COMPLEX DEPTHS OF A QUIET, PROUD BRIT
THE words Sean Bean and domestic god may seem unlikely bedfellows but here I am being made a cup of tea by the ruggedly handsome star in the gleaming kitchen of his swish London home.
A soothing trickle comes from a pond stocked with koi carp in the courtyard outside, while his cheery, very attractive wife Georgina Sutcliffe, 32, clears away the remains of a late lunch.
It’s a cherished sanctuary from a hectic whirl of film sets for the in-demand actor, who has already this year notched up two movies in South Africa and one in Norway (from which he returned only the night before) while in a few days he is off to Russia to make a film with Christian Slater.
“I’m going to the Crimea where I originally started doing Sharpe nearly 20 years ago so that’s going to be a head-spinner,” he says, recalling the television role that made his name, before Hollywood beckoned.
The week holds another excitement: Sean and Georgina, a Rada-trained actress who he married in 2008, are going to act together for the first time when they shoot a scene for Age Of Heroes, the project Bean has just returned from filming in the mountains of Norway.
It’s an old-fashioned Second World War adventure yarn based on the true story of a specially formed commando unit, a forerunner of elite forces like the SAS, which, under the supervision of Ian Fleming, slipped into Norway to capture an advanced German radar kit.
“It’s a very good Second World War action film of a kind we haven’t made for 30 years, so it’s a breath of fresh air,” says Sean, likening it to Where Eagles Dare.
It’s also an attempt to celebrate some British heroics for a change. “We have plenty of films about the Americans and their heroics but very few about our own,” says Bean, a proud Briton who can take or leave Hollywood these days.
In a case of art imitating life, Georgina plays the wife of Bean’s maverick Royal Marine. “I’m quite looking forward to it; I think we both are,” he says rather sweetly. “I’ve never worked with her before so it should be interesting. We’ve got a scene in a car so we might pop into the car later and practise our lines.”
If it’s anything like a typical “Bean scene” the Sheffield-born star won’t do much talking. Customarily cast as man of action, there’s a sense of complex emotions beneath the surface with Bean that, in his best roles (like last year’s acclaimed TV drama Red Riding) makes him riveting to watch.
His new film, medieval horror Black Death, is a case in point: Bean plays god-fearing knight Ulrich, who might just as easily say a prayer for you, or slice your head off.
“I like the parts where a lot is unspoken,” he says. “Those are more interesting to me than characters who spout off constantly. I think there’s a great deal of information you can convey with looks or silence.”
It’s tempting to make parallels with the man himself and Bean concedes there are similarities. “I don’t believe you just create a character out of thin air, there’s always something of yourself you bring,” he admits. “I am quite quiet, I don’t feel as though I have to express myself with words too often. Maybe I should do more.”
He laughs, displaying a wry self-awareness that his often stony-faced movie portrayals don’t suggest (in fact, the more time I spend in his company the more convinced I grow that Bean should try comedy).
“Sometimes I think people don’t quite understand what I’m trying to say, or what I’m doing, or what I think” he goes on. “So maybe I should be a bit more expressive, a bit more vocal.”
A man of few words he may be but there’s an ease and contentment to the star that suggests that, at 51, he hasn’t got anything to prove; happy to pick projects that interest him while refusing to dance to anyone else’s tune.
He certainly won’t be moving to Hollywood after a stint living in the Four Seasons hotel in Los Angeles when he starred in a number of blockbusters (often as the villain) like National Treasure and Flightplan with Jodie Foster; a period that saw Bean’s Hollywood star riding very high after his heroic turn as Boromir in the first Lord Of The Rings.
“I don’t think I could ever put down roots there. It’s one thing living in a hotel and knowing you’re going to be going home and another thing settling.”
Perhaps if the parts were more enticing he might reconsider: he shares Helen Mirren’s recently expressed frustrations that Britons tend to be cast only as the bad guys in Hollywood.
“It’s difficult to break through as a good guy. For some reason they don’t believe we can play decent, honest human beings. I’ve played a few villains so you’ve got to be careful you don’t get sucked into that and keep repeating yourself.”
The fact remains, however, that Bean’s heart remains very much in Britain and in particular Yorkshire. He and Georgina, he reveals, recently bought a cottage on the border of the Peak District and Sheffield which they’re renovating.
When time permits, he visits his parents who live in the same modest family home where he grew up, and stays over in his childhood bedroom. “it’s changed a bit,” he concedes with a chuckle, “there are no planes hanging from the ceiling or Airfix models.”
His father owned a steelworks and once hoped his son would follow into the family business but, after some initial bafflement, keenly supported his son’s acting ambitions, especially when the young Bean landed a place at RADA.
“He had the good grace to say: ‘Go for what you want,’ ” says Bean who knew he wanted to be an actor after experiencing “the thrill of acting” during a drama class in his late teens.
He has always been relaxed about his own career. “I think it’s really important to enjoy your other life and not be obsessed by work. I suppose that’s easy for me to say but I’ve always had that approach. It’s important to enjoy who you are and to appreciate things around you.”
There you have it: Sean Bean, mellow dude. He also makes a mean cup of tea.
Black Death is released on June 11.