Sean Bean tells Ian Spelling about Boromir's battle to resist the temptations of the The Lord of the Rings ....
Sometimes, Heroes fail. Despite all their efforts, they let down everyone who depended on them, and particularly themselves, because a man of action can always be tempted to take the easy answer which seems to offer a quick victory. It's a road to hell pathed by good intentions which has claimed hundreds of real-life leaders and is likely to swallow Anakin Skywalker next summer, and as anyone who's seen The Fellowship of the Ring now knows, the warrior Boromir is its latest victim, having convinced himself that he could wield the Ring of Power for good if he took it for himself.
"He is a sympathetic character," comments Sean Bean, the British actor who plays the heir to the Steward of Gondor in Peter Jackson's movie. "He's sensitive and he's trying to be practical and realistic and strong, but this damned thing is stopping him from doing that. And I think he knows, ultimately, that the Ring will destroy him, and he's just trying to keep it together as long as he can."
So was Boromir always destined to surrender to the Ring, or was he simply an honourable man tempted by a force greater than himself? "I think it's the latter. He means well. He wants to do good. He wants to bring about peace, like everyone else. He wants to try to bring stability and harmony to his people and his society, which is falling apart." Boromir is, after all, in something of an awkward situation. As the eldest son of the Steward of Gondor, he's the latest in an honourable line who have protected the city since the last King died, protecting it for far longer than most genuinely royal dynasties, but now that stable order is threatened not only by the rise of Sauron, but also by the prospect that the true King might return to claim the empty throne. Whatever happens, the world Boromir's ancestors have fought to preserve for generations is at an end... unless he can find a way to save it.
"I don't think he knows the complexities of the various powers the Ring has," Bean explains. "Mortals are more susceptible and he, as an individual, is more prone to its corrupting powers. I think that's a constant battle, as well as the physical battles, that he's fighting throughout the film. It's the inner struggle that he can't cope with. It's just eating away at his very soul. It's like a sickness in his belly that he can't get out of his system. He fights against it, valiantly. He doesn't want it to happen, but can't resist. Not many people can. But he's a human and you see the Ring really go to work on him. That's what I found quite interesting. I like the battles and the physical side, but I found the emotional side most interesting."
Looking back on Bean's career, there's few actors better suited to play such a tormented figure, as he's always played heroes with an edge who could easily tip over the brink into villainy. He won his big break in the early 1990s, when Alien3 co-star Paul McGann (later to star as Doctor Who in Fox's 1996 TV movie) broke his leg while playing football a few days into shooting a series of TV movies based on Bernard Cornwell's novels about the Napoleonic War. Bean stepped into the breach, and notched up a dozen appearances as Richard Sharpe over the next five years, making the hard-as-nails soldier who gave equal priority to winning the war and improving his own finances, one of the most popular characters on British television. In the meantime, he won wider attention in the rest of the world with his roles as Sean Miller, the fanatical Irish terrorist out for revenge on Harrison Ford's Jack Ryan in the screen version of Tom Clancy's Patriot Games, and the treacherous British agent 006 in Pierce Brosnan's first Bond movie, Goldeneye. So why does Bean get cast as the villain so often? "I don't know," he sighs. "I think that once you've done it once.... I think I did well in Patriot Games. I was a very violent and sinister character and I guess it left an impression. People think, 'Oh, let's get him as our bad guy. We know he can do it'. That's great for a while, but after the third or fourth time, you think, 'I've got to move away from this a bit and try to be a bit more sensitive.'
Bean's first step along this path is a futuristic drama called Equilibrium, set in a world where drug-taking is compulsory. "Equilibrium was originally call Librium," Bean explains, "but I think the makers of Librium objected to that. I think it's coming out in February or March. I went from the The Lord of the Rings, which was set 7,000 years in the past, to Equilibrium, which was set in the future. I play a good guy in that. It's a bit like 1984 and I think it will be a good film, as it had a very intelligent script and good actors, among them Christian Bale and Emily Watson."
Bean will also be showing his nice side in a magical children's drama. "I finished Tom and Thomas during last summer, where I play an artist who's trying to sell his work and get over the loss of his wife. We'd adopted a 10-year-old boy who I'm now bringing up on my own, who believes he has another brother and he keeps having these visions of him. It's a children's story, I would say, with a sort of magical feeling to it. It's a really nice role. He's a nice guy. That's why I did it. I thought, "This is really something different for me. And it's quite humorous as well. So I'm going in the right direction."
However, these roles had to wait untl after the marathon shoot of The Fellowship of the Ring, though Bean wasn't in New Zealand for as long as some of the cast. "I was there for about a year. I got home for two or three weeks in the middle of that, but most of the time I was living in New Zealand. And that was fine because New Zealand was a great place to be. I missed them all when I went away. I felt like a fish out of water and couldn't wait to get back."
That's hardly surprising, as almost every member of the cast has spoken of the way the cast bonded together. Indeed, as Sean Bean explains, they were even encoouraged to immerse themselves in Tolkien's world, and given an unusually luxurious amount of time to do so in an era when actors are more used to arriving on set on the day of the shoot. "We were down there in New Zealand for five or six weeks before filming commenced. We all got over there early so we could just immerse ourselves in this whole world, do some more research and talk."
Some of the cast, particularlyl Christopher Lee, were already long-standing experts on the books, while others - such as Ian McKellen - became addicted to the original text during the course of the shoot. So was Bean already familiar with The Lord of the Rings? "I'd read it a long time ago, when I was much younger, when I was 24 or 25. It was like going into another world. Once you get over the first 200 pages - because it's constantly referring back to who's who - then you can really start enjoying it. And when I signed on for this, I brushed up on it. We took all of that into account, but the material we were working from was a script. We all used the book for reference, as a source of information, but we were making a film. I think we've captured the spirit of the book in a visual way."
Alongside this, the cast had to prepare for the film's physical side, Bean explains. "We were fighting every day, practicing the choreography for the fights and getting familiar with the weapons. By the time we got to filming we were quite good at what we were doing. The master sword trainer, Bob Anderson, was great. He's a real old school character, very - not strict - but clear about what he wants and he won't tolerate any rubbish."
That all sounds a little like army training, and sometimes the shoot needed the sort of discipline that implies, as Bean goes on to explain. "We were shooting a lot at night, and the scene where we fight the serpent in the water, that was really hard. That was tough because it was really cold in New Zealand at the time - it was winter and the water wasn't heated and we were in our costumes for a night shoot that went 12 or 14 hours. That was tough." You start to realise quite how unpleasant it must have been once you remember that after five years of shooting Sharpe in the Ukraine, where conditions aren't exactly luxurious, Bean is well-used to hard shoots. "That was really tough. I thought I was going to be required the following evening and I was like 'Oh God, I've got to do it again in that f**king cold.' But then I got a call saying, 'Hey Sean, it looks like we might not need you tonight. We're going to do this digitally. 'I thought, 'Oh, that's great.' But I think just the sheer excitement and thrill of being involved in such a thing just carried you through the days when you're tired. It's only afterwards, when I was finished and had gone home to England, that it just hit me and I felt exhausted."
Anyone who's seen The Fellowship of the Ring knows that Boromir's not in the best of shapes by the end of the movie, and he's absent from the remaining books of the series. But since the story's been altered a bit, is there still a chance that we might be seeing a little more of Sean Bean in the second film, The Two Towers? "So I believe. I don't know what I'll look like, probably not very well, but Boromir's brother Faramir has a vision of me. So I suppose, technically, you could say that I'm in The Two Towers."
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