Feature: Sean Bean Gets Dressed for `Sharpe'

In his native England, Sean Bean has had a lot of exposure in his most recent roles -- literally.

Yet he proves that a hero can be bold, dashing and romantic -- without having to take off his clothes -- as he returns to play maverick British officer Richard Sharpe in SHARPE, three new Napoleonic war adventures premiering on Mobil Masterpiece Theatre, beginning Sunday, May 14 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings).

As the gamekeeper Mellors in an adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover, co-starring Joely Richardson, and as Paul in the drama A Woman's Guide to Adultery, co-starring Theresa Russell and Amanda Donohoe, Sean had to bare all for some crucial scenes.

"In both cases, it was necessary for the plot, and I didn't mind doing it," recalls the actor. "But because the shows were screened close to each other, people may have thought that all I could do was to take my clothes off!"

Bean has appeared (fully dressed, mind you) in a wide range of roles, including Romeo with the Royal Shakespeare Company; as the aristocratic rake in Mobil Masterpiece Theatre's Clarissa; and as a vengeful IRA terrorist tracking Harrison Ford in the hit film Patriot Games. SHARPE provides Bean with another opportunity to show that there is considerably more to his acting talent.

"Sharpe is my favorite role of all that I've played," he says. "He's a very complex character. He knows that he's a good soldier, but he will always have to fight the prejudice of aristocratic officers because of his rough working-class upbringing. On the battlefield, he's full of confidence -- but off it, he is unsure, a bit shy and ill at ease."

American TV viewers also will remember Bean's moody good looks from the CBS historical miniseries Scarlett, the "sequel" to Gone with the Wind, in which he starred with Joanne Whalley Kilmer and Timothy Dalton.

"If Sharpe is one of the best people I've played, Fenton is definitely the worst," Bean says. "He was really evil in trying to manipulate Scarlett to get his own way."

Sean was also seen -- more covered up than usual -- in the TNT biblical epic Jacob, starring Matthew Modine and directed by Sir Peter Hall.

"I had to spend three hours in make-up every day being covered in glue and having false hair stuck on me," he recalls. "I knew that Esau was described as hairy in the Bible, but I didn't realize how hairy!"

During the filming of SHARPE, Sean was rewarded for his good work when he met the title character's creator, author Bernard Cornwell, who developed the renegade rifleman through 12 best-selling Sharpe books.

"Bernard visited us on location in the Ukraine and told me that my performance had caught his imagination," says Sean. "He told me that now he had seen me playing the part, he was going to write another book -- with me in mind. I'm very honored -- what better praise can you get?"


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