MAN OF STEEL: Sean Bean has the air of an ordinary guy who works with Hollywood superstars. In his latest film, 'The Island', he plays a villain opposite Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson
JUST before Christmas last, Sean Bean took part in a London press conference to discuss the action-adventure film National Treasure. Bean was the baddy to Nicolas Cage's hero, and so played second fiddle to him with the press.
Their contrasting roles, as movie stars and men, were hard to ignore. Where Bean answered questions in a relatively normal manner, Cage was in performance mode jerk , playing a role, spinning a scene. One was being an actor, the other, you sensed, couldn't help but be himself. It made Bean the more likeable of two , but then might also explain why Bean may never achieve A-list, leading man level.
That day, Cage was about conveying what a ball he had with his co-stars, the villain Bean and love interest Diane Kruger. Chief among the illuminating incidents was a night out they had enjoyed, drinking and singing karaoke. The way Cage told it, this was the wildest night in history, but when prodded Bean was unable to recall his party piece and seemed vaguely embarrassed. (that's our guy) And his reaction illuminated the phoney nature of the situation, the ridiculous material being made of a single night out, the hollow sense of showbiz bonhomie.
You became aware of Bean as a Lancashire (Yorkshire !!) lad in LA, a normal bloke who works in blockbusters and one who has not been so affected by Hollywood that he thinks tales from a night on the beer are worth broadcasting.
In London last week, this time promoting his role as villain in Michael Bay's futuristic action-adventure, The Island, Sean Bean had more room to be himself. Without song and dance or over-explanation, he simply spun out what it is to be Sean Bean,a former steel worker in showbusiness, a star but not a superstar. le. sigh.
Asked which he'd prefer, an Oscar or for his beloved Sheffield United to win the European Cup, Bean laughs out loud at this no-brainer. "Sheffield to win," he smiles, eyes crinkling beneath dirty-blond hair that falls over his forehead. "There's just no competition there," he goes on, before pausing, "And then to win an Oscar. On the same night. Ah, that would be amazing."
Anyone who has ever met Sean Bean comments on how he is both down to earth and obsessed with football, neither of which entirely square with being a film star. And yet, therein lies his charm.
He's an unlikely actor, born Shaun Bean in Sheffield, 46 years ago, to parents who worked in the local steelindustry, in which he also laboured for three years before discovering acting.
According to those who knew him as a young man, Bean was a feisty type who, by his own admission, allowed temper to get him into trouble on more than one occasion. Bean was, however, interested in art, and while taking painting classes happened upon an acting workshop. Once he got involved, it quickly became apparent Bean had charisma and ability, and at 20 he left the North for London and Rada.
It is perhaps the remnants of that youthful aggression that see Sean Bean cast so regularly as the villain, as he is in The Island. He laughs to mention that he was the calming influence on the "volcanic" director, Michael Bay (Armageddon, The Rock ) and confesses there may be something worrying in his ability to switch on his dark side. Bean can do decent sorts, but they bore him after a while, where mustering bursts of evil has more energy to it.
In The Island , Bean plays Merrick, a cool customer who oversees the enclosed habitat of a white-tracksuited population who believe they are survivors of a natural disaster which rendered Earth uninhabitable. All accept their lot and dream of one day winning the lottery and going to the island, a promised paradise. Which is grand, until Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) begins questioning things, things other than why Merrick has nice suits and a Picasso, while he only has a pair of Pumas to his name. With his friend, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), Lincoln escapes the compound and then, the technology-gone-mad, Logan's Run-style nightmare begins to unfold. The effect is high-adrenaline entertainment and often amusing, though its poor box-office performance in the States - continuing Hollywood's year of ill returns - has caused Bay to deem it "a debacle".
Bean's is a moderate-sized part as Merrick, crucial to the plot, but without the screentime or profile of his younger co-stars. And he marvelled, apparently, at how Scarlett Johansson copes with major, major celebrity.
"At 20," Bean smiles, "All I wanted was to be part of the Chesterfield Repertory Theatre. I just wanted to act.
"Scarlett handles it very well, but I think I'd have found it quite difficult. I probably wanted that kind of thing at some stage, but I imagine now, the way things have worked out for me, that it would be a wonderful feeling, but very hard."
One wonders, then, if he ever cast an eye over Ewan McGregor's success and felt a twinge of envy. After Rada and years in theatre, Bean moved into TV and film acting in the late Eighties, and after a role as an IRA man in Patriot Games, made his real breakthrough in Sharpe's Rifles.
Sharpe's various, 19th-century wartime adventures ran occasionally from 1992 to 1997, and through it, Bean fine-tuned his appeal as a rough diamond that worked for both men and women. He played the character in his own accent - which remains intact with its deep, flat vowels, even today - and stories from the set tell of a real man's man, more concerned with the football results than Elizabeth Hurley's bare breasts.
The series sold all over the world and made an international star of Bean, but it was a double-edged sword. "I couldn't get any work for a couple of years after that," he says, shaking his head in slight disbelief still.
"There was no work for me in England and it was so confusing, because everyone was saying Sharpe had been great and it was so successful and it would lead to big things, but the real result was that I was typecast and difficult to employ."
"There is no way to prepare yourself for that, Bean says with a thin smile. It happens to almost every actor and how you cope with it is the only thing you can control." During this career dip, however, Bean's personal life was also in turmoil. His second marriage, to fellow-actress Melanie Hill (Bread, Emmerdale), with whom Bean had two daughters, Lorna, now 17, and Molly, 13, had ended.
She said publicly that the marriage made her feel like a servant and there were suggestions his football fanaticism had caused problems. (grrrr, was that it? He's never said one unkind thing about her.) Soon after their divorce, Bean married his Sharpe co-star Abigail Cruttenden and they had a daughter, Evie, now seven, but that marriage also ended in a divorce, in 2000. Bean himself blamed the unsettling nature of his work, admitting that this was something he enjoyed but that did not lend itself to commitment and family life.
"You have to keep the faith that things will come right again, but that's quite difficult," he says. He looks down at his hands as he says this, as though 'difficult' barely touches the recalled pain of those years. (snuggles him again)
By his own account, Bean's comeback was effected by the British film, Essex Boys, in which he played a gangster character entirely without redeeming characteristics. "It didn't lead immediately to work rolling in," says Bean, "but it was great for my confidence and getting that back led to more work. You make your own luck, sometimes."
From that point, Bean scored the role of Boromir in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, raised his profile in the States as more than an English actor, but one with the versatility to play American, German, anything at all. But, it seems, best of all, the bad guy. Forthcoming films, Bean rushes to inform, see him playing regular American Joes, alongside the likes of Jodie Foster and Frances McDormand, but one suspects the villain is the role to which he is fated to return.
It is, perhaps, something to do with his essential normality, that allows Sean Bean tap into his darkness without fear of losing his charm. It is, perhaps, a lack of desperation to be liked, learned the hard way. Whatever, it works, without need to resort to tales from the karaoke bar.
Source : http://www.unison.ie/entertainment/film/