A Match Made in Heaven

Independent on Sunday
18 February 1996

Sean Bean, romantic lead, is delighted to get back to his roots in his latest part - a Sheffield football player. Suzi Feay blows the whistle on a perfect piece of casting.

Sean Bean doesn't like doing interviews in posh hotels. You just can't get a decent brew. "First they brought all these big blue bottles of water, really fancy," he sneers. "Then they brought, like, a banquet, started pulling all the tables out. Ridiculous, weren't it?" A grin from sidekick James Daly, the writer and producer of Bean's new movie, When Saturday Comes. "Full of croissants...all waiters coming up...we only wanted a cup of tea." Bean condenses considerable scorn into the word "cruzzunts".

He sports the faint outline of a pair of mutton-chop sideburns. Every year at this time he starts to grow them again for filming Sharpe, the swashbuckling TV series featuring a devil-may-care Bean in flattering Napoleonic uniforms. "Saves me half an hour in make-up every morning," he grins, baring an even line of pale ivory teeth. He's much slimmer, and slightly smaller, than you'd expect. Today he has on a silky white polo-neck, immaculate light trousers and a well-cut, if lurid, purple jacket. On his narrow feet are a pair of startlingly dandy, shiny, buttoned boots - the sort of footwear that would elicit cried of "Soft get!" in the boozers of his home town, Sheffield. Despite this finery, with his dirty- blond hair and welder's grin, he looks like he's here to fix the boiler.

I had been counselled by a friend who had interviewed Sean Bean on the set of Clarissa: "Don't get too excited. He's very...photogenic." Meaning, exactly? "He's a bit rough up close." And don't ask him any heavy questions about acting, she warned. Dolled up as the evil, swaggering Lovelace, he had stalled every technical query with "I just do it, like." He has played an IRA terrorist, a piece of rough in 17th century Italy, Lady Chatterley's lover, a Bond villain and an anorak-wearing schoolteacher. For someone who "just does it, like", his range is impressive, thought it must be noted that when someone observed that Sharpe wasn't a Yorkshireman, Bean riposted: "He is now!" His latest role meshes with his own life-story: as Jimmy Muir in When Saturday Comes, he plays a working-class Sheffield lad made good, though on the football pitch rather than on the boards.

When we meet, in October, GoldenEye is about to be released and James Daly, the real-life Jimmy Muir, is accompanying Bean to make sure nobody talks about Bean's stint as the malevolent 006. When Saturday Comes needs more help, and Bean is in no doubt about which sort of project he prefers: "It was a big contrast going straight from WSC into Bond: you've got much more time, more money, but you haven't got the excitement of: 'Will we finish it, won't we?' You're scrabbling about, your energy's high, whereas on a very big film set you're sat on your winnie reading the Daily Mail."

Seven years in the making, WSC is a cherished personal project for LA-based Daly, his American wife Maria Giese, who co-wrote and directed, and for Bean himself. "I saw this film, Top Gun," remembers Daly, "all these pilots and stuff, and I thought, 'I can do better than that'." Bean snorts. "But that's how you think, isn't it?" Daly persists. He began to hammer out a script about his early experiences in Sheffield, when his career as a semi-pro footballer was threatened by alcohol and the ridicule of his friends.

"I never knew Sean was from Sheffield," says Daly. "I thought, 'Who can I get to star in this to help me get a bit of finance?' I was in this pub at Christmas and I said, 'I've just seen Patriot Games - he were good that bad guy, it's a pity he's Irish.' My mate just turned round to me and said, 'F-ing hell, he's from Sheffield, you daft get!'"

"I always wanted to be a Sheffield player 'n' all. That's lucky, isn't it?" interjects Bean. "It's a great sport, there's a great mentality behind it: it's not just watching a match, it's the whole weekend. Travelling up to a match, having a pint before, having a pint after. I never laugh so much as when I'm on my way to a football match, 'cos everybody just goes daft."

Behind all the Yorkshire laddishness beats a sensitive heart. This man has acted in two Derek Jarman movies, after all, and gave up welding for art school. But he didn't get on with the other students: "It were a bit clinquey, you all had to dress the same way. It was wanky, really." He found a more congenial acting and literature course in Rotherham, and says touchingly: "That really spurred me on; you just sat all day and talked about books and different authors and plays. That was when I first realised - I'm very fickle - that this were the one thing I could put my mind to."

He trained at Rada, where he met the actress Melanie Hill, who became his second wife and went on to fame as the brash Aveline in Bread. She plays his sister in WSC, Emily Lloyd being a more conventionally youthful and slender love interest.

"When I first left Rada, I went to Newbury for Romeo and Juliet. I played Tybalt." Bean begins to summarise, for Daly's benefit. "Tybalt kills Mercutio, then Romeo kills Mercu...no, Mercutio kills Tybalt, I think, then Romeo kills -"

"Tybalt?" hazards Daly.

Bean goes on hastily: "Then I went to Glasgow Citz, played about six months there. I went to RSC for two years, playing Romeo, as it happens...who kills Tybalt...."

He made his screen debut in Derek Jarman's Caravaggio, alongside Tilda Swinton. He is extremely diplomatic about everyone he's worked alongside, and his verdict on Swinton ("She's a bit strange, isn't she?") is the closest he comes to sharpness, although the comment is clearly tinged with respect. When we met, Swinton's stint as a sleeping sculpture in the Serpentine Gallery had just been announced. Bean is incredulous.

"Is she?"

It's performance art.


Daly: "She sleeps for eight hours a day."

"In a box?"

Daly: "In a museum."

You'll have to go and look at her, I say.

"Yeah, I'll go and see her... [knocks on an imaginary box] 'How you doing? Long time no see!' I haven't seen her for ages. Whereabouts is she based? Where's the box?!"

Any tendency towards pretension he might have ever shown has clearly been knocked out of him. "On WSC, we were doing this scene in a bar where I say to Emily, 'So I'll see you Saturday,' and she says, 'I thought you were coming out with me,' and I says, 'Well I can't tonight, I'm wi' my mates,' and that were it. And he says, 'cut', and my dad had just popped in, like, and he says, 'Kin-ell, is that all? You get paid for doing that?"

Bean earned more respect for the film's climactic scene, however, filmed at Bramall Lane during a real-life match between Sheffield United and Manchester United.

Daly: "We came on at half time and..."

Bean butts in: "...took penalties, yeah. Thirty thousand people. And you see the Kop, full. That's real."

And how did you feel about running on in your Sheffield Utd strip and trying for a goal?

"I were shitting me'self," Bean says frankly. "I could see the clock ticking and I thought, bloody hell. Once I got on I were okay, it felt good."

Daly interjects: "Before he took the first kick I said..."

Bean: "'Don't miss!' I'm like [whispers] bollocks! I got a great reception though. They're all going: BEAN-O, BEAN-O!" He raises both fists and swivels from the waist, wearing an idiot's grin. "The fans were great: 3,000 turned up one night, just to keep shifting around for background, cheering and that."

So, I wind up, what is his method? Does he have an intellectual approach to his work? "Not much I don't. I've never been an actor who goes into so much detail about anything, anyway. This script was pretty straightforward. It's like Rocky, at the end you can't have him losing, it dun't work that way, it in't a good ending." You have to have the big emotional pay-off, I suggest, like the catharsis of Greek tragedy. "Er, yeah."


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