by Caroline Westbrook
He may be a tad crinkled of visage. He may have a name that looks like it should
rhyme. But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty Sean Bean is nothing if not
honest. “I don’t mind the heart-throb tag,” is his short response. “I don’t take
it too seriously. After all, it’s better to have that than to have everybody
saying I’m an ugly old twat . . .”
Ever since his film debut in Stormy Monday, the good-natured Sheffield-born
thesp has spent the best part of a decade imprinting his image on the psyche of
faint-hearted females up and down the land – yet all the while proving to be a
pretty good actor in the process.
There’s been TV: the costume drama Clarissa; the equally well-dressed serial
Sharpe; the similarly periodic Lorna Doone; the positively 19th century Gone
With The Wind sequel, Scarlett. Then, of course, there was the costume (or lack
of) raunch-fest Lady Chatterley’s Lover, directed by Ken Russell, which had
viewers swooning and writing disgusted letters to the BBC in equal measures.
Bean’s film CV is no less impressive: Philip Noyce’s Patriot Games (as an Irish
terrorist trying to scatter Harrison Ford all over America); Jim Sheridan’s The
Field; and, most recently, Goldeneye as Pierce Brosnan’s unexpected adversary.
Today, however, the 36-year-old father of two is squashed into a huge comfy
armchair in one of London’s most exclusive hotels awaiting coffee that never
arrives and discussing When Saturday Comes, a film which not only gives him the
chance to strut his stuff on the football field, but also to realise a
lifetime’s ambition by playing for Sheffield United.
Set in the aforementioned South Yorkshire city, Bean stars as Jimmy Muir, a 25-
year-old brewery worker who just might be headed for Endsleigh League glory if
it weren’t for his tendency to slip down the Dog & Duck the night before an
important match. Throw in some family conflict, personal tragedy, Pete
Postlethwaite as Jimmy’s no-nonsense mentor, and Emily Lloyd providing love
interest and a bizarre Irish accent, and the result is a peculiar hybrid of
kitchen-sink drama and sporting triumph picture, predictable right down to the
after-match bath bonding sequence and the inevitable slow-motion penalty kick.
Strange, then, that its writer/director Maria Giese is, in fact, from
Massachusetts via Puerto Rico, having based Bean’s character on her Sheffield-
born hubby. While the film may not be a world-beater, Bean’s performance is
credible enough to keep things moving along watchably.
“The first time I found out about it,” he surmises in his unmistakable Yorkshire
accent, “was when I was working in Bristol. There was a message in my room on a
piece of scrap paper saying ring this number, it was an LA number, regarding a
film called A Pint O’ Bitter (the film’s original moniker), about a bloke who
plays for Sheffield United. I thought someone was taking the piss, so I didn’t
call back for a while, and it was only when I got back to London that I thought
perhaps I should give them a call. You just don’t expect anyone to write
anything like that. But, in the end, the story attracted me – and, of course,
the football, because of a certain team I happen to support who are featured
heavily . . .”
He’s referring to Sheffield United, of course.
“We did quite a bit of work with them,” he says. “Dave Bassett, their (then)
manager, let us train with them and play a few practice games. We took part in
team talk in the changing rooms, that kind of thing, just to get the feel of
what it was really like. And we had Mel Sterland (ex-Leeds United, who plays a
team-mate) working with us all the time, Tony Currie (ex-Sheffield United, Leeds
and England, who plays United’s manager) helped us out, and a lot of the players
who appear in the movie were semi-professional anyway . . .”
While Bean has been a lifelong “Blades” supporter and even took up one of the
coveted managerial positions on TV”s cult soccer lampoon Fantasy Football
League, his childhood footballing aspirations soon evaporated.
“I was in the school team, I played inside-right, but the appeal wore off after
a bit. I can’t say I had a burning ambition. Once it gets to the stage where you
have to train, that’s when you find out if you really want to be a footballer. I
can’t say I was all that brilliant, to be honest.”
Instead, Bean swapped his boots for brushes, developing an interest in art and
painting, although on leaving school he drifted through a series of jobs
punctuated by a three-year stint at his dad’s welding shop, before heading for
London and RADA (where he met his actress wife Melanie Hill who stars in When
Saturday Comes as his sister).
Taking the usual theatrical routes, Bean eventually landed his first film part
in the steamy thriller Stormy Monday, playing fourth fiddle to the likes of
Melanie Griffith, Sting and Tommy Lee Jones (whom he diplomatically describes as
“a very private fella, very reserved, pretty much kept himself to himself”).
While the movie may not have had much box office impact, it proved to be the
starting point for a string of celluloid appearances, culminating, of course, as
006 in Goldeneye.
“It was great to be involved with something like that, and it was nice to play
such a big part,” says Bean. “Lots of stunts, machine guns, swinging about. It
was funny going from one film to another like that, because with When Saturday
Comes we were racing about a lot, rushing to get it done, and then with
Goldeneye it was much more laid back, obviously it had a much bigger budget, in
a way it was a bit of an anticlimax. I always think you work better when you’ve
got a bit of a challenge and you’re working to deadlines . . . “