|8 July 1995
Sean Bean came late to acting, and maybe that’s why he makes it seem so easy.
Can he act? Does he need to? What you see in the down-to-earth, no-nonsense
Sharpe is, it seems, the real thing.
by Sally Staples
Sunday Express Classic Magazine, July 8, 1995
Ever since he was cast as Mellors the gamekeeper and seen tumbling with Lady
Chatterley in the woods, Sean Bean’s seductive style has sent female pulses
Best known as the swashbuckling Lieutenant Richard Sharpe in the hit
television drama set in the Napoleonic Wars – the fourth Sharpe series will be
made this summer – Bean will no doubt expand his international fan club when he
appears with Pierce Brosnan in the new James Bond film GoldenEye, which opens in
Where the appeal of many young English actors lies in clean-cut charm, Sean
Bean suggests a self-contained, almost brooding presence. Rather than sipping
champagne in sophisticated restaurants, you imagine him with a pint of bitter in
a working men’s club in his native Yorkshire. For all the fame that the
capricious world of show business has bestowed, he remains very close to his
The Sheffield-born actor was no academic star, preferring to mess about with
his mates rather than settle down to study. He loved boxing – which he still
describes as the “pinnacle of masculinity” – but left school at 16 with just two
His PE teacher, Dave Aizlewood, remembers the young Bean cultivating a
reputation as a “Jack the lad”: “Sean wasn’t particularly interested in the
academic side. He was one of four young rogues in his year who seemed to try to
get away with everything they could. They would be the ones having a quick cig
behind the cycle sheds or turning up late for school trips.
“He was really just interested in football and clowning about. I don’t think
he was into drama or anything like that. He played for the school football team
but he wasn’t outstanding.”
Bean was 19 before he began to read seriously, and found his interest
triggered by studying the text of Macbeth. He became fascinated with the story
of how power and ambition can go so disastrously wrong.
School was followed by a spell at his father’s steel parts factory. Then he
decided to enrol at an art school. He left at lunchtime, tried another, and
left at the end of the week. Finally he opted for Rotherham College of Art and
Technology, and it was there that a drama course caught his eye.
“I never had any burning desire to be an actor,” he said later. “I just
enrolled on the course at Rotherham because it sounded interesting. But it
didn’t turn out to be what I expected, so I left after three days. Luckily I
decided to give the course another go and this time I really enjoyed it and
became more and more interested.”
After the course he was one of only 30 out of 11,000 applicants to win a
scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. But he was ambivalent about
going to London, where initially he felt alienated. He has never tried to hide
his distinctive accent except in some acting roles.
Now 35, he is still very much a Yorkshireman. “You can drive out of
Sheffield and in 10 minutes you’re in the country,” he says. “I know there’s
Hampstead Heath in London, but it’s not quite the same thing, is it?
“The thing about the north is that people 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 and said: ‘Hey, that’s you, isn’t it?’ And he held up the paper and
showed it around to everyone. It was all good-hearted and a bit of fun and we
had a laugh but then they let me get on with my drink.
“I was brought up in that kind of atmosphere where you can’t put on airs and
graces,” he says. The greatest influence on him in childhood was his mother,
Rita, a secretary who gave up her job to look after him and his sister Lorraine.
“She’s a good woman who has a good heart, a sense of fairness, the ability to
laugh at herself, compassion and love. She neither encouraged nor discouraged
me from acting.”
Bean’s father, Brian, ran his own steel fabrication shop, making gear wheels
and plant machinery and young Sean enjoyed his time working there. “I grew up a
lot. I’ve always been very proud of how my father built up the business. In
some ways I wish I’d followed him. It would have been good to have carried on
working with him but I always felt I wanted to do something else.”
Brian says he would still give his son a job if his acting career failed.
“When Sean comes home I still remind him he could have been a good welder and he
has a laugh,” he says at the modest semi in Sheffield’s Handsworth district
where Sean stays when he returns for weekends.
“He had a few odd jobs before he went to RADA and I was a bit worried about
his future, but it’s all worked out well. He has been working hard for a long
time – it’s paid off for him and I’m delighted.
“He comes home whenever he can with Melanie and the kids. He enjoys a pint
and his football. He might be a star on screen, but when he comes home he’s
just one of the lads.”
Sean had a short-lived marriage to a teenage sweetheart before he met the
actress Melanie Hill at RADA in 1981. They married six years ago, after the
birth of their daughter Lorna, and now have a second child, Molly, who is three.
At heart, Sean believes that mothers should look after their children; in
practice, he and Melanie try to avoid taking work at the same time so that one
of them can stay at home.
“It’s not easy leaving the children,” he says. “I had to go away for four
months to the Ukraine filming Sharpe, and when I looked out of the car and saw
them with Melanie and realised I wouldn’t see them for all that time, it was
Such a family-based man is a long way from the image that has been thrust on
Bean. He has a knack of landing parts that display rather more of him than just
his rakishly handsome face and glittering eyes.
He finds the sex symbol tag embarrassing, but takes a matter-of-fact view of
stripping off to play parts such as Mellors. The fact that he and Joely
Richardson – who played Lady Chatterley – had been at drama school together made
it a lot easier.
“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 than not sexy enough.
After all, it is about sex. It’s a great love story, and people could always
switch off if they didn’t like it.
“I do laugh at this image of myself as some sort of sex machine. I am not
thinking of sex all the time. I’m like everyone else. I’m not saying sex isn’t
an important part of a relationship – most would flounder without it. It’s a
perfectly natural thing and that’s why I don’t worry when I have to act it.”
As well as Sharpe, Bean has enjoyed success in several feature films
including Scarlett (the sequel to Gone With the Wind), Patriot Games, and Black
Beauty, soon to be out on video.
Apart from his family and his career, Bean’s other abiding passion is his
local football team. Whenever he phones his wife from abroad his first question
is whether Sheffield United have won. He bought both daughters the club strip
and even has a football tattoo on his shoulder – which had to be camouflaged for
his nude scenes in Lady Chatterley. He has a key to the United players’
dressing room so that he can chat to the team he hero-worships, and he postponed
his honeymoon to see them play at home.
“The great thing about Sean,” says United’s commercial manager Andy Daykin,
“is that when he is at Bramall Lane he really is just one of the lads. No airs
and graces. It sounds corny, but he knows where his roots are. He doesn’t
arrive as Sean Bean, film star: he is Sean Bean, supporter. The players are the
stars as far as he’s concerned.”
“My greatest wish,” says Bean, “would be to score a last-minute winner in the
FA Cup Final for Sheffield United. And I’d like a son so I could take him to
matches. That would be bliss on earth.”