Sean Bean - Troy Story
15 May 2004
Photos by Eva Vermandel
Click on the thumbnails.
Thanks to Anne and Penny!
Sean Bean stars opposite Brad Pitt in Hollywood's new $200m swords-and-
sandals epic. Not bad, says Deborah Ross, for a man who couldn't cut it
on the cheese counter at M&S
Meet Sean Bean at a London hotel. I arrive first, light up, then he arrives,
and lights up, but that's OK because, come the weekend, he's off to see
Allen Carr, the give-up-smoking man - that's the GIVE-UP-SMOKING MAN
for those of you who have read his books and know Mr Carr repeats
everything in capitals - and "I've spoken to 'im and 'e says carry on, like,
for now. No point torturing yourself."
I say the trouble with becoming a non-smoker is that you no longer get to
hang out with smokers and, as every smoker knows, smokers are a lot more
fun than non-smokers. "It's true, that," he says. "I used to travel from
London to Sheffield quite a lot when I was a student and I always found
that in the smoking carriage there was a lot of chatter and laughter.
It was quite dull in the other carriages."
I further point out that smokers are less likely to know what things like
endowment mortgages actually are, which seems like a good thing to me.
"Absolutely," he agrees. "That's one of the words you hear so often but have
no interest whatsoever in finding out what it means." Rather like the
offside rule? Of course, Sean being a crazed Sheffield United fan with,
even, "100% Blade" tattooed up one arm, I say this purely to torment
him (tee-hee, not that I do understand the rule). He then, naturally, does
what all men do in these instances, which is try to explain it with whatever
props are to hand. In this case, it is coffee cups.
"Now, what 'appens is ..." he says, rearranging the cups on the table between
"Oh, pur-lease," I say. "I can feel my brain closing down already. Going into a
coma, going into a coma ... impending coma alert ... shoulders slumping, eyes
closing ..." "You don't want to know?"
"Fair enough," he says.
I hope this won't drive a wedge between us, though. I'm already quite taken
Dishy? not conventionally, not in the usual Hollywood way, and his hair-do
does teeter dangerously on the brink of mullet-hood, which is never especially
classy in a man. But he does have something. Certainly, lots of ladies think
so, judging by the number of adoration-proclaiming fan websites out there
where messages are posted every time he puts his socks on. Spooky? "It's a
bit strange, yeah, but I'm not familiar with computers and I've no wish to go
to websites and have a look at what is going on with me. I suppose if you
thought about it, it could make you feel a bit shaky." Do you see yourself as
a bit of a dish? "Not really. I'm not complaining about it but it's not something
I would describe myself as."
What does he have? I think it might be a sex thing. Pure and simple. "He's
lovely and hairy and a bit rough," says a colleague. Good in bed, then? "He
looks like he should be." She does not think, if it came to it, that she'd put
out an impending coma alert. On the other hand, if he got too Mellorsy - "we
come off together that time, m'lady" - she might have to have a word. Ladies
first, after all.
Anyway, we are here, ostensibly, to talk about Troy, the mega Hollywood,
$200m blockbuster based on Homer's epic poem, The Iliad, in which Sean
plays Odysseus, who also has a hair-do dangerously teetering on mullet-hood.
(Strange how some hairstyles don't change even after thousands of years.)
Sean is great in it. And looks cracking - take note, girls! - in leather skirt
thingy and sandals. Did you get to keep the outfit, Sean? "No. Just the Greek
helmet which I've got on me sideboard." It was a wonderful film to make and,
yes, he liked Brad Pitt - "very down to earth; not a prima donna at all" - and
it was a joy to work with Peter O'Toole, one of his all-time heroes. "First time
I met him he was in a robe with a cigarette holder and he said, 'Sean, how
are you, dear boy?' He was just how I imagined him to be. It was a great
Did you explain the offside rule to him, with swords and breastplates?
"Didn't need to. We talked mostly 'bout cricket. Yorkshire cricket." Sean's a
big fan of the old-school stars: Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Robert
Stephens. "They lived life on their terms, and why not? There are no rules
saying you have to do this and you have to do that. They did it on their own
terms and had a great time doing it." Anyone left like that, apart from O'Toole?
"John Hurt. Really fabulous actor. He's got that wonderful quality. That elegance,
charm, humour, wit and passion. All those qualities combined. "
I'd sort of expected Sean to be bloody hard work. Previous interviews have
indicated he is a reluctant subject, to say the least, and curiously passionless.
"A few years ago I was very averse to publicity and perhaps too proud and
reclusive and I weren't doing anyone any f good, including meself. I understand
now there is a reason to do it and it can be positive. I'm much more comfortable
with it now." He says he's never been at ease with the whole celebrity shebang.
"I know it's a cliché but it's the work that I do and the parts that I play that
I enjoy rather than the fame or anything." Has your head ever been turned?
"Yeah, yeah. There are times when it's all very pleasant. You get looked after
with cars and limos and nice hotels. You do become very mollycoddled and
you are tempted to believe ... I don't know ... that you are someone other
than yourself. I think everyone's head is slightly turned by it." Best bit of
mollycoddling? "Um ... toiletries. You get a lot of toiletries. It's a courtesy
thing." I assume we are not talking big tubs of E45. "No," he confirms,
I don't think he is passionless, but it can be tricky getting him going. He is
understandably keen to keep his private life (three marriages; three divorces;
three daughters) private. I ask only if he regrets not being better at being
married. "Not really, no," he says, "I thought I was all right." And he doesn't
really have a public life, never appearing in Heat or party snapshots or the like.
Plus - and this is a big plus, I think - he just isn't into self-analysis. As an
actor, he just sort of goes and does it, which, I should add, doesn't make
him any less of an actor.
His big breakthrough role was as Sharpe in the TV adaptations of the Bernard
Cornwell novels, and Cornwell is huge fan. "I don't think Sean was how I'd
imagined my Sharpe," he says, "but the moment I saw him on screen I found
him utterly convincing. I now have him in mind as I write the books. He's a
very powerful actor." He adds that when Sean played Macbeth in the West
End last year, "I went twice, because it was just such a stunning performance."
So not just a tattooed tough nut from the terraces, as sometimes assumed. A
chauvinist, though? Did you really once remark that a woman's place is in the
home? "I didn't really say that. I just said something about most women wanting
to be at home when they have a baby, and it got interpreted as me saying
women should be in the kitchen doing chops." Or hotpot? Sometimes a
woman can get bored of only doing chops, you know. "Or 'otpot," he concedes.
Sean Bean was born in Sheffield, son of a steelplater dad and secretary mum.
Earliest memory? "I suppose my house in Sheffield. Me dad walking down the
road after work. Waiting for him at the gate. That's still vivid for me." As a
Seventies schoolboy, was it a Chopper or a Chipper? "A Chopper. I got one for
Christmas. Big leather seat. Wing mirrors. It were orange but I wound black
tape all over the frame because you had to customise them." I say his family
must live in a constant state of astonishment at the way things have turned
out for him. He says they do, but he doesn't. Come on, Sean. You once worked
for your dad's steelplating business and now here you are, being showered
with limos and toiletries that aren't E45, and going on set with Brad and
Peter and Orlando (Bloom). Don't you ever think: bloody hell! "Yeah. You do
look around and there are some quite big names, but I don't tend to be
phased by that." Perhaps they are thinking: bloody hell, Sean Bean! "Yeah."
He never got his head down at school, just wasn't interested. "I can hardly
remember anything about it. I didn't really start reading until I'd left school
when I was 17 when I just had this real hunger for literature." What blew your
socks off? "Oscar Wilde. Loved reading his work. Still do. And that led to other
things - plays, philosophers, Nietzsche, Homer. I didn't realise there was such a
world." He could, post-school, have had a career in cheese, but seriously
mucked up. "I got a job in M&S, Sheffield, on the cheese counter. I lasted for
about four hours on a Wednesday morning. It were in the basement. Big lumps
of cheese. Really unpleasant smell. Used to wear a white coat and white paper
hat. Stayed till dinner time, had me dinner, then got on the bus and went
home. I just felt an idiot, walking round in this paper 'at." Sean, call yourself
an actor? Couldn't you at least have acted like someone interested in cheese?
"Cheese, cheese, smell my lovely cheese ..." That's the ticket. "That's Alan
Partridge." Oh, you nearly had me convinced. I was about to order a half
He also tried art college "I didn't go for very long. I went for a day." Well,
your life in art, at least, lasted twice as long as your life in cheese. "After
my life in cheese," he says, beginning over, "I went to one art college but
then went to another one in Rotherham." What was wrong with the first
one? "It weren't what I thought it would be. There was a lot of posing
going on and I felt a little bit uncomfortable with it. I thought people
were being a bit pretentious, but I suppose they would be as art students,
wouldn't they?" He thought he would be a painter, was a painter, even
sold a few of his paintings - "figurative, but influenced by all the surrealists" -
but two weeks (a record!) into the second art college he happened upon
the drama course. "I was looking though the door and I saw people
acting and I thought maybe I should try this."
Why? Why did you think you should try it? What was it in you? I mean,
presumably you'd seen people mend cars or whatever but you never
thought: I should try becoming a mechanic. "I used to like flamboyant
artists like David Bowie and Iggy Pop and all that. I found their theatricality
exciting, but couldn't think of a way of doing that meself. I was doing
everything. I was painting, writing poetry, learning piano, learning French ...
and acting seemed to combine everything. It just seemed to solidify
everything. And once I'd switched from art to drama that was it." Did you
ever doubt you could act? "No." Ever regret what could have been re:
Eventually, he applied to Rada and was accepted. He remembers getting
the letter. "I knew it was from Rada because it had the stamp on it.
I took it up to my bedroom. It was quite a big moment when I opened
it and it said: 'We are pleased to accept you ...' I were totally overjoyed.
I ran down the road to my girlfriend of the time - she lived about 300 yards
away - and knocked at her door and said: 'I've got in, I've got in!'" A Billy Elliot
moment? "The best moment." He has largely played rough types, angry
types, warrior types like Boromir in Lord of the Rings, and I wonder if he
ever longs to play, say, a sensitive poet. "Why would I?" Why wouldn't you?
"What did you say?" Sensitive poet. "Oh, I thought you said 'Jasper
Carrot'." Well, you could play him too, if you like. "I would. If it's a good
script, and the character has potential, I'll play anything."
He lives in Belsize Park, north London, and seems happy enough. He sees a
lot of his daughters and is fond of his garden. "I like gardening and it's a
great time of year. Everything is coming to leaf. I gained an interest when
I was quite young and I watch Gardeners' World." What's the last thing you
planted? "A rose," he says, "I planted a rose." He is not without tenderness.
Roses are nice, we agree. We'll smoke to that. Or, for Allen Carr readers:
WE'LL SMOKE TO THAT.
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