April 25, 1993
The London Sunday Times Magazine
SEAN BEAN - Chrissy Iley
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Photos by Tim Richmond
Mean and moody, television's maverick sex symbol is back in two very different roles. Chrissy Iley meets Sean Bean, anti-hero and screen cad.
His hair is Hovis coloured, his voice is singsong Yorkshire and he comes out with home-grown little homilies such as "Aye, there's truth in that". Sean Bean is awkwardly shy, rigidly polite in the way that lower-middle-class men sometimes are when they have been brought up on manners, reserve, and are terrified of revelation and intimacy.
There is instinct and sensitivity beneath the granite-carved face, but it is neatly packed and conveniently unleashed in those famously wicked cad and bounder characters that have made Bean the unsafe sex symbol.
He was the "misunderstood" rapist in the series Clarissa, a terrorist in the film Patriot Games. He has been a wife-beater and a madman, and in the Julie Burchill semi-autobiographical television film Prince, he was obsessively in love with his alsation dog.
Now he is man of the moment as the dashing but dour Lieutenant Sharpe in the Central TV film adaptations of Bernard Cornwell's books, screened next month and set in 19th Century Spain during the Napoleonic Wars. Bean is a maverick rifleman who claws his way up through Wellington's ranks and demands respect because he's "honest and decent and strong". He is also in Ken Russell's Lady Chatterley, BBC1's four-part series to be shown in June, in which he plays Mellors, the gamekeeper.
There is less sex and gore than you would imagine for Russell and Bean brings an element of broody understatement. He talks of Mellors with sadness and awe. "He's a lonely man. His marriage has fallen apart, he's been hurt, he wanted to get away from people and retreat into the wilderness of the woods. They fight their love because they believed it to be wrong with the class system and all that. He's intelligent. Private. I like my privacy."
He says it in a way that makes it feel improper to probe. He refers to the sex scenes with Joely Richardson who plays Lady Chatterley. He explains that he knew her already, they were at drama school together, as if that made it okay. This is a very proper, very private man.
How is it then that something in his chemistry has fused him into rogue and rake mode? He shrugs. "Opposites attract?" His acting hero is the ultimate caddish ham, Peter O'Toole, and they share a peculiarly incisive instict. Bean never thinks about why he does anything, in life or on screen, he just does it. In Sharpe he is voraciously good. As Mellors he takes Lady Chatterley with brute force and determination, not passion, and that is because Bean seems to think they are the same thing. "All the parts I've played were very determined people, and with determination you get that strong emotion, you get passion, it is the same."
He is married to the actress Melanie Hill, who used to play Aveline in Bread. They met at Rada. "When she left Rada she got a part in Educating Rita straight away. I was jealous. We were young and I was moodier. We didn't have kids. Now we are not competitive, we work as a team. Of course we've had our ups and downs, but we try and get through it. We stick together for the kids' sake as much as anything. You forget the bad times, let the good times come along." Determination.
"I don't fall in love easily. It's a gradual process. In fact I can't explain what love is. Can you, can anybody? Partly it's deciding you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody. I'd like that to be the case." He has been with Melanie for 12 years and they married four years ago after the birth of their first child, Lorna. Molly, aged 18 months, learned to walk while he was in Russia filming Sharpe. He shakes his head sadly. "I missed that."
He has been marrried before - teenage sweetheart sort of thing - and his life could have gone another way, almost did. He left school with two O-levels. "I wasn't much good at anything. I never stuck at anything. But I always had determination and ambition, if only I could find the thing I was good at."
He went to work in his father's welding business. "I was happy because it was a laugh with the other men who worked there. They were good mates, but I'm not into figures and lines."
He also wanted to be a singer in a band but never got further than a pretend microphone in his bedroom. He fancied being an artist: "I was always drawing strange faces." He went to three different art schools, left one of them by lunchtime, another after a week, and at the third he discovered a drama course. "At last I found something I was quite good at and I was exhilarated by. So I thought, 'This is not too bad, this. I'll give it a real go - I'll really try this time."
The real go meant coming to London and going to Rada. At first he felt alienated, his psyche is embedded with Yorkshireness. He talks of his fisticuff sessions with his schoolmates, a very ordinary rite of passage. "There was no noise. Quiet. A fight behind the school wall. Nothing sinister. Usually it was over girls. Whoever won the fight went out with the girl. That was how it worked."
"I don't find it difficult to play shifty characters. I copy who I know. I find it difficult to take this sex symbol stuff seriously. I can't get my head round it."
Ask him who his greatest influence is, and it's his mother, because "she's a good woman." And his definition of a good woman? "Good heart, sense of fairness, ability to laugh at herself, compassion and love. She neither discouraged me nor encouraged me to act. But she never stopped me."
Melanie seems to have the same attitude. "If there was anything that offended her in a part I don't think she'd really protest. I think she'd let me get on with it." Could she stop him? He gives a snarling smile. "Not really."
What is it that Sean Bean would really like to do? What would be the ultimate bliss on earth? "Scoring the last minute winner in the FA Cup Final for Sheffield United. I'd like more kids, well, I'd like a boy, so I can take him to the matches. I imagine that would be close to bliss on earth."
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