Henry VIII - Press Archive - A King Among Actors
05 Oct 2003
A King Among Actors
Thanks to Lynn from
Full of Beans
for the scans and the article.
Click on the thumbnails to see larger pix.
Of all the players in the lavish new drama of Henry VIII, Sean Bean has
had most global success - but the Lord of the Rings star has no interest
in fame, he tells Christine Smith.
Sean Bean is one of the few British actors who have truly cracked Hollywood.
His undoubted talent and chiselled features have helped him to corner the
market in rough-hewn heroes and roguish villains, with starring roles
alongside Harrison Ford, Michael Douglas and now Brad Pitt. But this is a
man more comfortable with the idea of a couple of pints after watching his
beloved Sheffield United than being hailed a sex symbol.
Despite his starring roles in hits including GoldenEye, Lord of the Rings
and the Sharpe TV series, the 44-year-old is quiet and unassuming and
probably the least pretentious actor you are ever likely to meet. The man
described by Liz Hurley as "incredibly shy and the least flirtatious person
I've ever met" is certainly no luvvie.
Bean repeatedly talks about his job as if it is exactly that - the same as
doing eight hours in the steelworks in his native Sheffield.
He readily admits that he is desperate to keep out of the public spotlight.
"I don't enjoy that side of things, being recognised," he says, "and I try to
keep it out of my life as much as possible."
"It's not about scrambling to the top, it's about enjoying work - and that is
what I am doing. As for people who want to become famous for the sake of
it, well, I think it is appalling, like vomit. It is such garbage and it is so sad."
It is impossible not to admire his determination to stay faithful to his northern
roots. As an interviewer I find myself apologising for even posing questions
to this modest actor, who looks embarrassed whenever he is talking about
himself during a rare interview at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire -
the setting for ITV's lavish new two-part drama, Henry VIII, which starts
Sean is playing Robert Aske, the northern lawyer who leads a rebellion
against Henry in the big costume drama, which also stars Ray Winstone
as the infamous Tudor king and Helena Bonham Carter as Anne Boleyn
as well as Emilia Fox, David Suchet, Charles Dance and Mark Strong.
For Sean, the role came at the perfect time. He had just finished starring
as Macbeth in London's West End - thus fulfilling a lifelone ambition - and
was just about to start shooting the eagerly-awaited 140 million pound
movie Troy, which co-stars Brad Pitt, in Malta.
"I didn't have much time," he says, "but this was perfect: a nice role and
a solid group of people like Ray who I'd had a few drinks with in my time
but not worked with."
"My character Robert is an inspirational man who really believes in what
he is fighting for. He is a real out-and-out hero and a man who is standing
up for the people and dies for the people. He didn't want anything in
return, which is very rare."
Bean is clearly excited about the new production, which he feels will offer
the public more than just the schoolbook version of such an important
chapter in England's and ultimately Britain's history.
"I think we've all read the story of Henry VIII," he says, "and most people
just remember his six wives having their heads chopped off! But there is a
lot more and, for me, it's interesting to see exactly how the history of the
country was formed, the politics, personalities."
He pauses, then sighs: "Thank God people are making things like Henry
VIII. It just seems most of what you see on television is just c***,
all these celebrity Get Me Out of Here shows, makeovers, singing-in-the-
same-voice programmes...urgh! I watch TV occasionally
just to see the horror of it," he adds, laughing. "I just try not to have
that as part of my life."
What IS very important in his life is his family. His three beloved
daughters are his raison d'etre and his dazzling eyes, which have
kept millions of women glued to their screens during the past 20 years
for such dramas as 1992's Lady Chatterley's Lover, light up whenever
he mentions them.
He has two daughters, Lorna, 15, and Molly, 11, from his second marriage
to Melanie Hill and a third, Evie, three, from his third marriage to actress
Abigail Cruttenden. Smiling, he says: "It's been great being in London for
a year or so on a permanent bais. I have seen a lot of them and we get
together whenever we can. What's the best bit about being a dad?
Everything! But they can be quite persuasive and occasionally they
do twist me round their little fingers."
Bean admits, however, that he wouldn't have it any other way, and regrets
having to spend time away from his daughters while filming.
"Like any father or mother would miss their children if they had to go away
to work on oil rigs or stuff like that, I miss them enormously. But at the
same time it's part of my work and it has been for the last 20 years or
so and so my children can accept that and they are familiar with it.
They have not known any differently and that is our lives really."
While happy to talk about his children, he prefers to keep his relationships
with their mothers and current relationships very private. Sean has been
married three times. He met and wed his first wife, Debra Anderson, at the
start of his career but that floundered soon after when his acting career
took off. He then tied the knot with Playing the Field actress Melanie in
1991 but they divorced after 15 years together in 1997 in what was
reportedly a very acrimonious split. (She has been quoted as saying that
she felt like a "housemaid".) Later that year, he married Abigail, his
screen wife in Sharpe, but work appears to have driven them apart
and two years later they split up and are now divorced.
When the subject of his marital breakdowns and any regrets is raised, he
immediately shakes his head. "I just think I am here now," he says
nervously, "and I am doing what I enjoy doing. I am enjoying my life
and I don't really pay too much attention to what has happened."
Is he in a relationship now? A long pause: "Not really now, no."
Is it difficult to meet people when you are as busy as he is, then? "It's
something that I don't really go into," he responds politely. "You know
there is room for things as well..."
He looks relieved when I change the subject and ask him how it feels to be
viewed as a sex symbol, although you sense he is not entirely comfortable
with this either. Every week he is inundated with mail from female fans who
love his rugged looks. But underneath that granite exterior is a rather shy
northern lad who finds the attention a little embarrassing. "It's just a bit a
musing," he says, shaking his head in disbelief. "I try to reply to as many
letters as possible."
The son of a steel plater and a secretary, Shaun Mark Bean - he changed
the spelling of his name when he broke into acting - grew up in a working
class suburb of Sheffield. As a youngster, he played football, developed a
love for Sheffield United - he bears a tattoo "100% Blade", the team's
nickname, at the top of one arm - and showed no interest in acting
After finishing school at 16, he worked as an apprentice welder at his
dad's business for three years before leaving to go on an art foundation
course at Rotherham College. It was here that Sean discovered acting
when he happened across a drama course. He loved the idea so much,
he immediately swapped courses and after a year, successfully applied
for a place at Rada. To this day, he is still amazed he was offered the
chance to attend one of the country's foremost drama colleges.
"Getting into Rada was the biggest high of my life," he says. "I remember
getting this letter that said I had been accepted and realising it was a
ticket to another world. For me, it really was a massive opportunity. I'd
been doing art and while everyone in Sheffield had been very supportive,
Rada was the chance to move on to another level."
Sean's versatile talents were quickly apparent and he was soon offered
various stage parts before he got his big break in 1992 when he was first
cast as a terrorist opposite Harrison Ford in Patriot Games then was
offered the role of Richard Sharpe. The programme proved a phenomenal
success, running for five series and selling worldwide, turning Bean into a
global star. Success followed success at home in the Sheffield football
saga When Saturday Comes (1996) and internationally as the Bond
villain in GoldenEye (1995). Sean, however, remains philosophical
about his amazing career.
"I think life is down to a combination of luck and perseverance," he says.
"A lot of people say it's all about luck but I don't. You need that bit of
"You don't know what the world holds for you but I don't think it's worth
worrying about what is going to happen in the future or what has happened
in the past."
He would not discourage his children from pursuing a similar career -
eventually. "I would encourage them to get a good start in education," he
says, "because acting is something that can be explored later. You can
drop into it any time."
Bean cites Peter O'Toole, with whom he will star in Troy, John Hurt and
Albert Finney as his heroes but he cannot name his own favourite role -
he has enjoyed all of them so much - and bases his choices on variety
rather than the money. "I'm not ambitious. I didn't have any problems
turning 40 and I certainly have no burning ambitions. I don't want to
get tied up by earnings. I just want to have a good time."
Happiest when surrounded by his friends and family, visiting his local
pub or watching United play, he seems content with his lot. There is
even a sense of familiarity about his work, as he seems to keep
bumping into the same actors again and again.
"It's surreal in that sense," he adds. "Take Orlando Bloom, who I starred
with in Lord of the Rings. Now we are going to work together in Malta.
But that's nice because it means you don't end up ever having to say bye."
Is he excited about working with Pitt and O'Toole? As ever, he plays it down:
"It will be nice but it's just a job."
But then that's Sean Bean for you: a shy but decent northern bloke.
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