Big cheese Bean and a job that sent him crackers
HE'S in the big league now - starring alongside Brad Pitt in a new $200 million Hollywood epic. But life could have been very, very different for Sheffield-born actor Sean Bean, whose latest big screen project, Troy opens on Friday.
For he recalls how his early career started not in theatrical surroundings - but on the humble cheese counter at Marks & Spencer in his home city! "I lasted about four hours on a Wednesday morning," he recalls. "It was in the basement. Big lumps of cheese. Really unpleasant smell. I used to wear a white coat and white paper hat. "I stayed till dinner time, had my dinner, then got on the bus and went home. I felt like an idiot, walking round in this paper hat."
Little could he have imagined then what riches the future would hold. At that time, just out of school, the fervent Sheffield United supporter hadn't even discovered acting - or literature. But, at the age of 17, he developed a love for reading that led him from Oscar Wilde to some of the world's great philosophers. "I loved reading Oscar Wilde's work - still do," adds Bean, who now lives in London's Belsize Park. "And that led to other things - plays, philosophers, Nietzsche, Homer. I didn't realise there was such a world."
Troy takes him back to those hours reading Homer. The swords-and-sandals blockbuster is based on Homer's epic poem, The Iliad, in which Bean plays Odysseus. Nevertheless, it was a brief fling with another genre - art - which finally led him on the path to stardom. He explains: "After my life in cheese I went to one art college but then went to another one in Rotherham." Bean didn't like the first college because: "There was a lot of posing going on and I felt a little bit uncomfortable with it. I thought people were being a bit pretentious, but I suppose they would be as art students, wouldn't they?"
He didn't last the art course at Rotherham, either, but only because he stumbled on the drama class - which would change the course of his life, he told the Independent newspaper. "I was looking through the door and I saw people acting and thought maybe I should try this," he says. "I used to like flamboyant artists like David Bowie and Iggy Pop and all that. I found their theatricality exciting, but couldn't think of a way of doing that. "I was doing everything. I was painting, writing poetry, learning piano, learning French - and acting seemed to combine everything. It just seemed to solidify everything. And once I'd switched from art to drama that was it." A place at Rada followed and then roles which shot him to fame, including TV hits Sharpe and Lady Chatterley's Lover and film roles including Lord of the Rings.
A far from cheesy career, then, for the lad from Handsworth.