Mobil Masterpiece Theatre
Airdate: Nov. 14 - Dec. 5/93

AFTER PLAYING SO MANY BAD GUYS, SEAN BEAN SWITCHES TO DAREDEVIL HERO IN "SHARPE"

Playing an evil seducer and rapist in one Masterpiece Theatre series and a swashbuckling hero in another doesn't faze British actor Sean Bean. He's been going, after all, from good guy to bad guy most of his career.

Sean returns to the good guy mode as Richard Sharpe, a daredevil British rifleman fighting against Napoleon's forces in 19th century Spain in "Sharpe's Rifles" and "Sharpe's Eagle". Each is a two-part adventure story airing under the umbrella title, "Sharpe", on Mobil-funded Masterpiece Theatre Sundays at 9 p.m. (ET) beginning Nov. 14 nationally on PBS.

In the series adapted from writer Bernard Cornwell's best- selling novels, Sharpe is a dashing, romantic soldier who wins a battlefield promotion when he saves the life of his commanding officer during a skirmish with the French. Along the way he carries on a romance with Teresa (played by Spanish actress Assumpta Serna), the feisty, beautiful leader of a band of Spanish guerillas fighting Napoleon.

Romancing the heroine comes naturally to the tall, handsome Sean. He became a matinee idol early in his career, at least with a gaggle of young women admirers, when he played Romeo with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Then some not-so-young women acclaimed his performance in Masterpiece Theatre's "Clarissa" as the aristocratic rake devoting full time to wooing and seducing the moralistic, virginal heroine.

"Mr. Bean," a British woman critic wrote, "can whisk me away from the word processor and the washing-up any time he likes."

Sean says Sharpe is a complex character. He doesn't know who his parents were, and his battlefield promotion to lieutenant only exacerbates his problems. Fellow officers look down their upper-class noses at his lack of breeding, and his ragtag men, each a crack rifleman, resent taking orders from him because they consider him no better than they are.

Sean, who became interested in acting at college, defied family traditions in his native Sheffield. "I got a real buzz out of it and I told my dad it was what I wanted to do," he says. "I had lots of jobs, working as a welder in my father's firm, selling cheese in a supermarket and shoveling snow, and my family thought the fascination with acting was just another fad. They assumed I would join my father in his business."

Then Sean received a scholarship to London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and began getting acting jobs. "Then," he says with a grin, "the family knew I was serious."

Happily married to actress Melanie Hill and the father of two young children, Sean says he's amused by the "sex symbol" tag pinned on him in a number of film, TV and stage roles. "It's really not something I think about," he says, "but I do try to look neat and smart in public. And if that means I get more work with actresses like Melanie Griffith (his co-star in the "Stormy Monday" film) and Joely Richardson (in Ken Russell's forthcoming "Lady Chatterley's Lover" for the BBC) then I won't complain."

Sean helped establish his bad-guy reputation playing the vengeful IRA terrorist tracking Harrison Ford in the hit film, "Patriot Games". He also appeared in an RSC production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream", as a gang lord in a British TV series "Fool's Gold" and in "Deathwatch" at the Young Vic.

The actor carries a permanent record of his encounter with Ford in "Patriot Games", which took him to Hollywood for the first time. "During a fight scene," he recalls, "Ford accidentally cut me above my eyes and I had to have stitches. Now I've got a scar." He has a lot more fights in "Sharpe" with sword, rifle and fists but no scars.

Maybe it's safer to be a good guy.


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