Bean Takes on the Bard

Last Update: 13 November 2002

Source: This is London
(article also appeared as "The Clan of Steel" in Evening Standard - Metro Life)
05 November 2002

Bean takes on the Bard
By Dominic Maxwell, Evening Standard

Dominic Maxwell talks to one of Sheffield's heroes about his return to theatre - as Macbeth - after a 13-year absence.

Sean Bean is midway through analysing Macbeth's moral morass when his lunch arrives. 'Fish and chips,' he announces with a conspiratorial grin, then places the bag of food on his dressing-room floor while he returns to more pressing matters. 'Shakespeare teaches you more than religion,' he says. 'It covers every aspect of humanity.'

The stakes are high for Sean Bean right now. After more than a decade as one of our most successful - and fancied - screen actors, the 43-year-old action man has cropped his hair and taken the lead in a play some think is cursed. The only bad luck that's befallen him so far is losing his voice a couple of days before. Now, his deep Sheffield sing-song back in tune, Bean is disarmingly enthused by his new job as he sits gulping bottled water and smoking Silk Cut Ultras. Or as enthused as he'll let himself be while saving his energy for two performances - and 1,400 lines - on a miserable Saturday in Richmond.

'I've not been in the theatre for 13 years, and I suppose to throw myself into something like this is quite a big job,' he says. 'But that's the way I like it. I get a buzz out of a challenge like that.'

Since, as a teenager in Sheffield he saw Ian McKellen in the title role, Macbeth has been a passion for Bean. It's one of the reasons he wanted to become an actor. So this production has been set up at his behest. Two years ago, his agent got him a producer, who brought in ex-RSC director Edward Hall. There were stops and starts while Bean got offered film work. Finally he set aside the time, and Hall recruited a cast that includes Samantha Bond as Lady Macbeth and Julian Glover as Duncan. If it doesn't work out, it's clear who will cop the flak.

But nobody could accuse him of taking his responsibilities lightly. The fridge is empty and his Belsize Park home is a mess - Bean split from his third wife, actress Abigail Cruttenden, a couple of years ago - while he 'throws everything else out the window' to come to terms with his blood-spattered nobleman. He slips in and out of talking about Macbeth in the first person. So does his character's brutal power play relate to that required in his own profession?

'Yeah, there is a selfishness in acting,' says Bean, rubbing an unshaven jaw. 'You're on your own to some extent; your tools of the trade are nothing more than what you are, so you have to try and be the best you can. That puts you in competition with other people, and you want to win. You want to get the part.' And does he identify with the guilt that surrounds Macbeth? 'You have regret, you have remorse. It's not as though I think I can do what I want.' He laughs. 'But then I've not really killed anyone, so I suppose I can get on with my life.'

After leaving Rada in the early 1980s, Bean worked steadily in the theatre, including playing Romeo for the RSC, before starring in Mike Figgis's film Stormy Monday in 1988. Since then, there's been seemingly non-stop TV and film work, including Sharpe, Bravo Two Zero, Patriot Games, GoldenEye and, most recently, Boromir in The Lord Of The Rings. He talked to co-star Ian McKellen about the play - 'but you can't really take tips from people; you have to find it for yourself'.

He got more practical help from his 15-year-old daughter Lorna. 'She did it at her school last year, and when I went through my lines with her she'd say: "Oh yeah... the Macbeth in our production didn't say it like that." But she did help with the emphasis on one or two lines - it was the first week of rehearsals in August, and I was struggling, and I'd have to say: "Oh, you're quite right, actually."'

The show runs until February, and already he's thinking of a comeback. He'd like to make the Bard a habit, he says, and do a play a year - maybe a couple of films, too. 'That'd be a great way to live your life.' Then he laughs, wary of jinxing himself. 'Things don't normally happen that way though, do they?'

Macbeth, previews from Thu, Albery Theatre, St Martin's Lane WC2, Mon to Sat 7.30pm, Wed and Sat mats 2.15pm, £17 to £39.50. Tel: 020 7369 1740. Tube: Leicester Square.

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