When they told Sean Bean he was being promoted as a sex symbol
in his new TV
series, Sharpe, his reply was succinct. "Oooh, bloody 'ell,"
he said, in the
rich, ripe accent of his native Sheffield. Handsome, lean and
looking quite mean, 33-year-old Sean is the former welder who
has become one of
the hottest actors of his generation.
With the Royal Shakespeare Company he notched up a Romeo which
had young girls
swooning in the aisles. He played the terrorist stalking Harrison
Patriot Games, and in BBC2's Clarissa, he was chillingly vulpine
as the upper-
But 1993 is going to be Sean Bean's year. He stars in two films,
based on the
Bernard Cornwell best-sellers about a soldier in the Napoleonic
Wars, made by
Central TV at a cost of 10 million pounds.
The first is Sharpe's Rifles. Sharpe's Eagle will be shown a
week later. And he
plays Mellors the gamekeeper in Ken Russell's nervously-awaited
version of Lady
Chatterley, starting on BBC1 on June 6.
But Sean remains resolutely ordinary. You can take the lad out
but no one is going to take Sheffield out of the lad, if he has
He's a dedicated Sheffield United fan, still hangs out with friends
he made at
school, deliberately keeps his accent and frequently falls back
on the sort of
grammatical colloquialisms -- "I were" and "it
were" -- which would make John
Patten's hair curl.
He brought our meeting forward so that he could attend a local
United and Sheffield Wednesday, spent at least a third of the
time we were
together talking about football, and proudly showed me the tattoo
shoulder. It reads "100% Blade" which, decoded, means
"I am a whole-hearted
supporter of Sheffield United".
It's not some youthful aberration, he had it done quite recently.
"It cost 2 pounds. Well, I paid for me mate's as well, so
it were 4 pounds."
He's never called anyone "luvvie" in his life. I might
say: 'All right then,
loov,' but that's it," he insists. He's shy to the point
of shaking with
nerves. In fact, it's bewildering to an outsider how anyone so
ended up playing the classics.
When he went up for the part in Clarissa, someone advised him
to modify his
accent for the audition, but he couldn't. When he's acting, it's
can imitate any type of speech.
"I think I've proved I can speak differently when I need
to," he says, "so I
don't think my accent's done me any harm."
He doesn't recall learning anything about Shakespeare or drama
at school, or
having any urge to act. He left at 16 with two O-levels, desperate
earning, and went to work for his father's welding business.
That didn't last, and after a variety of odd jobs, he decided
to try art
school. He was lucky that there was a drama course on the curriculum,
luckier that a tutor spotted his potential and recommended that
he try the
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
"I didn't even know there were any others," he said.
"I just thought there were
one big acting school everybody went to." He was already
in his twenties and
married to a local Sheffield girl when he won a place. The marriage
drift apart as he discovered his vocation.
"I was settled in my mind at last that this was what I wanted
to do. But things
became a bit difficult and we went our different ways."
At RADA he met Melanie Hill, who later played Aveline in Bread.
"I'd met her
when we went for our interviews on the same day, but it was halfway
course before anything happened.
"We were doing The Country Wife and she were playing a busty
maid in a very low
frock. I remember looking and thinking, that's nice. So I asked
They're now happily married with two daughters, Lorna, five,
and Molly, one,
and have just bought a new house in Muswell Hill. "It sort
of sobers you up a
bit having kids," he says. "It brings you down, keeps
your feet on the ground.
I miss them when I'm away. Before I went to Russia for Sharpe,
Molly was only
crawling. When I came back I opened the door, and there she was
like a little elf. It was a strange feeling."
Central TV have invested heavily in Sharpe. The stories were
filmed in the
Crimea, doubling for Spain, and in Portugal.
The films are shot in a wide-screen format to give an epic feel
and if the
first two are a success, a whole series will follow. They're
just waiting for
the nod from ITV's all-powerful network centre.
Sean is ideally cast as Richard Sharpe, the rough, tough sergeant
and son of a
whore, who's never known any other life except the army.
After saving the life of Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke
during the Spanish campaign, Sharpe is promoted to Lieutenant
and sent on a
desperate mission behind enemy lines with a bunch of men who
resent a leader
who hasn't been born to officer class.
He exudes charisma and -- luckily for Central's promotional plans
magnetism. Yet he wasn't first choice for the role. Paul McGann
filming for eight weeks when he broke his leg.
Central tried to salvage what they could from the footage already
was sent the scripts, and four days later found himself in Russia.
chaos at first, it looked as if everyone was going home just
as I arrived, but
then they all came back. And everybody made me feel that welcome."
Although they're being described as romantic adventures, there's
romance in the first story. Sharpe is too busy trying to stay
he does briefly get the girl. But there can be no doubt about
content of Sean's next project, Lady Chatterley.
He plays opposite Joely Richardson, whom he knew at RADA. The
fact they were
old friends made it easier to play the love scenes, he says.
Director Russell also tried to relax them with mood music, and
the sex scenes
were filmed over the space of a few days, rather than looming
up throughout the
filming like large hurdles.
"It's very faithfully done," he says, "though
obviously you can't put as much
sex on TV as there is in the book. People will only be offended
if they were
upset by the book to start with.
"It's a bit of a shock having to film scenes like that,
but then again, it's
part of the story so it should be there. It weren't a big problem
for me, once
I'd got over the initial thing of taking my clothes off.
"They kept the crew as small as possible out of courtesy
to Joely and me, but
even then I wouldn't walk around nude smoking and drinking a
cup of coffee
between shots. I put a towel on. You don't get carried away.
When you've been
doing scenes like that for a week, you get tired out instead.
I am shy, but you
just have to concentrate and give it 100 per cent."
Despite the book's obsession with Mellors's "John Thomas",
Sean won't be seen
full-frontal, unlike his co-star.
"At least if I am, I must have missed it. It depends how
closely you look, I
suppose. But as far as I remember, you see my backside, not my
Even so, showing your bottom on TV must count as a bit risque
among fellow fans
of Sheffield United. "Aye, well, we'll have to see what
they say," he says,
grinning. "I still go back to Sheffield a lot. I've not
cut off. I can relax
with my mates and my family and still be what I used to be. I'm
not an actor up
there. I'm still Sean of Sheffield."
In Russia, he called his mother and got her to put the radio
next to the phone
so that he could listen to a United match.
"I were worried sick that one of my sister's kids might
knock the radio over,
but I managed to listen for two hours. At the end I had this
red ring around my