I'm Never the Regular Guy

Sean Bean plays both villains and heroes brilliantly, and this week he stars in a tense new drama.

Sean Bean is known for his tough-guy roles such as SAS hero Andy McNab in Bravo Two Zero and the swashbuckling soldier Sharpe - but he doesn't act macho off screen.

"It's exciting to ride horses or drive fast cars for films but I don't have an urge to do it in real life" he says "Apart from anything else, it's dangerous!"

Sean is back on the small screen this week in a four-part drama playing convicted murderer Neil Byrne, jailed for the brutal slaughter of his wife and young daughter - a crime he insists he did not commit.

He escapes while being transferred to a new prison and goes on the run, vowing to clear his name. But his struggle for justice brings him to ruthless mobsters and criminal godfather Palmer, played by Tony Blair's father-in-law Tony Booth.

"This is a psychological drama" says Sean, who lives in London with his second wife, actress Abigail Cruttenden, and their baby daughter.

"Byrne's been through this awful tragedy and has suffered an intense trauma. There are moments when even he is not sure that he hasn't committed the crimes he's been convicted of".

Sean loves the fact that he is cast as both hero and villain in a whole range of productions, including James Bond's friend-turned -enemy Alec Trevelyan in GoldenEye, and he's about to start work on the film version of The Lord Of The Rings in which he'll play Boromir.

"There's always a good side to a villain and that's what you've got to look for first" says the Sheffield-born welder's son, who turned 40 earlier this year.

There aren't many 'regular guys' in Sean's credits. "I think it's incredibly difficult to play a likeable good guy with no side" he says "Harrison Ford is the best I can think of at playing the regular guy."

Extremely Dangerous

The roughly hewn yet lovely Sean Bean returns to our TV screens in a new 4-part thriller; he plays Neil Byrne, a convicted murderer who escapes while being transported from London to Glasgow via train.

Anyone who uses that west coast line can surely sympathise with his desperate desire to disembark.

In a plot that owes more than a nod to The Fugitive, it emerges that Byrne escaped in order to find out who really killed his wife and child. As the drama progresses, we realise he is caught up not just with villains, but also with shadowy establishment forces.

Juliet Aubrey lends the female glamour, and Tony Booth plays against type as a gangster.

Pick of the Week

Neil Byrne (Sean Bean) is a man on a mission - to find the truth behind the murder of his wife and child. He's an ex-government agent who's been wrongfully convicted of the crime, and embarks on a desperate Fugitive - style journey to escape the police, criminals and spycatchers.

Byrne gets away from his guards by jumping off a speeding train, leaving behind only a paperback novel. He goes undercover, where he infiltrates a ruthless gang that he had investigated previously. There he meets up again with the boss's daughter, Annie (Juliet Aubrey). Annie is torn between her feelings for for him and her gangland lover, Joe Connor (Ralph Brown).

The detective who put him away, begs Neil to seek psychiatric help - and even his old colleagues at the agency think he's a murderer, while denying he never existed.

Neil must use every ounce of skill and cunning to escape capture, keep himself alive and to prove that he is an innocent man.

On the Run

When the producers of the new ITV thriller Extremely Dangerous were casting the lead role - that of brooding MI5 agent Neil Byrne, a man on the run after being jailed for killing his wife and daughter - there was only one name that topped everyone's cast lists: Sean Bean.

Since he first hit the big time as Napoleonic hero Richard Sharpe, Bean has become synonomous with all-action roles -including IRA terrorist in Patriot Games, rogue agent Alex Trevelyan in the Bond movie, GoldenEye, and captured SAS man Andy McNab in Bravo Two Zero.

But although Extremely Dangerous includes a daring escape from a speeding train and the obligatory fist-fights and shoot-outs, Bean says the series also gives viewers a rare glimpse of his sensitive side.

"Because of the nature of the piece, there is a fair amount of violence and lots of stunts, which I quite enjoy" admits the handsome 40 year old actor. "But Extremely Dangerous is a psychological drama as opposed to a purely action-based show - and my role was to make it as real as possible."

Beginning with Byrne's dramatic escape from custody, the drama follows his attempt to clear his name. Returning to Manchester and working under an assumed name as a mini-cab driver, Byrne infiltrates the gangland syndicates he had previously investigated as an undercover agent. Persued by criminals and police alike, and abandoned by his former MI5 colleagues, Byrne's only hope lies in breaking a secret code contained in a paperback novel called Patagonia.

"It's not a take-off of the Fugitive - it's on a completely different level to that" says Bean. "Byrne has a definite aim - to regain his freedom, to discover who the killers were and kill them. The only thing that keeps him going is the fact that he knows he didn't do it. He has nothing to lose. He's lost his family and his freedom. It's relentless all the way to the end".

Co-starring Ralph Brown as gang boss Joe Connor and Juliet Aubrey as Connor's lover, Annie, Extremely Dangerous cost £5 million to shoot and included some scenes filmed on the same prison set as the ITV drama Bad Girls.

"The cast were very focused and passionate and that's what shows at the end of the day" says Bean, whose hard-man image is all set to continue with his next two projects on the big screen - playing a psychotic real-life gangster in the underworld drama Essex Boys, and the warrior Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring, the first movie of a proposed trilogy based on JRR Tolkein's classic fantasy adventure story Lord of the Rings.

Playing more tough-guy roles may not be new territory, but the Sheffield born actor says he'll never tire of performing his own stunts and punch-ups.

"It's what you did at school - pretend you were soldiers, or cowboys and Indians, pretend you had guns, or run around having sword fights with sticks" smiles Bean "That's what I'm still doing now - and it's great fun".

The One to Watch
7 Nov 1999

Murray Smith has an unusual claim to fame. As the man responsible for ITV's new thriller, Extremely Dangerous, he says he is the first writer to make Sean Bean cry. It was no easy task. One of television's hard men, Bean does not often shed a tear. But in the opening episode of Thursday's four-part series, he has plenty of cause. He plays a man who has been convicted of killing his wife and child, and, as we are constantly reminded, he (or whoever really did it) filleted them like fish.

Set in Manchester's ganglands, Extremely Dangerous makes the city an entertaining mix of menace and naivety. Mini-cab firms may keep guns under the desk, but ask for a drink that is "shaken not stirred" and the waiter will bring you a milkshake.

Just because Bean shows his sensitive side, it doesn't mean he is becoming a wimp. He can crack a safe, steal a car and jump from a speeding train. On the run, he takes on - and sees off - the army, police, helicopters, road blocks, a rapid response unit and GCHQ. If the country has more fire power to throw at someone, Manchester CID has not heard about it.

Bean says he kept himself "fairly fit" for the stunts. A Sheffield welder turned actor, the three-times married Bean has had plenty of practice for this kind of role. For four years he played ITV's Sharpe, a maverick officer leading a bunch of crackshots in Wellington's army. Last year, he took the lead in Andy McNab's SAS drama, Bravo Two Zero, and in GoldenEye he was 006, an agent who was one number short of being a hero. He is currently filming Lord of the Rings.

Though Bean's role dominates Extremely Dangerous, there is a nice cameo from the prime minister's father-in-law, Tony Booth, as a gangster. In between irking the government - he recently had a go at the "Millbank androids" - Booth's television career has been enjoying a revival. But, busy in the theatre, Booth says he's never been away. "People think if they haven't seen you on television, you're in the morgue."

As Murray Smith is the first to admit, it is easy to get a big audience for a thriller. "If it's any good, you want to know what happens." He did not set out to specialise - "I'd have written about obstetrics if necessary" - but once he started to write about crime (Strangers, Bulman, The Paradise Club), he got into a groove.

Smith wanted to be a writer the moment he saw a billboard as a 14-year-old in Glasgow. "It said: 'Glasgow writer gets £40,000 film deal', and I thought: that's for me." (The writer was Alistair MacLean). First, however, he became a paratrooper and, like McNab, joined the SAS. Unlike McNab, however, whose writing he disapproves of, he doesn't plunder his past. "Characters and relationships leak on to the page, but never real events."

Extremely Dangerous has action and complications rather than ideas and is not the multilayered affair Smith planned. But with Bean's Bond credentials, and given ITV's recent ratings for 007, that probably doesn't matter too much.

Sally Kinnes

What a Romeo for Juliet
November 8, 1999

In ITV's Extremely Dangerous, Juliet Aubrey plays Annie, a glamorous gangster who has to choose between shooting Sean Bean, seducing him or doing both - Interview by Neil Bonner.

With a film career that's gone into overdrive, award-winning British actress Juliet Aubrey can afford to be very choosy about TV work, which is why we haven't seen her on our screens for the best part of two years.

But now, the woman who has won rave reviews in the lead role of the BBC's acclaimed period drama Middlemarch, is about to return in a part that couldn't be more different.

She accepted her starring role in the upcoming 4-part drama Extremely Dangerous because she liked the idea of playing a glamourous gangster. She loved the story, was taken with the script - and she wasn't exactly put off when she discovered she'd have to share some steamy bedroom romps with Sean Bean!

"All in all, it was something I really enjoyed making" beams Juliet, who was last seen nursing Peak Practice star Gary Mavers in the First World War drama The Unknown Soldier, early last year.

Despite the stream of TV offers that followed, Juliet preferred to work in films and she has now three movies all due for release in quick succession and each, coincidentally, contains the word 'love'. There's Food for Love, a comedy with Richard E Grant and Joe McGann, Time to Love, a sweeping romantic tale spanning 100 years and three countries, and The Lost Lover, with Ciaran Hinds.

But Juliet, 28, hasn't always known where she wanted her career to go - hence her confused state of mind when she collected her Best Actress Bafta for her portrayal of Dorothea in Middlemarch, five years ago. Suddenly, she was the centre of media attention.

"I've never courted fame" she says firmly. "No one prepares you for that sort of thing. It was too much and I had to get away. I went with a girl friend and did some back-packing in the foothills of the Himalayas and rural India. When I first left Britain, I wasn't sure if acting was really for me. I needed time to clear my head and take stock of my life. I had a fantastic time and I realised that acting was the only thing I wanted to do".

Juliet, who's softly spoken tones are interrupted from time to time by sudden gales of laughter, as if seeing for the first time the funny side of what she's telling you, had no qualms about stripping off for the between-the sheets action in Extremely Dangerous.

"There are some quite raunchy scenes with my character, Annie Fleming, and her crime boss lover Joe, played by Ralph Brown.

"Sean's character, Neil, an escaped convict and the central figure, is a friend of Annie's from way back and their paths are destined to cross again.

"When they do, she doesn't know whether to shoot him, take him to bed and then shoot him. Or just take him to bed!

"Annie's relationship with Joe is loveless but there's real passion when she bed's Neil. Sean and I filmed some pretty steamy stuff - although, having not yet seen the final version, I don't know how much of the sexy shots they've left in"

Juliet's always chosen to do as much research for her roles as possible and preparing for Extremely Dangerous was no exception.

"I decided that if I was going to play a gangster, I ought to find out how they behave. So I got the TV people to organise a get-together for me with some real-life villains. I spent time with a group of them in bars and clubs in Manchester. I found it very helpful, just observing them".

She didn't meet anyone quite like Annie though. "Annie was such fun to portray because she's so far from other women I've played. She's the daughter of a crime boss so she was born to a life of crime and, from a very early age, has been using her looks and her charms to get what she wants".

But in TV gangland it can take more than physical attributes to get your way, which is why Juliet found herself blasting a man to death.

"I'd never fired a gun before" she says "I found it quite scary to see someone covered in blood as a result of pulling a trigger, even though it was make believe".

Juliet's busy schedule has meant that marriage has been put on the back-burner, despite having been engaged to art director Steve Ritchie. He proposed on the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle.

"We will get married," insists Juliet. "We just haven't set a date".

Extremely Dangerous
November 6, 1999

ITV, 9pm
Sean Bean leads in Murray Smith's four-part crime drama, principally set in contemporary Manchester. We begin, however, on a London to Scotland train, carrying Neil Byrne (Bean), serving two life sentences for butchering his wife and daughter, to a maximum security prison. He escapes from the train and quickly makes his way to Manchester where he had been part of the local criminal Mafia, an undercover agent for the intelligence services. Suffering flashbacks to the double murder scene, he is convinced that he is innocent and determined to catch whoever was responsible. The story is full of holes, but the pace is furious and the directing slick.

Pick of the Week
November 6, 1999

Extremely Dangerous
Sean Bean is back, and on the run in the first of this new four-part thriller series. He plays Neil, a man convicted of the murder of his wife and child, who escapes armed guards and goes underground in Manchester. Watch out for Tony Booth as a baddie for once in his career. Fans of The Fugitive will feel well at home with this action-packed show.
ITV, 9pm

TV Mag
November 6, 1999

Get ready for a real roller-coaster ride in this fast-paced new thriller. Sean Bean stars as MI5 spy Neil Byrne, a man convicted of brutally murdering his wife and little girl. Did he do it? The plot is so complicated even Byrne isn't sure, but he has to find out the truth to save his own sanity. Although this starts off looking a bit like The Fugitive, stick with it - there's more to this story than meets the eye.

Weekend Magazine
November 6, 1999

A cleverly scripted, tightly acted, actually dramatic new drama. And on ITV. There must be something pre-millenial in the airwaves. Sean Bean plays Neil Byrne, convict, who escapes during a prison transfer while serving two life sentences for butchering his wife and daughter. Resourcefully, he pinches new clothes, money and then a car, to secure a job on the Manchester cabs. He's a man on a mission - but what mission? This first episode provides purely questions. Who are the dodgy geezers with cash, armed with sneers and pump-action shotguns? They don't like Neil. Where did he get the keys to the prison handcuffs? Why is he such an electronics whizz? Where does the book on Patagonia fit in? Come to think of it, who is Neil Byrne? By the middle of the episode - a little too swiftly - he seems to have switched from villain to hero. Where does he come from and what does he do? You will want to find out. NICK GRIFFITHS

It's Super Sean the Runner Bean
November 14, 1999

Sean Bean is really up against it in the astonishing new thriller series Extremely Dangerous.

He's got the police force, the prison service, the secret service and a small army of Manchester gangsters to sort out before he can solve the mystery of who brutally butchered his wife and daughter and clear his name,

Fortunately, he's a sort of Yorkshire version of Superman.

Sean can leap from speeding trains, take on instant new identities, break into any buildings, give himself designer haircuts, all without the forces of law laying a hand on him.

In fact he's so fast on his feet they should call him Runner Bean.

Happily, he manages to do it all without being totally ridiculous in this glossy and stylish, but deeply implausible, four-parter.

Sean shows what a fine actor he is by achieving it all with a completely straight face.

The action is excellent but the story is about as unpredictable as the Speaking Clock. Juliet Aubrey is the ganster's mill whose clothes budget has been cut so ruthlessly she is only permitted to wear underwear.

Juliet is the permanently pouting property of boneheaded gang boss Ralph Brown who is Sean's sworn and bitter enemy. And if she doesn't change sides to help our hero win the day at the big finish I'll put my head through the screen.

But it's still tense and intriguing stuff - and it's great to have a good old-fashioned hero to watch and cheer. Go Sean.

11-17 November 1999

Neil Byrne (Sean Bean) is a feared psychopath, jailed for the brutal murders of his wife and baby daughter and with links to organised crime. So when he slips his guards the security forces are on red alert, as are a leading Manchester crime family who have reasons of their own to fear him. Gradually it emerges that Byrne was, in fact, a government agent who infiltrated the family, making enemies on all sides. Byrne believes his family was murdered by someone out to destroy him and wants revenge; the authorities believe he's a dangerous psycho who refuses to acknowledge his crimes. While the portrayal of gangland Manchester is just a little OTT - the taxi controller acts as if he's in war-torn Beirut - Bean is as moodily engaging as ever with an air of subdued menace that bodes well for the weeks to come.
Four star rating

13-19 November, 1999

Britain's most wanted, Ed (sic) Byrne, is on the verge of getting himself caught at the start of this second of four parts. Hanging around near a playground thinking of his murdered daughter is not the best move when you're trying to avoid attention... Everyone's after Ed, police and gangsters, including crime boss' daughter Annie Fleming (Juliet Aubrey) and her goons. The plot of this old-style thriller gets another layer or three tonight. The episode's key links are the Government, a book called Patagonia and Byrne's randy landlady. Add to this heady brew the dour Scots cop DCS Wallace, who turns up in Manchester to knock some heads together, drink whiskey and catch his man. Sean Bean is always good value in these hard-but-decent-man roles, and while the plot lacks originality the script and cast make it watchable.

13-19 November, 1999

Sean Bean continues to glower fetchingly in this conspiracy theory drama, playing Neil Byrne, a prisoner on the run after being convicted of killing his wife and small child. Of course, none of us believes that he is capable of such a crime. We have already realised that he was an MI5 agent, as well as being heavily involved in Manchester's criminal underworld, but where exactly do his loyalties lie? Byrne has more enemies than you can shake a stick at, which leads to a series of entertaining chase sequences, but it's difficult to work out exactly what is going on. You do care about him, though, which is more than half the battle. Juliet Aubrey's presence as gangster's moll Annie Fleming, however - along with her northern accent - is unconvincing.

Sean in Extreme Close-Up
November 11, 1999

Sean Bean, one of the sexiest blokes on the box, is back in action tonight.

Bean (as he's never known for some reason) is the star of Extremely Dangerous, a four part ITV thriller set in gangland Manchester.

He is a government agent accused of murdering his wife and daughter, hunting for the real killers. Unless, of course, it turns out that HE is in fact the real killer.

Sean Bean is now one of Britain's leading film and television actors, well-known across the world for action roles in feature films like GoldenEye and hit television series such as Sharpe.

So why did he get involved in Extremely Dangerous?

"It was a really brilliant project. A psychological drama as opposed to a purely action-based show.

"And it was also a chance to work with people like Sallie Aprahamian (director of The Lakes) whose work I've admired.

"I liked trying to get into my character's head, and what was going on in his mind. He's been through this awful tragedy, this intense trauma where he's getting flashbacks, and he's not quite sure himself that he hasn't committed this crime.

Sallie got right in there and got all that sort of stuff out and depicted that. It's not very often that actors are offered fuller, more complex roles, for in front of the camera. More often it's on stage that you get the more interesting parts."

But fans of Bean's action-man roles will not be disappointed either.

There is plenty of action throughout Extremely Dangerous, and Bean is no shirker when it comes to stunts.

"I keep myself fairly fit for all the stunts and I quite enjoy it.

"Because of the nature of the piece, there is a fair amount of violence, but my role was to make it as real as possible, and not just have a fight coming out of nowhere, because we haven't had one for five minutes."

Now Bean himself has high hopes for Extremely Dangerous.

"I'm not really sure what 'atmosphere on set' means. But this was a very focused shoot, mainly because we didn't have that long to do it.

"People got tired occasionally, but they were very focused, and very passionate, and that's what shows at the end of the day."

Co-starring with Bean is Juliet Aubrey, as a glamorous ganster.

She researched her role by asking to meet some real-life baddies!

"I felt I ought to find out how they behave, so I got the TV people to fix it for me," she says.

"They set me up with a collection of assorted heavy criminals, and I hung out with them in clubs and bars in Manchester, where we filmed the series.

"I just wanted to observe their behavious, and I must admit I found it helpful.

"They were actually very nice, and I didn't feel threatened or in any danger, though I had a minder with me most of the time - just to be on the safe side!"

Juliet, who first stunned viewers with her lead role in the BBC's acclaimed period drama Middlemarch, has had a stack of movie offers and can afford to be choosy about TV work, which is why we haven't seen her on our screens for the best part of two years.

After The Unknown Soldier, a stream of TV offers came her way, but 28-year-old Juliet preferred to work in films, even though in the main they have not been particularly high profile.

"I'm hoping to do a couple more films next year - and I want to get back to the theatre," she says with some degree of certainty.

All of which is in marked contrast to her confused state of mind when she collected the Best Actress BAFTA award for her portrayal of Dorothea in Middlemarch five years ago.

"No one prepares you for that sort of thing," she says. "It was all too much, and I had to get away.

"I went with a girlfriend and did some back-packing in the foothills of the Himalayas, as well as spending a lot of time travelling through rural India."

She was away for a year, during which time she decided that a return to archaeology, a subject in which she had gained a degree at university, was not a realistic proposition.

"I had a fantastic time while I was away - so many memorable experiences - and I realised that acting was the only thing I really wanted to do."

Extremely Dangerous
Carlton / LWT
Thursday 11 November
Videoplus 6427

Throughout his career, Sean Bean has made the most of his smouldering good looks, but that doesn't detract from the fact that he is a polished performer, particularly when handed a meaty role in a TV thriller such as this. He plays Neil Byrne, a convicted murderer who escapes while being transported via train to London and sets about searching for the men who killed his wife. So far, so The Fugitive, and none the worse for it.

Extremely Dangerous
Carlton / LWT
Thursday 18 November

North by Northwest and The Fugitive both employed the innocent everyman-on-the-run premise to great effect and while ITV's new four-part drama is hardly a match for either of those classics it manages to invoke the necessary tension and, more importantly, a degree of empathy with the protagonist Neil Byrne (Sean Bean). Tonight, we learn more about his murky past and as well as his MI5 connections, we discover the Manchester Underworld have put a price on his head. Can he evade his captors and find out who murdered his wife?

Extremely Dangerous
Carlton / LWT
Thursday 25 November

Thriller in which a man convicted of the brutal murder of his wife and child goes on the run to try and clear his name. Byrne finds an empty house in which to lie low, but he needs to break cover in order to discover the truth about his family's deaths.

Extremely Dangerous
Carlton / LWT
Thursday 02 December

Thriller in which a man convicted of the brutal murder of his wife and child goes on the run and tries to clear his name. With Annie's help, Byrne finds the final clue to the identity of his family's killers, and is able to bring down Conner and Ericson.

27 November - 03 December 1999

It's about time we had some answers here. There's a limit to how much mystery we can take before reading a newspaper or defrosting the fridge looks a more rewarding, less frustrating prospect. Before this last episode of four, we're still not sure exactly who was Neil Byrne's original employer, who killed his wife and child, or what the big deal is about a book called Patagonia. There's so much tension that at one point rock-hard Byrne has a little weep. But it's not long before he's back to his bodily-harming best. Without spoiling it, we can tell you the ending's not tidy and that the door's open for another series (no decision on that yet), if only because the many main characters and various sub-plots have yet to be fully explained. It makes the whole thing feel like someone trying to quickly pack a suitcase with too many items.

25 Nov. - 1 Dec., 1999

Episode three and, following last week's violence in the cab office there are hints of a twist in the tail. Is Byrne (Sean Bean) really a pyscho or is he being framed? Add in the violent murder of his landlady Edith and his bloody flashbacks and it's all going a bit Angel Heart. We'll be astonished if Byrne isn't being fitted up but it's proving highly enjoyable finding out. This week sees Byrne hunted for the murder of randy old Edith, gangster's moll Annie coming under pressure to wheel him in, and token cerebral copper Wallace beginning to wonder if our escaped convict isn't quite all he seems. It also features the best line of the series when the cab controller, faced with a barrage of weaponry, deadpans, "If I get this right, you don't want a mini-cab."

(Dominic Smith. ****)

27 November 1999

A moving and somewhat gruesome conclusion to this Sean Bean four-parter which came up late on the rails to become one of the thriller highlights of the year. It was wilfully battling to begin with,and Bean's character Neil Byrne had too an uncanny sixth-sense for being in the right place at the right time, but, above all,it was fast, glossy, sexy and tense, with a cleverly incongruous humour in parts. Nor were there any of those script clicés that can dog these guns-and-gangster dramas. Even the minor characters diverted the sympathies. How you will root for cab controller Ali (Nitin Ganatre), a man drier than drought, in this finalinstalment. So Byrne will discover who killed his family, and the identity of the bigwig who ordered the butchery. Not all of the baddies will make it to jail. And Mr Bean might just end up in a nude-lovers scene. Well, it was probbaly written into his contract.
(Nick Griffiths)

Saturday Magazine
27 Nov - 3 Dec. 1999

Apart from being extremely long, extremely complicated and, at times, extremely violent, this four-part thriller has been rather good value. While we all like thrillers (which is why Hollywood makes so many of them) British TV seems to have lost the habit - and certainly the habit of making them this well. Sean Bean is easily one of our most effective popular actors and one of the few who looks credible in action roles, and if we don't give him regular work on the telly, he'll just go off and play more Hollywood villains for more money. So, as we get to the final episode, will he find a way to clear his name of the awful murder of his wife and daughter and figure out who is the man who set him up?

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