Out with the Lads? I'd Rather Play for Sheffield United, says Sean Bean

by Kim Willsher
The Mail on Sunday
February 25, 1996

His macho roles as Bond baddie 006 in GoldenEye and the swashbuckling Sharpe have made him Britain's hottest film and TV star. And rightly so.

The image, though, is of a night-out-with-the-lads chauvinist who believes a woman's place is in the kitchen. A real Jack The Lad.

But if that was once true, Sean Bean has undergone an extraordinary transformation. After all, here he is now - talking in that famous Sheffield accent about Shakespeare and taking his daughter to football matches - with more sensitivity than sexism.

It's all rather unnerving. So thank goodness you know where you are with the character he plays in his latest film, When Saturday Comes.

The low-budget movie, filmed in his home town, sees Sean as Jimmy Muir, a hard-drinking Northern lad working in a beer factory and drooling over Page Three girls.

When his feisty Irish girlfriend, played by Emily Lloyd, announces she's pregnant, he walks out on her, gets drunk, then sleeps with a stripper.

But when football-mad Jimmy blows his big chance to play for Sheffield United, that's different. Suddenly, he cleans up his act - and goes on to score the winning goal against Manchester United.

It's a role that could have been written for Bean. He is a fanatical Sheffield United supporter and declares his devotion with '100% Blade' - the team's nickname - tattooed on his left shoulder.

His greatest wish would be to score a last-minute winner in the FA Cup Final for Sheffield United. Running out on to the pitch at Bramall Lane as Jimmy Muir was almost as big a thrill.

Bean, who left school at 16 and worked as a welder before going to RADA, said: 'Of all the parts I've played this was the nearest to my own character.

'I'd always wanted to do a film in my home town, and a lot of the scenes and stories were similar to the places I'd been to in the past with the lads - the boozers and betting shops.'

Bean adds: 'We were coming back from scenes in pubs having a few drinks and going back to the hotel and just carrying on until midnight or 2 am. Then we'd be back up again at 6 am.

'But I had such a good time and there was such a good buzz from it.

'Going out at Bramall Lane was a great experience. That opportunity never comes along unless you're a professional footballer. And this was the next best thing.

'It was great to do a bit of training with United. I really wanted to do it properly and even stopped smoking. Mind you, I took it up again immediately we finished.

'Dave Bassett, the then manager, said afterwards he'd seen the answer to his dreams - the player who scores the winning goal against Manchester United - and he might be signing him soon. That's something to show my kids.'

But was it a case of Sean Bean playing himself?

He refused to be drawn. 'It's a bit of a mix, really. All the bits where I'm behaving myself are me being me.' And the rest? 'Ah, well,' he laughs nervously.

'It does come across as Sean Bean being Sean but although it's as close to my character as it could get, I'm still acting.'

One person who can vouch for that is his wife, Melanie Hill, who he met at RADA and who played Aveline in the hit BBC TV comedy series Bread. They have two daughters, Lorna, eight, and Molly, four.

The couple worked together for the first time on When Saturday Comes in which Melanie, 31, plays his unglamorous sister.

Bean alludes to a few tensions behind the scenes with Emily Lloyd, but won't elaborate. 'She's got her ways of working and I've got mine. Considering that, well, you wouldn't have known...she comes across well.'

Acting with his wife, he says, was 'a laugh'.

'It was nice to have her involved with something close to my heart.' And he dismisses rumours that the couple's marriage is in trouble, allegedly because he wanted her to stay at home and have another child, preferably a boy.

Bean says: 'We laugh about it. It started when she went to a film premiere on her own while I was in Turkey filming Sharpe. It was impossible for me to be there, but everyone neglected to mention that and drew the wrong conclusions.'

Yet surely he realises that many women see him as a sex symbol? Bean gives a sheepish grin. 'What can I say? I'm not really a macho man. I don't go out to prove a point, to be macho or masculine.'

So what does his mother, Rita, say? 'Me mam and dad have known me for 36 years and I don't think I have altered very much in their eyes. They are quietly proud of what I have done.

'First and foremost, they are me mam and dad and I am their son and that's what's important, in't it?'

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