by John Mosby
Britain is striking back with its own breed of tough heroes. John Mosby was
invited for an exclusive interview with Sean Bean, who has been scoring goals on
the big screen, and is about to soldier back onto our television screens in a
new series of Sharpe.
There are many critics out there who are labelling Sean Bean as the next
‘big’ British actor. They could have a point, but if that’s the case, the actor
is one of the most unassuming and down-to-earth people you could wish to meet.
In the last few years, Sean has appeared alongside Harrison Ford (Patriot
Games), Sting and Melanie Griffiths (Stormy Monday) and Pierce Brosnan
(Goldeneye). On television he’s bared his buttocks as Lady Chatterley’s Lover,
menaced Clarissa and gone to war as Sharpe. In short, if there’s been a role for
a rough-and-ready type, Sean’s been up for it. You’d expect, then, that Impact’s
intrepid reporter would be sipping champagne with him in his luxury villa in LA,
and mulling over the million dollar contracts. Actually, the truth is somewhat
more, well, down-to-earth.
We’re in Sheffield, where Sean was born and bred…and it’s a pint of bitter,
ta very much!
Nineteen-ninety-six looks set to continue his success story. The recently
released When Saturday Comes has been receiving vast amounts of publicity and
Bean will be returning to the smaller screen and the role of Sharpe in the near
future. The ‘heart-throb’ and ‘sex-symbol’ tags, then, remain firmly in place,
but you get the feeling that Sean is a little bit embarrassed by the
descriptions, lest his mates down at the local pub take the mickey. Okay, he’s
enjoying the success, but there’s no sign of it going to his head.
“It’s not a bad thing to be labelled that, you know what I mean?” Sean
laughs. “There’s a lot worse I could be called. First and foremost, though, I
just like acting. I’m no better or worse than anybody else.”
When Saturday Comes was more than just another film for Sean. The story of a
young man determined to avoid a mundane life, reach for the stars and play for
his beloved Sheffield United struck a chord with the actor. Bean is a notorious
fan of his home team, and has “100% Blade” tattooed on his arm, referring to
Sheffield United’s nickname, “The Blades”. One tale is that he had the scores
phoned through to him when he was away filming “Sharpe” in the Ukraine.
“I was working in Bristol when I got the message in my hotel room that
someone called Jimmy Daly was trying to contact me with regards to a film called
“A Pint O’ Bitter” and about playing a guy who gets to play for Sheffield
United. I looked at the telephone number and it was a Hollywood number, so I
was convinced it was a set-up. Jimmy finally got in contact with me through my
mother. He’d seen me in “Patriot Games” and had said, ‘That Sean Bean would be
good for the role. Pity he’s Irish!’ Of course, he was soon told that I was
from Sheffield and finally managed to track me down.”
Sean met with Jimmy Daly, who also produced Highlander III, and discussed the
project, which was loosely based on Daly’s experiences. The film was retitled
“When Saturday Comes”, and Bean was cast as the lead character Jimmy Muir, who
gets the chance to try out for Sheffield. Will the support of his trainer (Pete
Postlethwaite) and girlfriend (Emily Lloyd) be enough to catapult him to his
dream, or will he let them all down? Imagine Rocky meets Roy of the Rovers and
you’ll have an idea what to expect.
“Without doubt, running on to the pitch and scoring for Sheffield United was
the highlight of my career so far. I may get a lot of excitement in projects
that I do in the future, but I can’t imagine anything topping that. It was an
incredible experience. We filmed the football scenes during half time at an
actual match, in front of fellow fans, the club you’ve supported since you were
a kid and everybody’s cheering you on. I just didn’t want to come off. By the
time I did, I was walking on air!”
Like professional footballers, Bean has to keep fit, and he’s building his own
gym. “I suppose the nature of the business…I mean on Sharpe you’re always
running up some hill, so that keeps you relatively fit. I try to keep fit, I run
quite a bit now, especially when I’m not working. I’m trying to get the gym
built at my house; I don’t want to be He-Man or anything like that, it’s more a
matter of not wheezing when I’m filming! I like getting my hands dirty. I’m in
the garden humping bricks around, out in the fresh air. I just keep active.”
“In Goldeneye there was obviously stuff that I couldn’t do…diving off a
dam, for a start! But in all the fights, the hand-to-hand stuff with Pierce at
the end of the movie, we did ourselves. We had a fight arranger. We go through
it all and then we rehearse and then shoot it. It’s great, I like all the action
stuff, being able to throw people around”, he laughs.
Sean has worked with Pete Postlethwaite (another down-to-earth and
gentlemanly chap) on Sharpe. They developed a strong friendship, and Sean
immediately knew that Pete would be interested in the film as well. “It’s just
great to have Pete involved, he’s perfect for it. I’ve got a lot of admiration
for him. Over the last few years he’s got the recognition he deserves. I worked
with him at the RSC and shared a dressing room with him for eighteen months.
You’ve got to get on to do that!”
The soccer movie also breaks the traditional mould that Bean has found
himself cast in, movie-wise at least, as the villainous type. It’s not
something that bothers him too much. “Obviously some people might see
“Goldeneye” and think that they should get me because I played a great villain.
Some of the best parts are villains. If you do a great job, the villains are
the characters that people will remember, but it’s good to play different types
of characters. Even in “Sharpe”, the character isn’t exactly a hero. He has
certain qualities. He’s rough and can be quite brutal at times, but that’s kind
of the way that I like to see heroes portrayed; not as saintly figures, more
like ordinary people.”
The new season of Sharpe moves the action from the Ukraine to Turkey.
“Actually, we did five weeks shooting in England, which were great, y’know? Then
we went to Turkey. The problem with the Ukraine was that everything was starting
to look very familiar. There’s only so many ways you can shoot the same tree or
rock!” Ironically, Sean probably won’t see the broadcast. He’ll be off to St.
Petersburg for the Warner Bros. adaptation of the classic Anna Karenina, playing
Tolstoy’s romantic hero, another cavalry officer!
Such was the good time that Pete, Sean and Jimmy had on When Saturday Comes,
it’s not surprising to learn that they plan to work together again. In fact, the
team is setting up it’s own production company.
“It’s nice to have a core of people that feel like they’re going in the same
direction. Kenneth Brannagh and Martin Scorcese do it, so why shouldn’t we?
It’s a good family of people.”