Murderous Intent

Last Update: 13 October 2002

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(Photos above by Sarah Dunn; photo on the right by Hugo Glendinning)

Murderous Intent
Source: The Ambassadors Theatre Group Magazine
Autumn 2002

Sean Bean gets under Macbeth's skin
Interview by Zoe Mylchreest

Film stars, eh? Glamorous bunch, the lot of them. No doubt they live it up when jetting off on location. Sean Bean, star of many films, including Lord of the Rings and Goldeneye, lets us in on what goes on behind the scenes.

Whilst making Don't Say a Word with Michael Douglas, he had a break from filming. "I had a few days off," he says, "and was hanging out in a hotel room in New York." So far, so predictable. Brace yourself for stories of excessive movie star behaviour. "I had a bit of time to kill," he says, "so I went off to a book shop and bought myself a copy of Macbeth." What's all this? Book shop? Reading? What about the all-night parties and reckless behaviour? Nothing doing apparently. "It was a role I'd rather hankered after," he continues. "I read it again that day and was just blown away by it. I rang my agent straight away to see if there was any way we could make it happen. I wasn't sure whether anyone would be interested or if it would be possible." How modest is this man? But, happen it did. Within a few days producer Sonia Friedman had snapped him up and soon they were in discussion with director Edward Hall. And here they all are, stuck into rehearsals and realising an actor's dream. So, bang goes the notion of the rock and roll life style on location. There's our very own Sean Bean conquering Hollywood and instead of throwing things out of hotel windows, he's curled up inside sharing a quiet moment with Shakespeare.

But it was a brave move as this is not a role to be undertaken lightly. Macbeth is a big challenge for any actor, especially since Sean Bean has been away from the stage for over a decade. He's been on a roller-coaster of success shooting film and television back to back. Known to millions as the dashing Napoleonic rifleman Sharpe, he's gone on to play a number of hardmen - in Patriot Games, Ronin, and most famously as the villainous 006 in Goldeneye.

Talking to Sean, the most startling thing is just how damn nice he is. A thoroughly decent, down-to-earth bloke. Curious then that in many of his hit films, he's been cast as the baddie. But in person, he's far from it. Mixing with the Hollywood hot shots hasn't rubbed away his natural warmth. He's totally easy-going and makes you feel like you're his best friend in a matter of minutes. So, how's Mr Nice Guy going to get under the skin of the murderous Macbeth? It's a role he's been thinking about for some time now. "It's impossible to have an overview of Macbeth," he explains, "because everything the man does, he does instantly. He lives completely and totally in the moment and then he suffers for it. His imagination races, he begins hallucinating and doesn't sleep for days. I love the juxtaposition of all these really strong emotions - the wild imagination, the massive mood swings, the ambition, the guilt and remorse - they're all thrown into a pot and together it's quite a potent brew." He stops himself mid-flow, laughing his cracking laugh, acknowledging his inadvertent lapse into an appropriate witch-like metaphor. "It's a part I suppose deep down I've always wanted to play, but until recently I didn't dare to imagine it might be possible."

His sexy laugh and mesmerising eyes will certainly work for him in this part. Macbeth has to be deeply charismatic to take you with him on his extraordinary journey, but he also has to have a convincingly passionate relationship with his wife. Lady Macbeth is one of the most devilish of Shakespeare's characters and Sean's lucky enough to be playing opposite the talented Samantha Bond, a woman best known as the modern Miss Moneypenny. "Strangely enough, although we were both in Goldeneye, we never met," explains Sean, "as we didn't have any scenes together. There is a hugely strong bond between Macbeth and his wife: the two characters are linked together; they tell each other everything - their desires and ambitions - and you have to believe they are totally passionate about one another." With someone as charming and charismatic as Sean Bean that sounds like a joy for any actress. "We seem to have good chemistry," he admits slightly mischievously. Lucky Samantha.

Strutting your stuff as Macbeth in the West End stage is some achievement for this modest man from the North of England, and he's kept his feet firmly on the ground, acknowledging what a privileged job he has. "If you'd said to me when I was a kid at drama school that I'd be playing Macbeth in the West End, I'd have found it hard to believe. I haven't felt like this about a part for a long time now. I've never been so engrossed, so wrapped up in everything about it. This is the role of a lifetime. Subconsciously I feel that I've been building up to this for about 20 years; it's always been at the back of my mind that I've wanted to have a go."

So, have a go, he will. Thank God for that quiet moment in his hotel, without which he'd still be hanging out on film sets. He's such a genuine guy that you can't help but wish him well as he takes on Shakespeare's most ambitious and tortured man. With all his enthusiasm, charisma and charm, it looks like audiences are in for a treat. This is one time when Sean Bean will be anything but nice.

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