11 December 2001
Sean Bean is looking happy. And all things considered, he's entitled to feel pleased with himself. It's just gone five o'clock on Saturday afternoon and his beloved Sheffield United have just grabbed a vital three away points with 1-0 win at West Brom. ''Scored in the last minute,'' he says with glee. No wonder he's smiling. And there's also the small matter of a starring role in The Lord of the Rings, easily destined to be one of the biggest films in Hollywood history. As a die-hard Sheffield United fan it's debatable which would have given the 42-year-old actor more pleasure. However, I think Lord of the Rings might just shade it. He only saw the film a few days ago at a special cast screening in New York and he is thrilled almost beyond words. ''It was quite daunting to finally see something which I had worked on for such a length of time,'' says Bean struggling to convey just how knocked out he was. ''Just to see it as a complete picture was quite overwhelming for me.''
He recalls the long months of physically gruelling fight sequences where he and his co-stars were basically battling thin air for effects shots which would be added much later. ''The effects are just great, it looks tremendous, much more impressive than you could imagine,'' says Bean. The Fellowship of the Ring is the first film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Director Peter Jackson took the audacious step of shooting all three films back to back in New Zealand. This meant that for those actors who are in all three films they would have to spend 18 months on one job on the far side of the world. Glasgow actor Billy Boyd was one of those who was there for the full shift. Ian Holm whose part is much smaller was there for a mere five weeks. For Sean Bean it was a year out of his life. The success of The Lord of the Rings is assured. If it's not a serious contender for a Best Picture Oscar then there is something very wrong. In hindsight it seems like a smart move to go and spend a year in New Zealand on such a project.
But surely, going in, it must have been a risk to take yourself out of circulation for a full year on a project which was by no means a guaranteed success. Hang on a second. This is Ensign Sharpe. Risk and danger are his middle names. The thought of not doing this film just never entered his head. ''I just thought to myself, what else could compare to this?' he smiles. The pause which follows answers his own question.
"WE all thought this was something special,'' he smiles. ''The prospect was just so thrilling. It was hugely flattering to be asked to be part of it. 'Everyone was so committed and passionate about the film that you had no option other than to be completely immersed in it. I had no second thoughts about it whatsoever.''
To be fair, the absence doesn't seem to have done his career any harm since Bean has already notched up another hit before The Lord of the Rings came out. Straight after the Tolkien project, he starred opposite Michael Douglas in the thriller Don't Say A Word. It opens here in a few weeks after already being a success in the States. Filming in New Zealand was an added bonus in the equation as far as the Yorkshireman was concerned. Apart from being one of the most beautiful locations in the world, Bean was also won over by the passion that everyone in the country seemed to feel for a film they had taken to their heart. The Fellowship of the Ring is the first of J R R Tolkien's trilogy. It tells the story of Frodo Baggins, a young Hobbit played by Elijah Wood, who agrees to take an incredibly powerful magic ring to be destroyed. The various species and races of Middle Earth each send a representative to accompany Frodo and protect him on his journey. The wise and powerful magician Gandalf also goes along with him to guide them on their quest. Sean plays Boromir, an impetuous and hot-headed warrior prince who wants to use the ring for his own ends to save his people and defeat their enemies. He, along with the others, is tempted by the seductive omnipotence of the ring along the way. It was this human aspect of the character which appealed to Sean in the first place. As he points out, the effects are sensational, but there's more to it than that. ''What I found most moving when I saw the film were what you might call the character moments,'' he explains. ''It's not often you get the chance to play such well-rounded and well developed characters in a film such as this, as well as getting the time and space to do it.''
The nine actors who make up the Fellowship of the Ring bonded during the film process. There was, says Sean, a real feeling of camaraderie and brotherhood among them. This was celebrated in a rather more concrete fashion when shooting was finished. ''Those of us who were in the Fellowship decided we should have a tattoo,'' says Sean. ''I think we'd had a few drinks,'' he adds, somewhat redundantly. The decision was taken that they would have the number 9 in Elvish, one of the languages of Middle Earth, tattooed on their shoulders. ''A few of the others had it done in New Zealand at a tattoo parlour in Wellington, but because I was one of the first to finish I was the last to get it done,'' he smiles. ''Elijah caught up with me and he dragged me into this seedy little tattoo parlour in New York where I had mine done about five weeks ago.''
It's a permanent reminder of their time together but Sean says it's more than that. ''It's a good indication of how we felt about one another,'' he says simply. ''We grew to become very good friends and that mirrors the quest we took upon ourselves in the film.''
And, I wonder, given that he already has ''100 per cent Blade'' in celebration if his love for Sheffield United tattooed on his shoulders, how does the new one fit in with his existing embellishments? ''Oh it's not a problem,'' he smiles. ''That's on the other side so there's no clash.''
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