The Bean Gene Machine
The Bean Gene Machine
11 August 2005
Sean Bean is pretty good at playing bad guys but, as he tells Steve Pratt,
his latest villain, the boss of a human cloning insitute, does have some
Sean Bean may be Hollywood's villain of choice at the moment but the
Yorkshire-born won't have it that his latest bad guy is that much of a mean
machine. He can see the good side of Merrick, who heads a cloning institute
creating doubles to provide spare parts for their real life counterparts in the
$120m futuristic adventure, The Island.
"I think he has his good points," says Bean in his distinctive Sheffield accent,
sitting in a London hotel the day after the London premiere of The Island.
"It depends which way you look at him. To some people, this guy can save
your life or your child's life, and improve the quality of your life. He's a saviour
in some cases and also a bringer of death.
"He brings a lot of misery and suffering to people who believe they will get off
Those are the clones, led by Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, who
discover the truth and set about escaping, hotly pursued by Merrick's brutal
Bean made his name as Bernard Cornwall's hero of the Napoleonic Wars in
the title role of the ITV series Sharpe, before becoming a Bond villain in
GoldenEye. Even earlier he'd been nasty, facing up to Harrison Ford as a
terrorist seeking revenge for his brother's death in Patriot Games.
Swashbuckling roles as Boromir in The Lord Of The Rings and as the legendary
Odysseus in the historical epic Troy were followed by a display of villainy in
the Hollywood adventure National Treasure. Still to come is Flightplan
opposite Jodie Foster and the horror thriller, The Dark.
The appeal of The Island lay in the fascinating story with its echoes of Big
Brother and 1984. The cloning aspect is topical, but Bean's feelings on the
subject are undecided. "There are some good things, like stem cell research
helping people in many ways, but it's quite a different story recreating a
whole new person as happens in The Island," he says. "It depends how it's
handled. It's a massive moral dilemma for everyone, for governments, for
religions. They've done these things with horses, dogs and things. It's only a
matter of time before they do it with humans."
Merrick, with his smart suits and good manners, can't be called "an out and
out villain", says the actor. "He's not evil for the sake of it, or malevolent or
spiteful. He thinks he's a pioneer and talks of creating a ward for children to
cure those with leukaemia. He believes in the things he's doing. I don't think
such a thing exists as totally good. We all have our demons and dark
A desperate Merrick resorts to violence, trying to kill McGregor's clone. Filming
the final fight between the two men wasn't without problems as they were in
different places, separated by the Atlantic.
"The funny thing is in the scene where I'm trying to strangle him that's me
and a double for Ewan doing it in Los Angeles, and Ewan and a double for me
doing it in London," Bean reveals. "Ewan was appearing in Guys And Dolls in
London and we were reshooting the end in LA, so there was no way we could
do the scene together."
Someone recently bestowed the title of "England's most versatile actor" on
Bean, something that pleases him as he tries to do as many diverse roles as
possible. The films he has awaiting release offer very different parts. "That's
good," he says. "I'm fortunate I have the choice. I can choose what I do to
He doesn't rule out a return to Yorkshire to make movies. He's been asked in
the past but plans didn't work out because of prior commitments. "It would be
good to go back to Sheffield and work at the Crucible, and do something
devoted to the area," he says.
But the US is where he's been spending most time of late, playing Americans
in both the horror thriller The Dark and an as-yet-untitled drama in which he
stars with Oscar-winner Charlize Theron. That's meant long periods away from
home, spending eight months of every year in Los Angeles. When he's away,
he misses the general way of life in this country. "I enjoy LA. I like the
weather and it's quite laid back in some ways. Everyone goes to bed early,
which I've started doing, most alarmingly," he says.
Making his first films 20 years ago, he had no idea where it would lead.
"When I started acting and going to drama school in Rotherham, I just
enjoyed the process of acting and the feeling I got from it," he says. "I didn't
look beyond that - just, if I could, get a job as an actor."
His last stage appearance was three years ago in the title role of
Shakespeare's Macbeth in London's West End. There were plans to take the
production to Broadway - "which would have been good" - but they came to
Working so much in America means he's been missing watching his beloved
Sheffield United. But he'll be at the match against QPR tomorrow. Other than
that, the usually-busy Bean has nothing else lined up. "I'm not working on
anything, just coming to terms with not having anything to do."
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