He likes soccer, a pint with his mates,
and thinks a wife's role is to raise
Wendy Oberman talks to Sean Bean
Sean Bean has taken up a lot of column
inches in his 34 years and there is
always one recurring theme. This is a man who is a difficult
understands that one of the tools of his trade is the need to
journalist see "the man behind the role". Contractually,
he has to do the
publicity round. By now every journalist knows the route. Yes,
he is married,
yes, he has children, he loves Sheffield United, he drinks his
beer, and he
loves his parents. He has a sister. And he has old fashioned
that, thank you guys, is about as far as you are going to get.
Give us more, they plead. Triumphantly
like conjurers dishing out the bag of
tricks, one or other discovers a former marriage, and a bit of
bother when he
was at drama school. The answers are bland and non-committal.
So adroit is Sean
Bean, that even admission is unexploitable.
"He doesn't give anything,"
is the constant wail. That is not the case when he
acts. Renaldo Vasconcelos, who produced Lady Chatterley, says
that Sean "is the
most emotionally honest actor I have worked with. And he has
anything other than direct and straightforward. He is never manipulative."
If there is an industry reflection,
it is that perhaps Sean confines himself to
the kind of roles that reflect his own careful reserves. All
his characters are
multifaceted, interesting men, who are not easily able to confront
Scared of revealing too much, they hide behind their masculinity,
betraying a vulnerability that sets them apart from the characteristic
Sean is indeed proud of his masculinity.
He likes that club. Masculine temples
are his places of worship, he loves soccer and is an excellent
used to box. When he talks about it, his eyes light up as if
he himself were in
the ring, eating up the adrenalin.
"It's a man's game, the pinnacle
of masculinity -- and that's something to be
proud of. It's a fine thing.
"When I was about 15, I used to
box at a good old boxing club called Croft
House. I carried on until I was about 17. My father had boxed
in the army, he
won medals and cups. I just did it at the local youth club. At
the time, I
didn't drink or smoke. I just had a lot of milkshakes. I was
very fit. It was a
very good experience for me. It taught me self-control. I do
think it's very
good for kids to learn how to box even if they don't follow it
professionally at the end of the day. It gives them a place in
something to aim for."
He pauses for a moment, thoughtful:
"Perhaps it is the catharsis of being able
to challenge aggression within a controlled environment."
Amidst all those badges of machismo,
however, Sean Bean enjoys women; he knows
how to flirt. I suspect, however, that Sean believes that women
wives, or mothers. He doesn't cherish their companionship, thinking
prefers the easy world of unchallenging masculine acceptability.
So how is it that he is probably one
of the best of the current crop of English
screen lovers? Perhaps it is because Sean Bean seems to instinctively
understand a woman's body. The Press have unfairly tagged him
as someone who
"gets his kit off", which seems a little simplistic
for a man who can handle a
range that spans Chekhov to Patriot Games. Unless of course,
the talent can be
put down to instinct, a natural skill, like playing the ball
down the rich
green turf of the Church of Soccer.
You can't learn the magic, it is something
you have or you don't ... and Sean
certainly has it. He eats up a scene, dominating it, and the
camera loves him.
He has the kind of film technique that licks the screen alive.
He honed his
craft at RADA, in a golden year of talent that included Kenneth
McTeer and James Wilby.
He is a very attractive man, with a
sensitive and rather fine face which has a
somewhat stubborn jaw but is dominated by clear, expressive eyes
even on a rather formal knowledge, to be the passport to his
feelings. When he
comes out from behind the carefully constructed wall to his private
is still charming, extremely funny, very direct, and disconcertingly
perceptive. He is passionately loyal.
But Sean is no pushover. He is resilient
and he doesn't moan unnecessarily --
being a trouper is important -- but he will certainly voice his
disquiet if he
is dissatisfied. Muir Sutherland, who together with Malcolm Craddock
the Sharpe series to be shown by Central Television in May in
which Sean plays
Richard Sharpe, says: "If Sean has a complaint, you had
better listen, because
there will be a very good reason why he has something to say.
I've only once
heard him blow on all the months we've worked in the Ukraine,
in not the
easiest of situations, but when he did, we knew about it."
Sitting easily in my kitchen, Sean laughed
when I relayed Sutherland's words.
"Yes," he confessed, "I did lose my rag. We were
right at the end of the shoot.
The weather had changed and I knew the scenes we were shooting
in. It had gone on for days, everyone was very tired, we were
complicated fight scenes. It finally got stupid. You can't shoot
one part of
the action in fine weather and the rest of it in a blinding blizzard,
so I said
Sean Bean's career is now at an almost
frightening ledge on the sheer face of
fame. He has reached the summit of his performance level in British
television. He is highly in demand, he is expensive. And he delivers
audience, but what now? Does the great big U.S. of A beckon?
"Of course, I'd like to act in
international movies. That's where I am now,
wanting to reach the widest possible audience."
But would he take his much loved family
-- his wife is Melanie Hill, an actress
in her own right, and their two children, Lorna six, and Molly
two -- and go
and live in Hollywood? "No, I'd go there for the work but
I'd never buy a house
there. God knows what the surveyor's report would be like after
all them bloody
Sean clearly understands about that
kind of thing. "I once built a wall that
fell down after about two days. Good job I was working for the
His roots are very important to him.
His sister Lorraine is married with a boy
and a girl. Part of his mother Rita's family originally came
from Limerick, his
father Brian's came from Sheffield where Sean was born.
"You can drive out of Sheffield
and in 10 minutes you're in the country. I know
there's Hampstead Heath near here, but it's not quite the same
thing, is it?
I've good friends here, but the people I've grown up with, my
school, well, it's different. And the thing about the north is
aren't bothered about what you do. I was in this pub one day
and this lad was
reading a newspaper. I could see he was looking at photographs
of me. I carried
on drinking my pint and then he noticed me. He said, 'Hey, that's
it.' And he held up the paper and showed it around to everyone.
I didn't mind.
It was all good-hearted. A bit of fun. We had a laugh and then
they let me get
on with my drink.
"I was brought up in that kind
of atmosphere, you can't put on airs and graces.
My mam used to be a secretary, but she stopped work when we were
born, until we
were about eight or nine. My dad runs his own steel fabrication
manufacturing gear wheels and plant machinery. If anything taught
me to grow
up, it was working there. I was working with a lot of good blokes
didn't take no s***. The fact that my dad was the boss didn't
reflect on me and
that's the way I liked it."
He is very proud of his father. "He
did it all himself, built up the business.
In some ways I wish I'd followed him, stayed working in the factory,
and that I
didn't have this need to do something different. It would've
been good to have
been with him, working with him, carrying on after him. But the
I always felt I wanted to do something else, be something different.
"I wasn't much interested at school,
although I loved art and I was quite good
at English. I mucked around though, preferred to be off with
my mates, rather
than studying. I started reading properly, getting into text,
when I was about
19. One thing that triggered me off was Macbeth. It's about power
and where it all goes wrong."
Is power and ambition important then?
"I don't know about power, but I do want
to achieve. Be at the top of what I do. Arrogance doesn't bother
me, it's a
quality that is quite important. It's stupidity I can't abide.
following other people's orders without thinking for themselves."
Sean is a contained man, there is a
stillness about him. He is a watcher,
rather than a participator. "I observe people. I like to
see how they react. I
can draw on that and, of course, my own experiences."
Sean Bean has no artifice, what you
see is what you get. Even so, I contest,
his mind is at odds with his own inner needs. There is a considerable
trapped in a need for security.
He was a wilful child. Given to temper
tantrums, he would throw himself against
walls and beat his fists in anger. On one particular afternoon,
after he had
spent the day with a cousin at Clumber Park, he was tired and
came home and sat in the front room cutting out shapes from paper.
had the scissors. Sean wanted them. He was told to wait. His
fury erupted and
he ran to the glass door that lead to the kitchen. He pounded
glass, hitting it so hard that it fractured into pieces -- the
rained down on him and one embedded itself in his thigh, slicing
and sinew to the main artery.
"I fell back on to the floor, blood
pouring from everywhere. I don't remember
the pain but I do remember the carpet, it was patterned, blue
diamonds. My uncle wrapped me in towels and rushed me to the
hospital whilst my
mother ran over everyone's gardens to get to my father who was
in the pub. They
saved my leg, but I wouldn't walk for a year. They used to push
me around in a
big pram. I still remember it. One of this old big black ones.
I didn't like
A deep scar runs around his thigh. "I
tell people it's a shark bite."
There is very little written about Sean
Bean the family man. He lives with
Melanie and their children, in an Edwardian house in North London.
They try to
bring up the youngsters themselves, although when they are working
they have a
"I am the provider," he says.
"I look after the family. I think the mother
should be there. We try not to work at the same time, so one
of us is always
with the children. It's important. It's not easy leaving them.
When I had to go
away for four-and-a-half months to the Ukraine and I looked out
of the car and
saw the children, and Melanie, I realised I wouldn't see them
for all that
time. I won't do it again, not for that amount of time, being
away from home.
"We're lucky, in our sort of work,
we can spend a lot of time together as well.
But Melanie's working now on a series and she has to go away
every other week,
so I am at home."
He pauses. "Although I am going
to Africa to do this movie (Jacob) with Sir
Peter Hall, but it's not for long. About three or four weeks.
I'll fit it in
before I go to Ireland to finish Scarlett (the TV sequel to Gone
With The Wind
in which he plays aristocratic rake Luke Fenton)."
All this might make one believe that
Sean is a stranger to his children. That
is absolutely not the case. I have seen him coping with Molly
in one arm and
Lorna by his side. He was completely in charge and totally relaxed.
business of potty training didn't faze him; he made coffee for
me, tea for him,
and organised Molly.
Despite the domesticity, he is not,
however, a New Man. "No, it's a mother's job
to raise her children."
One might well ask what would happen
if Melanie had to go to the Ukraine for
"It would be very difficult. The
children would have to go with her, but then
Lorna would have to come out of school. I s'ppose I could go
and see her...."
The emancipated woman could enquire
if Sean might not consider staying at home.
But I didn't bother to pose the question. I can only imagine
the kind of reply I
would have received.
Mention Sean Bean and women think about
sex, but he says: "I laugh at this
image of myself as some sort of sex machine. If an alien came
to this planet
and read some of my reviews, they would think I only acted in
porn movies. I am
not complaining, but I find it very strange. The image from the
roles on film
and television are very different to who I really am. I sometimes
people must think I am some sort of sex maniac or something.
I am not thinking
about sex all the time. I am like everyone else. I am not saying
sex isn't an
important part of a relationship -- most would flounder without
it. It's a
perfectly natural thing -- that's why I don't worry when I have
to act it."
Talking about sex, what about Lady Chatterley?
Lady C attracted the kind of
damning reviews that would have sunk the Titanic without the
held of an ice
floe. "People were attacking it before it even came out.
No one gave it a
chance. It wasn't accepted as a whole piece, the four hours together.
audiences liked it. I actually thought the bonking guide (in
newspaper) was a good idea. We'd have been in trouble if the
sex scenes hadn't
lived up to what the audience wanted. I would much prefer it
to be over sexy,
rather than not enough. I tried to treat it as a piece about
sex. After all it
is about sex. It's a great love story. People can switch off
if they don't like
Sean is absolutely candid about the
decision to play the part of Paul, a
university lecturer in A Woman's Guide to Adultery. "I did
it because I wanted
to work with David Hayman, the director. I didn't think the scripts
particularly brilliant. They improved my character slightly.
I made what I
could out of the part. At the end of the day I don't regret doing
perhaps there should have been a bit more thought.
"We had a great time making it.
It was a great cast. And the producer Beryl
Vertue was wonderful. But in the end I think my performance could
better. It was a weak performance, I can accept that. I've got
no argument with
His next appearance on screen will be
as Sharpe in Central's three films based
on Bernard Cornwell's novels. Sean loves the character. He understands
"Richard fires warning shots across the barrel of privilege.
And he's got a
fiery ambition, nothing's going to stop him."
Sean admits that it was quite difficult
to get back into character after a
year's absence (the first films were made in 1992). "When
you've finished a
role, you bury the character. It's dead. I got very uptight about
it for the
first few weeks of the shoot. But then I found him again and
it was OK.
"It's funny, but Sharpe is about
the class system too. And those battles should
have been much more violent and shocking than we can show at
eight o'clock. It
is quite frustrating, not being able to do things as realistically
as one would
have liked. Myself and Tom Clegg, the director, both felt that.
I'd love to see
them as films. Sharpe's Company has the weight to become a feature
film in its
own right. There are such restrictions to what you can do on
evening. You can't even approach the sex properly.
"You have to be governed by the
kind of subject you're working with. Underworld
situations are not very pleasant. If you don't show how the people
game, you are not being true to real life.
"It all depends on what extremes
you go to -- there are certain things I would
not do. Mass murderers, those Moors Murderers -- it was disgraceful.
what I'd do to them. It's immoral to justify what they do. God
should ever see it. Let them lie -- don't raise them up again.
"Schindler's List is different.
Everyone should be reminded of what happened.
All society is at risk from that kind of brutality.
"So I s'ppose if you're asking
me where I draw the line I'd say violence has to
be justified. Gangsters and villains operate by different rules
to us. The
justice meted out to them is part of the way in which they live.
understand how it operates."
Sean takes his responsibility as an
actor very seriously. He has no patience
with the "safe" school of acting -- slipping into the
tried and trusted modes.
"You have to create your characters afresh. And it's important
to know the
producer's genuine ambition. If they are really interested in
the truth of the
piece. You have to dig deep to bring out the truth and I expect
others to do
He is equally vehement about scripts.
"A script has to have good characters. It
can't be two dimensional."
Sean has worked in a lot of adaptations:
Lady Chatterley, Clarissa, A Woman's
Guide to Adultery, Lorna Doone. "In adaptation, I get really
angry when the
adaptors' egos get in the way of the source material. If a book
is good enough
to put on the screen, then stay true to it. Don't tamper with
it. It never
Eventually, he admits, he would like
to direct, "but not yet." He cares about
how a film is made, the way it is shot and, of course, the way
it is edited.
"I was lucky in Patriot Games.
All my scenes were left intact. Harrison Ford
had a lot of say about the way it was edited and I am grateful
that he thought
they were important."
Sean relishes film, recognising it as
his medium. Although he started as a
stage actor: "My first job was at Newbury, I earnt 70 pounds
a week. I remember it
was a blue wage packet -- it was wonderful, at last I was getting
But he does not favour the theatre.
"You have to be on stage for two hours,
every night, recreating the same character, which after a while
monotonous. I prefer the spontaneity of film acting where every
day there is a
Sean believes in God, but he doesn't
go to church. He likes them though.
"Particularly the old ones. There was one up the road from
where I lived. It
has those massive, old, stained glass windows. It dates, I think,
from the 16th
Century. It has roots. I like that feeling, that something has
been there for a
He has a very precise view of morality.
"You have to be able to confront
yourself. You can't run away from anything. You have to stand
up and face
things you fear. Face up to your actions. There are certain things
I've done --
and I regret them," he shifts uncomfortably, "but you
put them out of your
mind. Don't think about them."
Before he left for Africa this week,
I asked Sean if he had a favourite
painting. He wrote it down for me. Saturday Afternoon At The
Lane by Joe
Scarborough. I don't know it myself, but I assume that it is
something to do
with Bramall Lane and a football match. His taste in music is
kinds - Tamla Motown, Madness, Mozart, Handel, brass bands."
movie is The Duellists directed by Ridley Scott.
Stardom is a dangerous game. We create
our idols to sell our product. We cosset
them and care for them and we pick over their talent like vultures.
slip just once, we begin the horrible business of tearing them
down. We demand
In Norman Mailer's book on Marilyn Monroe
he quotes from an essay: "Film is a
phenomenon whose resemblance to death has been ignored for too
The contention is that the actor consigns
to celluloid his innermost passion
and when it is gone from him he is left with less than he started.
Sean Bean is
careful of it: "I think you've always got to keep a little
bit of yourself to
yourself -- that reminds you that you still have something left
that is yours,
and yours alone."
It is probably that ethic which protects
Sean Bean. And his belief in himself.
"I am fairly confident about myself. I don't mind if some
people don't like me.
I have a lot of people who do like me."