Source: Film Review
Aniversary Issue #59
Sean Bean manages to spare a few moments between films to tell Andy
Dougan why he hasn't been home for a year
There was a time when James Brown, the Godfather of Soul himself,
used to boast about being the hardest working man in showbusiness.
Brown is 72 now and bound to be easing off a bit but Sean Bean is
emerging as a serious contender for the title.
The 46-year-old Yorkshireman is in a rich vein of form right now.
It's one big movie after another with two - The Island and Flight Plan -
out this summer alone.
"I have been working hard this last year," he says with a rueful shake
of the head. "But it's been a good time, it's been quite diverse,
there's been a range of subjects and a lot of different characters."
This is, he admits, why you become an actor in the first place and he
is well aware that there are plenty of his contemporaries out there who
would love to be in his shoes. There is no doubt that the past few years
have seen him go from being the strong silent type standing in the
background of films such as Ronin to co-starring in Troy, National Treasure,
and now the Island.
On the day we met he had still to see the Michael Bay futuristic thriller.
He had seen the trailer and his reaction - "it looks fantastic" - was
similar to that of audiences all over the world.
The initial action in the Island takes place in a futuristic closed community
where the inhabitants believe they are the only survivors of some unnamed
catastrophe that has destroyed society. They live for the 'Lottery' in which
one of them will be lucky enough to win a place on The Island, the last
pathogen-free, uncontaminated environment on earth. Those who win the
lottery head off to The Island to spend their days in paradise and are never
heard from again.
Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor) has strange dreams about The Island, he
begins to suspect all is not well. Eventually he discovers the horrible
truth - there is no island, they are simply clones in an institute run by the
sinister Merrick (Sean Bean). They are duplicates of people in the real world
and their purpose is to be harvested for organs: when they are needed the
lottery is a convenient cover story to get them out to be killed.
When Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson) with whom he is having an
illicit relationship wins the Lottery, Lincoln has to act. The only way to save
them both is to break out into the real world and confront the authorities.
The film is a mix of cool stylish science fiction and high octane action.
"He's got a great eye for that action stuff," Bean says of Michael Bay, "but he
has a good understanding of the characters and the psychology. It's actually
a very character-driven piece as well as combining the action. It doesn't
sound like an obvious Michael Bay film until you see that trailer," he smiles.
Bean is making a habit of playing villains after Essex Boys, Don't Say A Word,
National Treasure and now The Island. There was a time when he was
beginning to feel anxious about being perennially cast as a villain but he sees
Merrick as more than a stereotype.
Says Bean: He's a very intelligent guy, he wants to further science and help
humanity by creating a different world. He's quite sinister in some aspects,
it depends how you feel about cloning but he believes in it completely and I
think he believes he's doing good."
Now that he is well established as an international star, Bean can look back
on the days when he thought his film career was over before it began. His
first major role was as an Irish terrorist taking on Harrison Ford in Patriot
Games. It was a tough-guy action film and Bean bears the scars to prove
it. He smiles and gingerly strokes the scar above his right eye that is a
permanent souvenir of his Hollywood debut.
"We were filming the big fight scene at the end and Harrison accidentally hit
me with a boathook," he winces. "At least he hit me in the right place, he
didn't flatten my nose or anything like that."
Patriot Games was a huge hit and an auspicious beginning to his film career
but he was unable to follow it through. His commitments to Sharpe, the role
that made him a household name in the UK, meant that he had to be in
Russia filming on location and limited the time in which he could make
features. Even GoldenEye, in which he got to play the villain in a James
Bond film, had to be fitted in around his commitments to Bernard Cornwell's
In 1997 his commitment to the high-rating series ended with Sharpe: The
Legend and he was able to concentrate on his film career. His first role
seemed like a dream. He was part of an all-star ensemble cast in Ronin.
Sean played Spence, a bluff northerner who was all talk and no action and
whose claims of having been in the SAS were quickly and cruelly exposed.
Spence disappears from the film before the halfway point, never to
reappear - a development that still puzzles Sean Bean.
"I thought he should have come back," he says still a little rankled. "He
could have turned traitor and gone with another group. I think at one point
they were thinking that, but there are always ideas flying around on film
shoots and you're so pushed for time nothing really comes out of it.
"I think by then I was considering having a film career and I talked to my
agent about it. He said 'Look at Mission Impossible where you have all
these people who are just in at the start in those cameo roles'. If you
look at it from the that point of view," he agrees, "then you think it's okay.
It's got De Niro, Jean Reno, Stellan Skarsgard, it's filming in Paris and it's
directed by John Frankenheimer. So I thought it was crazy to turn
something down just because you disappear halfway through."
Since then Sean Bean's film career has never looked back. It's been one
major part after another culminating in his roles in the Lord of the Rings:
The Fellowship of the Ring and then Troy.
The price that has had to be paid is that he has almost forgotten where
home is. He made Troy, National Treasure, The Island and Flight Plan
almost back-to-back. Then he was off to shoot Silent Hill, the film version
of the hit video game. Just about the only time off he had was when a
film he was due to shoot in South Africa in February was cancelled after tax
changes meant the finance was no longer in place. To prove how busy he is
these days a little over 48 hours after our chat he was off to Toronto to
finish Silent Hill.
"I've been away from home for such a long time," he says wearily. "Six
months for Troy - that was a long one - and I went straight from that to
National Treasure and that took me until Christmas. So I was almost a year
away. I was home for two weeks at Christmas and then back again."
But he is thrilled at the quality of the material he is being given to work
with. When he started out as an apprentice welder in Sheffield with vague
notions of some kind of artistic career he could never have dreamed that he
would be where he is now. He is excited by The Island and also by Flight
Plan which hits cinemas a matter of a few weeks later.
"I'm the captain of one of these big new planes and 90 per cent of it takes
place on one of these massive Airbuses," he explains. "Jodie Foster is
with her child and she's going back to New York from Germany with her
husband's body. She loses her child on a plane and you think how can that
happen? She sits down, nods off and wakes up and her daughter is gone.
She has to tell the stewardess and they have to get the captain involved.
Does he land and search the plane or is she just crazy? There's no record
of her having brought a child onto the plane and he's left wondering about
whether she's telling the truth. It's a big thing because he's got hundreds
and hundreds of lives in his hands. You never really know if she is telling
the truth or not."
But even Sean Bean - a man who played epic heroes such as Boromir
and Ulysses - can't go on forever. He knows when it is time to stop
and it is fast approaching.
"When I finish this next one (Silent Hill) I'm going to have a couple of
months off and just be at home. It's great that you're doing things you're
interested in but it's nice to recharge the batteries and not think about
anything. I can't wait to sit down, have a read, and watch a bit of telly.
(Thanks Anne for typing this.)
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