The Thinking Woman's Bit of Rough
Ms LONDON Magazine
8th August 2005
The Thinking Woman's Bit of Rough
From welder to hugely in-demand leading man, how did he get from
there to here? Asks Mary Black
Sean Bean has a gift for playing movie villains - especially the chilling,
fanatical types who never give up until a final life-or-death fight with the
hero. No wonder Harrison Ford and Nic Cage looked so worried the whole
time in, respectively, Patriot Games and National Treasure. And now Sean
is giving Ewan McGregor the same uneasy feeling in the new, futuristic
thriller The Island.
In reality, however, the welder-turned-international movie star is a
surprisingly low-key and shy man, who doesn't seem that far removed from
his humble Yorkshire roots even though he's been happily settled in London
for a long time now. So on a recent muggy July day at his hotel in New
York, where he's en route to Toronto for another film, a slightly jet lagged
Sean is kicking back in jeans and a T-shirt - his outfit of choice when he's
not wearing the chic designer suit he sports in The Island as the evil Dr
It's a rare moment of relaxation for the much-in-demand actor who already
has several more films lined up for release this year, including another
thriller, Flightplan with Jodie Foster, and the horror film Silent Night with
Charlize Theron. But then the star of such mega hits as The Lord of the
Rings and Troy has had an equally busy private life. He's been married
three times - first to childhood sweetheart Debra Anderson, from his native
Sheffield. That marriage broke up when he went to study at the Royal
Academy of Dramatic Art. There he met second wife Melanie Hill, an
actress. They have two daughters, Lorna and Molly, and divorced in 1996.
His third wife was actress Abigail Cruttenden, who starred with him in
Sharpe. They married in 1997 and had a daughter, Evie, a year later. The
marriage ended in the summer of 2000.
Here Sean talks about life in London, the culture shock when he first arrived,
dealing with three daughters, and why he'd rather stay home and read than
go to a party.
Like all successful actors, you must travel constantly. So where's home
on the rare occasions you're not working?
I'm still based in London and I love it. I live in this great area between
Hampstead and Belsize Park, and it's a nice place when I'm there. (Laughs.)
You've got Hampstead Heath and you've got a little village there right in
Belsize Park. It's very central too, which I like.
You were a welder's son and then suddenly you were in London at
RADA - it must have been a big change.
Yeah, a big jump, a very big leap. I remember we used to play football
outside the factory. We'd pull the roll-down gate down, draw goals on it
and play in our overalls at dinner time. It seems so long ago now - and it
was. I was 18, and then going to London. (Shakes his head.)
Was it a shock to you in a way?
Yeah, it was. It took me at least six months to get used to the fact that I
was in London and with different people. I'd never really been to London,
only visited it very briefly and come straight back the day after. So to
actually live there, right in the middle of the West End, it was just a total
culture shock. But once I had gotten used to it and made some friends, I
was lucky in that I was at a really good drama school. I really felt I was
there for a purpose and that I was learning a lot, and that's what held me
on there. There were many times that I just wanted to get on the train
and go back to Sheffield.
When you first went to RADA, did you feel you should acquire a more
London accent and lose your Yorkshire accent?
It never went away. We were encouraged to sort of keep our regional
accents at the time because they said it would be useful. But at the same
time they encouraged us to learn standard English, a neutral sort of English
accent. There are certain roles for which it is good to be able to talk with a
very neutral accent.
Did you ever feel worried you were losing that straightforwardness
Northerners tend to have?
No, not really.
Do you still have the same friends?
Yeah, I've got a lot of friends from Sheffield. They are all plasterers,
welders and plumbers. Yeah, they come down to see me.
Do they poke fun at you?
No, I think I've been doing it that long now.
You spend your whole professional life pretending to be other people.
What is the real Sean Bean like?
I suppose I'm a bit of a loner and I do quite like being on my own. I'm
quite quiet, really. I like to lay on the settee or in bed and just read or
whatever. (Laughs) I'm not a slob, but it's good to have the time just to
do what you want. And I've worked non-stop this past year so it's quite
hard to switch off sometimes. You think, 'I should be doing something'.
But you need to relax and chill out. So I do like to spend a bit of time on
my own. I like to read and listen to music, I like to go out with friends.
But I tend to find that, recently, because it's been quite hectic, that I value
the time I have to just read or think. I'm not really into going to showbiz
bashes and parties or stuff like that. Now and again, yeah, but you sort of
get your fill of that.
Are you a workaholic?
Yeah, I am. And it's great, but you get a bit fried sometimes - going from
one thing to another - so you need time to recharge your batteries.
You were on the set of the Lord of the Rings for a year. That must
have been hard being away from your kids.
Yeah it was, especially from the youngest. She was only about 10 minutes
old at the time.
That must have been a big wrench for you?
Oh yeah, but I did get back a couple of times to see them and they were
good about it. I mean, the young one, obviously when you are away, she
is not probably aware that you are backwards and forwards; but my eldest,
I think she missed me a little, and if it hadn't been such a special thing
then I probably wouldn't have gone away for that long. I don't think I
would do it again - unless another Lord of the Rings came along. But it
was a special thing and that is what took me away. But I like to be at
home, and my kids realise that this is my career and it entails spending
Did you notice big changes in them when you got back?
Yeah, I mean they grow don't they? (Laughs.) And I don't mean that to
be facetious, but they do, and their faces change and things like that.
Especially when they're little and walking around. It's a long time to be
away from home.
What about being a dad? You probably have to keep on good terms
with the exes?
Well, I have two children from one marriage, and the younger girl is from
Are you good friends with you ex-wives?
Yeah, we get on well and the kids are doing well at school and are happy.
How do you try to be a good dad to them if you are away so much?
Well, I suppose that the good thing about this job - acting - is that you
may have to spend a year apart, but then you spend six months at home,
so it balances itself up in the end I think.
You've said it's important to 'Try to be the best dad I can be.' What is
being a 'best dad'? Did you own father set an example to copy?
I suppose just the way he was and is. Quite a fair man and quite gentle,
but also strong. I looked up to him. I still feel the same way and I
suppose hopefully I've taken some of that for myself.
So what do you do with the kids when you are home?
I go to the cinema, take them out, go to Hampstead Heath for a stroll.
We shop, visit museums, all kinds of various things. We just have fun
Do they see your movies?
Yeah, they see some of them. They haven't seen some of the things I've
done that are a bit dark.
Did they see Don't Say A Word?
No, sometimes I look at things and think that it's probably not a good idea
for them to see that one. I'm just trying to get work on things where they
can actually see me, you know, something a bit more pleasant.
Are they proud of you, or a bit blasé?
I think they are quite proud, but I think that because they've lived with my
ex-wife Melanie, and she was an actress, that they are very familiar with
that profession. Their mother and father are actors and so they are not
unfamiliar with it - they think it is a way of life.
Is it fun having all girls or would you have liked to have a boy?
No, it's good. I'm just happy I've got three great kids that I love dearly.
I've never had a boy, so I don't know what they're like.
Would you like to see them follow in your footsteps?
I wouldn't really. I think it is up to them to make up their own minds as to
what they want to do, and I just hope they have the options to do that.
Lorna, the eldest, has got a lot of interests at school. They make a lot of
things available to them - like art, drama and music - so she is getting a
choice of various things that she might like to pursue, and that is good.
I'd neither push them one way or another. I think it is up to them to find
out what they feel happy with.
What did you inherit from you dad?
He's a very straightforward man, very practical, but a gentle man at the
same time. He's very fair, quiet in some ways, but strong in others - a
strong character. I suppose these are all qualities that I subconsciously
use in acting as well.
What about your mum?
She is a little more demonstrative, more expressive.
The life of an actor is like being a gypsy, so do you ever miss the
stability of being married again and being home every night?
I suppose I do sometimes, but if it was like that all the time I'd probably
be missing travelling around. The grass is always greener, but I suppose
it's just finding that balance.
Could you see yourself settling down once more?
Maybe, yeah. Who knows?
What is the wildest thing you have done recently?
I don't know. I can't remember. I'm a bit boring, aren't I? (Laughs.)
What about kissing scenes? Ever had a nightmare one?
No. It's always a bit strange, a room full of people and technicians and
cameramen. It's like everything else, love scenes - there are fights,
arguments between people. I just treat it as part of the whole thing, not
as singling out anything as a love scene. It's life, that's what life is
based on, isn't it?
Did you ever have a low point where you thought you'd never make it,
or did things pretty much go OK right from the start?
No, I didn't. The low point I suppose I had was a few years ago when I
wasn't really doing very much. People thought I was doing everything and
I was actually sitting home doing nothing, worrying about doing nothing.
Is that soul-destroying?
Yes it is. You can't act unless you are given the opportunity. Somebody
has to give you a job, somebody has to say, 'Do you want to do this?' and
that's how I felt at one point.
Do you get depressed?
No, I don't. And I didn't because that affects other parts of your life.
Then it becomes a bit of an issue. You think, 'Why am I not working?
What's wrong? What's going on here?' I had just finished a series which
was hugely successful called Sharpe, and I was finding it difficult to get
work in the UK because it was very popular. I got the feeling that in some
ways people saw me as that character and didn't really think I was
appropriate for some of the films that were being made at the time. So
really it was only by coming over to America and meeting other people that
I actually sort of managed to make a fresh start, because nothing was
happening. It was a year that I didn't do anything.
Your career's red-hot now. Are you happy?
I am, yeah, relatively happy. Happy as anyone can be. (Laughs.)
(Thanks to Anne K for typing this)
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