|16 December 2001
By Molly Marks
WHEN Sean Bean says The Lord Of The Rings has marked him for life, he means it literally. So memorable was the cast's experience of filming The Fellowship Of The Ring, the first part of JRR Tolkien's classic trilogy, that the nine members of the Fellowship - who also include Elijah Wood and Sir Ian McKellen - all decided to get the same tattoo.
Bean rolls up his sleeve to show me a freshly etched squiggle. "It's nine in elvish, apparently, " he laughs.
"We all got together one night near the end of the shoot.
"We'd had a few drinks and decided we needed to get something to celebrate this, something so that the experience would live for ever in our memories.
"I was the last to get it, " Bean admits, adding that it was rising British actor Orlando Bloom who finally persuaded him. "He dragged me to get it done in New York recently. I think everyone thought I'd chicken out but I've completed the circle now."
Bean's body already boasts another such work of art - "100% Blade" is at the top of his arm, a token of his passion for his home football team, Sheffield United - but he's not a fan of tattoos. "I'd never have got another one if it hadn't been for a really special reason like this. And let's face it, it's not often you make a film and want to go and get a tattoo to remember it by."
Bean, who plays the sullen warrior Boromir, appears noticeably relaxed and suffused with an aura of happiness as the GBP200million movie goes on worldwide release this weekend. Clearly, this film has changed his life and he is not surprised that it is being hailed as a masterpiece. "I think Peter [Jackson, the director] has managed to create a real epic on a grand scale but at the same time, there are great characters who you can feel for and sympathise with as they go on their journey.
"We spent a whole year of our lives together. We learned to socialise and accept other people from different backgrounds, as we do in the Fellowship in the film. We all used to go out together, and then the hobbits would break off and play pool, " says Bean. "If I wasn't hanging out with all the guys in the Fellowship, I'd hang out with Viggo Mortensen. You could say he was my best friend on the film." At that, Bean suddenly smarts at his apparent pretension. "Best friend. Listen to me!"
Unlike his on-screen sex-symbol-with-a-rough-edge reputation - acquired from roles, which usually see him stripping off at some point, in Anna Karenina, Lady Chatterley's Lover, as a war hero in the TV series Sharpe and a Bond baddie in GoldenEye - Bean is shy and unassuming. Despite being one of the highest-earning British actors who is now making his mark in Hollywood, he is happiest heading back to Sheffield whenever he can.
He grew up in the working-class area of Handsworth, the son of a steel plater and a secretary, and his accent and the love for his hometown are undiminished - although the apprentice welder who went to RADA says he wouldn't want to live there again, preferring the salubrious environs of Hampstead, north London.
Bean has no intention of moving to LA either, despite being fully aware that The Lord Of The Rings will work wonders for his Hollywood career. Although he does enjoy his anonymity in the US. "I'm a much more familiar face in England, so it's really nice to be able to walk around unknown in Los Angeles.
"Having said that, anyone who recognises me at home is always very supportive and enthusiastic."
Though he has never especially cultivated a Hollywood career, his path hasn't been without its longrange strategising - like the American TV advert he recently did for contact lenses, a job he is unlikely to have taken in England.
"I think my manager and agent thought it would be good to have some kind of presence in the US.
"I did Patriot Games 10 years ago, and GoldenEye, but I wasn't very well-known in Hollywood, " he explains. "It [the advert] did have a positive effect and it was quite classily done. It's not like it was for motor oil or McDonald's."
THE RECENT success in America of another film Bean stars in, Don't Say A Word, co-starring Michael Douglas, won't help the actor's yearning for privacy Stateside. Once again he plays the villain, but Bean isn't worried about following the well-trodden path of being a British bad guy in Hollywood. "I got to work with Michael Douglas and he was great. It was a good role too."
Nothing, however, compared with The Lord Of The Rings, about which Bean cannot stop eulogising.
"It may be the biggest film of all time, but it also has theatrical qualities. It's not meant to be a Hollywood blockbuster. It's not a film that relies on special effects.
"And, of course, as an actor you want to be involved in something that's imaginative and intelligent."
His only bad memories came from having to relocate to New Zealand for filming. "I'm not a very good flier, though I'm getting better. It's the turbulence which really gets me." When it came to flying - "in a Dakota!" he adds - from New Zealand's North Island to South Island, he and Orlando Bloom decided to drive and take the ferry instead. The only problem was Bloom's propensity for shopping.
"He had to stop at every shop to get Christmas presents, " Bean recounts. "It was pouring with rain, so I was saying: 'Look, we've got to get going or there's going to be a landslide'. And sure enough, there was. We turned back to find another one so we were stuck in the middle of nowhere."
The pair managed to rent a house, where they stuck it out for a few days. "They sent a chopper to airlift us out - even worse than a Dakota!" says Bean, visibly appalled. "It was still raining and we were flying through mountain passes and the windscreen wipers were going like mad. I said: 'Can't you just drop us there in that field?', but they wouldn't. I was gripping Orlando's kneecap so hard I must have nearly broken it. He was saying: 'It's OK' but he still takes the piss out of me for that."
Bean later found himself being ferried to remote locations by helicopter. "I just had to get on and do it, " he says. "I took my Rescue Remedy and it got a bit better."
The experience has done nothing to tarnish his love of New Zealand, though. "It's such a beautiful country. I had never been that far from home before and I didn't know what to expect. I had just heard about lots of sheep - and that's what it turned out to be. But it was such an easy and peaceful way of life. I can't think of anywhere I would rather have been."
Three times divorced and the father of three daughters (the youngest, Evie, is from his marriage to Sharpe co-star Abigail Cruttenden), Bean still gets on with his ex-wives and sees his children regularly. Trips home from New Zealand were a tricky proposition, however, and Bean flew home only twice. "It was very difficult because every time I had a break, the kids were at school. And it's such a long journey that by the time you got home, it was almost time to leave again. I had a lot of making up to do. But my kids are used to me spending a lot of time away. The kids accept this as part of my life but I really missed them. Them and football, of course."
His three understanding daughters - Lorna, 14, Molly, 10, and Evie, three - knew how much The Lord Of The Rings meant to their father when he discovered he had won the role. "I was in the car with the kids driving up the M1 when I got the call. You could say I accelerated rather a lot. I was absolutely overjoyed. I already felt I was going to be part of something special though I had no idea at the time what it would turn into."
A small part of him, though, thinks the role was meant to be. He had read The Lord Of The Rings about 15 years ago. "I wasn't working and my wife was having a baby so it was a nice, quiet time.
It was a hard read because you have to keep referring back but I managed to get to the end and it made quite an impression on me.
Years went by until it came up again, but it all seems strange now to think back to reading it and being here now talking about the film."
It has also enabled Bean to work with one of his acting heroes, Sir Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf.
"When I was a drama student in Rotherham, I saw him and Judi Dench in Macbeth. That really got me going and I have wanted to play Macbeth ever since, " says Bean.
He discussed his plan with McKellen and is hoping to play the role later next year. "The ideal way is to do something on a really large scale and then go off and do some theatre or a smaller film. That's the way I'd like to see things going."
BEAN, who is 42, looks horrified when I read him a quote attributed to him talking about his younger years: "My 20s were about excitement, my 30s were about consolidating, " he is supposed to have said. "Ugh, " he replies.
"That sounds really pompous." So what is this decade about? "This is probably one of the best times of my life so I'd have to hope it continues for the rest of my 40s."
One thing that amuses him more than anything is the fact that he now comes in the form of a highly desirable Lord Of The Rings action figure. "I've been a little lead man toy for Sharpe but it's the first time I've been so many toys, " he grins.
It's something, too, for his girls to remember him by, next time he is forced to fly to far-flung pastures.
The Fellowship Of The Ring opens on December 19.
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