Macbeth at the Albery - The Inside Story

Last Update: 13 November 2002

"Horrible imaginings": Sean Bean gets inside Macbeth

Sean Bean has a successful film and TV career but has wanted to play Macbeth since he was nineteen and studying drama at Rotherham Art College  



How do you see the character of Macbeth?
I think Macbeth is instinctive and emotionally driven but he is not an evil man. At the beginning of the play he’s in a state of high emotion, he's just killed Macdonald and heard the prophesies, and then he's pushed even further by his wife. So he kills Duncan while his mind is still racing and afterwards suffers awful mental anguish ("wake Duncan with thy knocking I wish thou couldst"). He tries to shut himself off from the pain and goes deeper into his dark side, killing every obstacle to the throne ("I am in blood stepped in so far") but he suffers mental anguish all the time. He has the qualities of a warrior but he doesn’t have the qualities of a King and like Idi Amin or Hitler he starts with the people behind him but, corrupted by power, becomes a tyrant.

How do you see Macbeth’s relationship with Lady Macbeth?
At the beginning the relationship is a secure unit - he's the warrior, she's the perfect hostess - and they love each other passionately. In fact, she is the driving force and he's swayed by her. After Duncan's murder the unit starts to crumble. It's not that they haven't had ambitious thoughts before but the deed itself changes Macbeth. He is no longer dependent on his wife and she's terrified by the change in him. At the end of the play he tries to care - he asks the doctor to "pluck out the memory of rooted sorrow" for her - but when he hears of her death he can’t feel anything; he has become detached.

Do you think Macbeth has had a son?
There are enough clues in the script for it to make sense that Macbeth has lost a child some years before the action of the play ("I have given suck"). It's the only thing missing from his life and why he has become so close to his wife - they only have each other. There is also a bitterness in Macbeth because he has no heir – he envies Macduff and Banquo for their wonderful children – and this helps to fuel his paranoia.

Are the Weird Sisters real or imaginary?
After the banquet, the Director has the Weird Sisters appearing in Macbeth’s bedroom ("I conjure you by that which you profess") and it's almost like a waking dream so we're not quite sure when they've gone whether Macbeth has been sleeping or not. The point is that he has become so reliant on them that they are now a figment of his imagination which he uses to justify his actions.

What is the difference between your approach to Macbeth and your film work?
I have worked with some good screen writers but I haven’t ever come across something as balanced as this. You never get the feeling that Shakespeare is forcing his personality on any particular character, they’re all so credible, and at the end of the play he leaves the questions hanging, he doesn’t wrap it all up in a happy ending. When you’re rehearsing you usually get to the point where you think that’s as far as the writer meant you to go - you can’t explore the part any more because it’s not there in the script - but this is bottomless and I’m finding new things out all the time.

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