Bean Accepts the Sharpe Challenge


Bean Accepts the Sharpe Challenge
After journeying through Middle-earth, Yorkshire's Sean Bean is looking to
new horizons. Exclusive interview by Film Critic Tony Earnshaw.
01 Feb 06
Yorkshire Today

He shakes my hand, offers me a beer and immediately turns his attention
to the satellite sports channels on the TV in his suite in London's
Dorchester Hotel.

Sean Bean is working on promoting North Country, his latest American
movie, but his attention remains focused on his beloved Sheffield United.

"They don't kick off 'til a quarter-to-eight. They're playing Derby County
away. I've got to be here, haven't I, for the premiere," he says with just a
touch of asperity.

Bean's devotion to his home town's team – one of them, at least – has
passed into modern cinema legend. This is the TV stud and movie
heartthrob who still calls pals from faraway film sets and asks them
to relay news of 'The Blades' and their performances on the pitch.

Over all the years that I have interviewed Bean, he has remained
remarkably unchanged. He's still football crazy, still a Sheffielder at
heart and still at home clutching a pint in his local.

That's when he's not working in Hollywood, New Zealand (his home for
three years while labouring on The Lord of the Rings) or India, where he's
recently completed a new Sharpe TV drama.

Fans of the show are beside themselves with glee. Most thought resourceful
soldier Richard Sharpe had sailed into the sunset after Sharpe's
Waterloo in 1997. Nine years later, he's back with a bang.

"To have done more of them after Sharpe's Waterloo would have been a
mistake because it came to a natural conclusion with that," says Bean
about his favourite character. "I'd gone on and done other things – films
with various people, Lord of the Rings, this and that. Then a year or
two ago we started talking about it again. I felt refreshed and I felt
good about coming back."

He reveals that his costume had to be made "slightly larger" than his
previous one, which currently resides in his wardrobe at home, and
jokes that he sometimes wears it "when entertaining".

The show, Sharpe's Challenge, airs in April and takes Sharpe to India to
rescue his old friend, Harper. En-route he puts down a rebellion and
rescues a few maidens – all in a day's work for our gritty Napoleonic hero.

Heroes have become Bean's stock-in trade of late. Prior to The Lord of the
Rings, he was the villain of choice in any number of macho action flicks,
including Patriot Games in 1992, GoldenEye in 1995, Ronin in 1998, and
Don't Say a Word in 2001. Co-stars included Harrison Ford, Pierce Brosnan,
Robert De Niro and Michael Douglas. Everything changed after he played
Boromir in The Lord of the Rings.

"It was so big and so epic but I don't think we realised at the time just
how explosive it was going to be," he says, shaking his head in disbelief.

"It certainly opened doors for all of us. Look at Orlando Bloom – an
incredible phenomenon. So it did open doors, it had such massive exposure
and it was so popular, as you know. That's certainly helped me to get
other jobs and allowed me to have more choice in what I do."

Recent projects have seen him once again heading Stateside for a string
of American films. Last year he was a Machiavellian scientist in The Island,
an underwhelming slice of future shock, and popped up as a concerned pilot,
faced with Jodie Foster's loopy passenger, in Flightplan. This week he's to
be seen offering sterling support to Oscar nominee Charlize Theron in North
Country, a true-ish tale of one woman's stand against boorish and violent
male co-workers in a Minnesota mine in the late Eighties. Next up is the
creepy thriller, Silent Hill.

Since playing courageous Boromir he has been bracketed as a sympathetic
good guy. Hollywood keeps calling and Bean keeps taking the dollar. But
while he's happy to work in the Los Angeles film factory, he has no plans for
a permanent move to California. Friends and family keep him grounded.

"Hollywood doesn't really appeal to me," says this most laidback of actors.

"I spend a lot of time there and I'm looked after very well. They fly you
over in style, put you up in a nice hotel and look after you, give you money,
drive you around and then they fly you back home. I think that's fine. Why
would I want to go over there and buy a house there when my home is here?
I've got so much here that I could never imagine living anywhere else. I
love the complexities and idiosyncrasies of this country, the characters and
everything else. I'd miss that so much that I'd end up selling and moving
back anyway."

He was back in Sheffield recently for a friend's party. He planned on staying
the night but "ended up staying there five days – in the same clothes!
Terrible! Once I get up there, I tend to get drawn into things and I'm
quite reluctant to come back."

Hardly the behaviour of a "star" – more the working-class hero that the
public perceives him to be.

Yet some American writers have sought to question Bean's background. One
paralleled the blue collar milieu of North Country with Bean's early
years working as a welder in the factory owned by his father, Brian.

But the inference was that Bean was a middle-class poseur masquerading
as a grafter from the gutter – that he was actually chauffeured to work in
his daddy's expensive car. For the first time in our interview, Bean frowns.

"I hadn't heard about that, but, yes, that's right – (I went in] daddy's Rolls
Royce. You do get people having a little dig every now and then. If
anything, people perceive you as that and actually exaggerate it, whereas
I try to pull back from it to some extent.

"I'm not working-class any more. I'm pretty well-off. I live in a nice house
and I have nice things. I can hardly class myself as working-class, but
the people who are my friends and family, they are, and they are the
people that I respect and admire. They are the people who treat me
as the person that I am. I don't need to be anyone else.

"Comments like that are like water off a duck's back to me. I bet it was
a Wednesdayite that said it!"


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