss them, but I’ve always been away for parts of the year. I’ve got used to it and I tend to just focus on what I’m doing, get it done and come home.”
Could a permanent move to Hollywood be on the cards?
“I love London,” he replies. “My family and a lot of my friends are here, so I’m happy here.”
The women of Britain can breathe a collective sigh of relief and rest safe in the knowledge that our Sean is here to stay.
Essex Boys opens on July 14.
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