|by Neil Norman
Evening Standard Magazine
February 16, 1996
Soon to star in a film about one of his great passions, football, professional
bad boy Sean Bean is now an adopted Londoner. Neil Norman discovers whether
softie southerners have managed to blunt his actor’s edge of hardened Sheffield
Of all the spotty young British actors currently working, Sean Bean is the one
most likely to bowl a maiden over. And he is as comfortable in the cloak of
heroism as he is handling the daggers of villainy.
As Richard Sharpe, the small-screen hero of the Napoleonic Wars, Sean Bean is a
rough diamond, a gent whose stern moral character lies buried beneath the
tattered frogging and devil-may-care patriotic spirit of the fusilier major. His
success in the role has guaranteed his return in a new series in the spring.
All manner of classy women, from colonels’ wives to Spanish countesses, have
melted into the arms of the unshaven, hawkish Sharpe, particularly in times of
crisis. And so dextrous is your man that he can catch a swooning damsel in one
arm while discharging his rifle with the other. It’s a tough act to follow and
perhaps only Daniel Day-Lewis possesses a similar combination of bruising
masculinity and deep-seated chivalry.
But to watch the cruelty creep into his eyes as the Regency cad Lovelace in the
BBC adaptation of Clarissa, or as the IRA terrorist in Patriot Games, or the
half-Tartar turncoat in GoldenEye, is to watch a subtly dangerous actor at work.
It comes as little surprise that Bean is the British actor most female casting
directors first think of when selecting hot male talent. Such is the reaction of
the ladies in his presence, one might be forgiven for thinking that he had been
allotted more than his rightful share of testosterone. He can touch the wanton
in the most demure of women.
It helps that he is blond. In this he has little competition as most leading men
of his generation tend to be dark,. Newcomer Jason Lee Miller may be coming up
on the inside as the sexiest blond male on screen (see Trainspotting and Hackers
for details) but as yet he’s still burdened with boyishness. Bean’s trick is to
appear young and experienced at the same time – wise beyond his years. At 36, he
can play a 25-year old in his forthcoming film, When Saturday Comes, without
straining audience credibility or the resources of the make-up department.
There is something endearingly unreconstructed about him; he’ll not be doing
with this New Mannishness lark. Born in Sheffield, he grew up in the school of
hard knocks, leading school at 16 to become a welder in his father’s firm before
heading down to the Smoke and RADA. In spite of a dramatic training that
discourages such traits, there remains a laddish quality about him which is far
removed from the effete, pseudo-manhood of many of his contemporaries. He shares
something of the raffish qualities of the older screen stars: Stewart Granger,
Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris, Sean Connery.
Of course, football has to come into it somewhere. Bean supports his home team
of Sheffield United with an enthusiasm bordering on obsession. He even had “100%
Blades” tattooed on his left shoulder in 1990 when the team were doing
particularly well. So it’s appropriate that his latest role in When Saturday
Comes is a character whose goal in life is to become a professional footballer.
Bean plays young brewery worker Jimmy Muir, who has to fight against the odds to
realise his dream. The film is set in Sheffield and the part could have been
written with him in mind. He is clearly delighted at the prospect of playing a
role so close to himself.
“If you could think of a part that you’d like to play, could write yourself and
do all the things you want to in a film, this is it!” he says.
A family man now living in London, he has two daughters by his second wife,
Melanie Hill (Aveline in TV’s Bread), whom he met at RADA. All of which means
that there is just one thing still missing in Bean’s life. He wants a son to
take to football matches. Like most things in his life, he will doubtless stick
at it till he succeeds.
With Thanks to The Compleat Sean Bean