'Lord of the Rings' actor Sean Bean took big leap into performing

'Lord of the Rings' actor Sean Bean took big leap into performing
Copyright © 2001
Scripps Howard News Service

By LUAINE LEE, Scripps Howard News Service

NEW YORK (December 11, 2001 02:06 p.m. EST

When he was working as a welder in his hometown of Sheffield, England, Sean Bean got a crazy idea. He was already studying at an art college and had gotten pretty good at painting and drawing. But when he casually enrolled in a drama class, oops, everything changed.

"It was a big leap of profession from being a welder fabricator to being an actor," admits Bean, who sits at the mahogany dining room table of his hotel suite and stubs out his cigarette in a saucer.

"That wasn't something I was familiar with in my family. Sheffield was a very industrial city at that time - since then it's lost a lot of work up there and things have disappeared. But that's what my city was famous for, the steel industry. So that was a natural progression."

His parents were puzzled by his choice, he says. "I was into all sorts of things: I wanted to be in a band, I wanted to be an artist, a scriptwriter and actor. So I don't think they were that shocked. I'd gone into so many different phases, this is the one that consolidated everything."

Bean is probably best known in the United States for his portrayal as the brave Napoleonic officer of "The Sharpe Series" on television or as the weapons expert in "Ronin," the terrorist in "Patriot Games," or the betraying villain of "GoldenEye."

But it is his role as the good-guy, noble human Boromir - who champions the cause of the Hobbit, Frodo Baggins, in the new "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" - that people ultimately will remember.

Investing a full year in faraway New Zealand for the role wasn't easy for Bean, who is the father of three daughters, ages 3, 10 and 14. "I don't think I would've spent that much time from home unless it was something like 'Lord of the Rings.' I wouldn't really like to spend that time away again. They grow up fast, don't they?"

Bean, 42, says he was gripped by the breadth of his character, who does battle with a variety of fearsome monsters in the classic mythological tale. "He was a complicated and complex man. I found that really interesting to get to grips with. He's very mixed up, trying to do what's best for his people - a gentleman really, but he's in an environment where he's been on the forefront of war so he's had to be strong. But within there is a gentleman of very good quality."

Although he still speaks with the elongated vowels of working-class Northern England, within Bean there is a gentleman of good quality, too.

Married and divorced twice, he thinks an acting career can make marriage both easier and more difficult. "Sometimes absence can make the heart grow stronger but sometimes it can be too long, and it's very precarious, very unpredictable. But I think it's possible. Lots of actors and actresses have been happily married for many years."

Bean, who is soft-spoken and, one suspects, quite shy, admits that one of the major reasons he likes acting is because it affords him the opportunity to learn. "I wasn't very good at comprehensive school and didn't really learn that much," he says, his gray T-shirt wrinkling at the neck.

"I think I learned to get on with people and make friends. I had a good time in that way, but didn't learn very much from the lessons. And when I left school I just had this real hunger for reading and catching up on things I'd missed at school. I just wanted to read and read - read theater books, plays, novels, history. And when I went to drama school I really applied myself. I really wanted to learn this time around and took to it quite easily."

Part of the learning is exploring faraway places, from the grimy streets of Dublin to the mystic land of Middle Earth. "Acting educates you a lot," he says, leaning his chin on both hands.

"It gives you the chance to go into different worlds to study history when you're playing characters. I played Count Vronsky in 'Anna Karenina' by Leo Tolstoy and therefore you research that particular period, and it's interesting. At the same time it's educating you. You're finding out more about history," he says.

"It takes you all over the world. I've been fortunate enough to travel to great places: Africa, New Zealand, Russia, America. And that's a life-enhancing experience to me. You find out about different cultures and different people, and you learn to respect them more. When you get home and watch on television all this bloodshed and war and hatred of other people, maybe if they traveled a bit more and got to know each other a bit more, maybe we could avoid all this."

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