The Big Empty - Press Archive - Sean Bean Fills Up the Big Empty


Source: Venice Magazine
November 2003


Click on the thumbnail to see the bigger pic of Sean
Scan is from Moonrose's LJ.

by Alex Simon
Sean Bean first gained attention in Mike Figgis' sleeper hit Stormy
Monday (1988), playing a young lad from Newcastle who finds himself
caught in the middle of a battle between local businessmen and tough
hoods backing up a shady American businessman bent on buying up and
transforming the town. Since then, Bean has proven himself to be one of
the cinema's most versatile actors, playing leading men, villains and
character roles with equal aplomb.
Sean Bean recently gained international recognition in New Line's Lord
of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring (2001), and has been working
non-stop even since. Bean's character also appeared in the second
Oscar-nominated installment, Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers (2002).
Other recent projects include Dimension's sci-fi thriller, Equilibrium
(2002) with Christian Bale, and 20th Century Fox's Don't Say a Word
(2000) with Michael Douglas and director Gary Fleder.
Born April 17, 1959 and raised in Sheffield, Yorkshire England, Sean
went to work for his father's welding company after high school, before
realizing that being an artist was his true calling. After attending a
local art college and discovering the drama department, Sean was bitten
by the acting bug, and was soon accepted into the prestigious Royal
Academy of Dramatic Arts. After several years on the stage, Sean made
his film debut in 1984 in Winter Flight.
Sean is currently in production on Walt Disney Co.'s National Treasure
for director John Turteltaub and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The story
centers around an expedition to uncover a treasure buried in the 1700s.
Sean plays Ian Howe, the financier of the expedition, alongside Justin
Bartha and Nicolas Cage. The film shoots in Washington DC, Philadelphia
and Los Angeles.
Sean just wrapped production on Wolfgang Peterson's Troy for Warner
Bros. And Village Roadshow Pictures. He plays Odysseus alongside Brad
Pitt, Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom in this epic account of the Trojan
War based on Homer's The Iliad, scheduled for release in May, 2004.
Sean recently starred in "MacBeth" opposite Samantha Bond in London's
West End. He has received critical acclaim for his work as MacBeth,
making the play the fastest non-musical show to sell out in the West
End. Sean also recently shot a cameo role in "Henry VIII" for Granada
opposite Ray Winstone and Helena Bonham Carter. Next up is this month's
indie The Big Empty with Jon Favreau. Kelsey Grammar, Daryl Hannah,
Rachel Leigh Cook and Joey Lauren Adams, premiering November 9th at
Other noteworthy big screen appearances include John Frankenheimer's
Ronin (1998), Philip Noyce's Patriot Games (1992), the James Bond epic
Goldeneye (1995, as the villainous Alex Trevelyan), and Ken Russell's
production of "Lady Chatterley" (1994). Sean broke bread with Venice to
discuss his remarkable body of work.
Venice: Let's begin with The Big Empty.
Sean Bean: I've not seen the film yet, but I'd always wanted to play a
cowboy, so I had a good time with it, the whole get-up, the long
leather coat, hat, the holster.
V: I loved the fact that you kept your northern English accent for the
SB: Yeah. I was going to do an American accent, but the director asked me
to just speak the way I normally do, because he thought it would be
more weird, so I did [laughs]. I actually only found out about the film
a few days before I started working. I got the call home in England,
flew over, and was filming the next day. Not a lot of time for
preparation on this one [laughs]. We were in the Mohave Desert with
some great people. It was quite eerie, quite strange really. We did
most of our filming at night, and it's so quiet out there, so still. We
were staying in this motel in Baker, California, which is famous for
having the world's largest thermometer [laughs]. Lovely place, Baker.
V: You've had many extremes as an actor: Bond films, Lord of the Rings,
and then working in the metropolis of Baker, CA.
SB: Yeah, but you know what's funny is on a small film like this,
oftentimes the people making it are a lot more passionate about what
they're doing. It can be more enjoyable. So it all tends to even out in
the end. But don't get me wrong, working on films like Bond and other
epic-scale productions is blood marvelous! I just finished doing Troy
with Brad Pitt and Wolfgang Peterson directing. That was amazing, but
with the smaller films, you remember why you started acting in the
first place.
V: Troy has an amazing cast, from Brad Pitt to people like Peter
O'Toole. Did you spend any time with O'Toole?
SB: Oh, yeah, he was great. He's a real raconteur. He'll sit at the bar
with you and astound you with these fascinating tales about Lawrence of
Arabia. Richard Harris and all the other icons of the time. I went out
with Peter a couple of times, and we had a beer together down in Cabo
San Lucas. We really clicked, which was a thrill because he's always
been the biggest hero of mine. He is one of the people who really
inspired me to begin acting. Not to mention the fact that he grew up
not far from where I did, and we're both big cricket fans.
V: Let's talk about your background. You were born and raised in
Yorkshire, which is in the north of England and is known for being
primarily an industrial area.
SB: I have some good memories of Yorkshire. I lived there until I was about
21, until I went away to drama school. Sheffield was a good place to
grow up.
V: Your father had a welding business.
SB: Yeah, I worked with him for about three years after (high) school as an
apprentice. But I had this longing to do something more artistic.
V: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
SB: Initially, I was very good at drawing, which is what I would have loved
to do: be a painter and make a living at it. I went to a few art
schools in Sheffield and didn't get along very well at any of them.
Then I enrolled in an art college which had drama courses. I would
watch these people acting, and just felt that I could do as well as
them, or better. So I switched courses from art to acting, and from
there, that was it. I got into RADA halfway through this course, and
then left for London. Once you find something that you know is for you,
there's no looking back, is there?
V: What was RADA like?
SB: It was great, although it took me about six months to get used to it.
Coming from a small town, it was a big culture shock being in London. I
used to want to get on the train and go down to Sheffield, but then I
began to feel at home there and realized that I belonged with the
people there. Janet McTeer (Songcatcher) was one of my classmates.
She's brilliant.
V: How did your mom and dad feel about your leaving the family business
and becoming an actor?
SB: They were a bit taken aback at first, but I was always talking about
being a musician, or an artist or something "different," but they
didn't understand right away, because Sheffield was a place where you
chose a trade after you were done with school and then plied that. I
think they thought it was a phase that would pass and then I would go
back to "normal" [laughs]. But of course I never did, and they were
very supportive after that.
V: It's interesting that most of the major artists that have come out
of the UK since the 60s have been from the working class, starting with
people like Michael Caine, the Beatles, and Joe Orton.
SB: Yeah, that is interesting, isn't it? I think it's probably due to the
fact that all those old films by people like Tony Richardson, Ken
Loach, Mike Leigh, they all showed us that our stories mattered and
that that was a path that was open to us now. And let's face it,
there's a lot more of us in the UK than there are upper class. They're
the minority. So it makes sense that we would "take over," so to speak,
once the door was opened. Did you ever see Kes (1971) by Ken Loach? I
was blown away by that as a kid. It's so full of tragic-comic scenes
that are so uncompromising. There's no neat, happy ending where
everything's resolved in a little package. It's like life, you know,
very cathartic. You look at the lead character in that film, and he's
got such a beautiful spirit burning inside him, that you just know
that due to the class that he was born into and the dysfunction of his
family situation that nobody's ever going to see it and recognize it.
V: What's really tragic is that most people are too fearful to ever let
that part of themselves come out.
SB: Yeah, that's true. Being an actor or an artist is a very brave thing,
really. It's pretty scary to put yourself into that situation. You
don't know if you're going to succeed or fail, which is what makes it
exciting in a way. You have to find a way to transform that fear into
drive, into passion, into that adrenaline rush that will push you
forward. But so many people just fix on the fear. You've got to put
yourself in a vulnerable situation to go forward, and if you don't,
you'll just stay where you are, I suppose.
V: Stormy Monday was the first film I saw you in, and it's an
extraordinary piece of work by an extraordinary group: yourself, Tommy
Lee Jones, Melanie Griffith, Sting and Mike Figgis directing.
SB: I think there was a writer's strike in America at the time, so lots of
American actors were coming overseas to work. It was my first feature
film, so it was quite a high point to start out at. Mike was very
passionate about the film, and that feeling rubbed off on everyone. It
also captured how Newcastle was transformed into this sort of hip,
cultural center. I remember that I had just finished my last play with
the Royal Shakespeare Company, playing Romeo [laughs]. Then I got to do
this film where Melanie Griffith played my girlfriend! Not bad, eh?
V: I love Patriot Games. You made a terrific villain.
SB: That was a big break for me, really. Great time. I loved working with
Philip Noyce and Harrison. I think if Philip had his way, he would have
made it even more macabre [laughs]. Harrison was very easygoing, very
laid back. Very strong guy physically. We had a couple fights in the
film, and he really goes for it![laughs]. He brings a lot to the film
creatively, too. A good collaborator.
V: I recently saw you in Ken Russell's Lady Chatterley. How was working
with him and Natasha Richardson?
SB: Ken's great. He was very passionate about the film and really knew what
he wanted, and focused on the love story and the sociology of the
story, rather than the sexual aspect. He was just very inspiring and
very poetic in how he worked and communicated. He has a quality that
I've never seen in another director; the way he brings out the natural
poetry in a scene or a piece. And Natasha was terrific as well. She
gave a really brave, courageous performance. Particularly because she'd
just had a baby before we started shooting.
V: How was it being a James Bond villain?
SB: That was great fun. It was great working with Pierce, and that was his
first turn as Bond, and I think one of the better films in the series,
so we just had a blast. They do everything first class. Plus, I thought
my character was a very interesting one. He had a lot of ambiguity to
him. Also, the way he sort of rediscovered his Russian heritage was
very interesting to me.
V: You got to work with John Frankenheimer on Ronin. Tell us about
SB: John was like a big cowboy. He was bigger than life, a real pro. And
the film was really underrated, I thought. It had a real specific
atmosphere to it and didn't pander to being a typical Hollywood film.
It was very dark, very French [laughs]. And that cast: DeNiro, Stellan
Skarsgard, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone. With all that talent, it made
my job easy. John was just spot-on and I'm sorry we never got to work
together again. He was an old school gentleman and he left us way too
soon. I remember the first day of shooting he introduced the entire
cast to each other and the crew, and I thought that was a really lovely
way to begin. Plus all those car chases that he did. My God! He got the
best drivers in Europe to really drive those cars that fast. No special
effects in that film, let me tell you. It was scary as hell and very
exciting at the same time [laughs].
V: Lord of the Rings must have been another epic experience for you.
SB: Oh, yeah, that was just fantastic. We were all in New Zealand for
months on end and we really bonded like the Fellowship did. I made some
friendships on that which I know will last a lifetime. It was just
perfect, a perfect place to film that script, and such a great
ensemble. We all got on very well. Viggo Mortensen and I hung out a lot
together. He's a very interesting guy, writes poetry, loves music.
Peter Jackson was just a genius, that's all you can say about him. This
was a lifelong passion for him, to bring this story to the screen. You
could ask him about any character, at any particular time, and he'd
tell you exactly what was going on. It's amazing that he could hold
such a gigantic thing together the way he did, but he did it
V: I understand you also played the title role in "MacBeth" on the West
End recently.
SB: Yeah, again that was one of those experiences that reminded me why I
became an actor. Shakespeare's text is one of those things that's
constantly changing depending on where you are in your life at the
time. Some nights I'd come off the stage and think about my dialogue
and I'd say to myself, "Ah, so that's what that bit meant" [laughs].
Those are the times when I know I made the right choice not to go into
the family business!
(Thanks to Cindy for typing this)


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