The Sheffield leading man is ‘doing all right’ despite a fourth divorce and turning his back on Hollywood
I’ve just brought up the sensitive subject of the actor Sean Bean’s divorce from his fourth wife, Georgina Sutcliffe, last month. “I think it’d be a pretty good idea if I kept my own company for a while, don’t you,” Bean says wryly.
The couple’s tempestuous two-year marriage was dogged by rumours of arguments and break-ups and Sutcliffe once accused Bean of assault, but the charges were dropped. Bean admits that the past 12 months have been difficult. “Well, that’s a bit of an understatement,” he says. Relationships, it would be fair to say, do not seem to be something that he excels at, though falling in love doesn’t seem to be a problem — the lantern jaw and ability to smoulder on screen probably help.
“I know I’m not an ugly bastard, but I’ve never considered myself good-looking or sexy,” he says, “and I’ve never tried to be. If you walked around thinking that every woman fancied you, you’d be a right knobhead.”
Sheffield’s most famous bit of rough, at 51, an age when actresses of a similar pedigree are being sidelined into playing mother-of-the-love-interest-type roles, is still leading-man material. This year alone Bean is involved in a host of manly projects, such as the HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones and the action movies Age of Heroes and Soldiers of Fortune, and he is refreshingly upbeat about passing his half century.
“Being 50 didn’t bother me at all. It’s just a number,” he says. “It wasn’t one of those big milestones. Now, 30... that was awful! I remember hitting 30 and thinking, ‘My God, I’m old’. But 40 felt better than 30 and 50 genuinely feels better than 40.
“I think that age is all about where you are up here,” he continues, tapping his head. “It’s about values and principles. Obviously, your values and your princi-ples change as you grow older ... you have different ideas about what really matters in life. But you can still get to a point where you’re happy with yourself, where you’re happy that you’ve retained your integrity. Ultimately, I suppose it’s about peace of mind.”
That peace of mind was certainly challenged by some of the press coverage of his break-up. “Some of the stuff that was put out there was not very nice,” he says. “But it’s all part of the game, these days. Fame. Celebrity. All you can do is try and not let it bother you. Or try to avoid reading the papers.
“It’s not easy. There have been times when I’ve had to ring my family up and say, ‘Have you seen today’s papers? Well, it’s bullshit!’ There did seem to be a point a few years ago where I was ringing my daughters up every couple of weeks and saying, ‘Tell your mum. Tell your gran. Please don’t believe what they’re writing about me’.”
Bean has three daughters: 23-year-old Lorna and 19-year-old Molly from his second marriage to the actress Melanie Hill; and 13-year-old Evie, from his third marriage to the actress Abigail Cruttenden. “It’s difficult to be a dad when everybody’s in different places,” he says. “And being away for work just adds to the equation. When I was first doing Sharpe I was in Russia for six months of the year.
“There weren’t even mobiles, back then [Sharpe’s Rifles started in 1993]. All the actors used to queue up for this one telephone cubicle, hoping that the line would be OK. Do you feel guilty? Of course you do! I missed so much ... the kids growing up. But it was work. Like most actors I was worried about saying ‘No’.
Evie recently joined Bean on a trip to Los Angeles. “She loved it! And I think it helped her to understand a bit more about what it is I do for a living.”
Meanwhile, Lorna is training to be a teacher and Molly has joined the prestigious National Youth Theatre. “Molly seems to really, really want it. She has that passion and that drive ... she’s not swayed by the fame game.”
Is he worried that people will say that she got into the National Youth Theatre only because of who her father is? “Yeah, they’ll say that. She’ll get knocked back. But I’ve done some readings with her and I’ve seen what she’s capable of. I can tell she knows the truth about acting. The hard work and graft.”
Molly isn’t the only young actor that Bean has been encouraging. An advert for Quaker Oats (quaker.co.uk) shows him making a surprise appearance at the Valley Community Theatre, a grassroots theatre group in Netherley, Liverpool, that gives children from this deprived area a chance to take to the stage.“I recognised a bit of myself in there,” he explains. “I was a lad from a council estate in Sheffield and I wanted to be an actor. But acting felt like it was this alien world ... somewhere over there. Not for the likes of me.
“I remember standing in the living room at my parents’ house and telling my dad that I wanted to be an actor. He just looked up from his paper with this troubled frown. ‘Why on earth would you want to do that?’ It was a real Sons and Lovers moment.
“Lads like me were supposed to go down the pit or into the steelworks. And I did. I had three years working with my dad in the steelworks, doing my welding and plating apprenticeship. But I knew that there was something more out there. Something . . .” He struggles for the right word ... “something arty.
“When I met those kids in Liverpool I knew what they were going through. I knew how difficult it is to pull out a book of Shakespeare when all your mates are reading football magazines or comics. I just wanted to say, ‘It’s not about class or where you come from. Stick at it, work hard ... look what happened to me. I’ve done all right’.”
He has indeed. Meaty roles in film (most recently the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Troy)and on TV (Sharpe and Red Riding). Bean reckons that the past year or so has been one of the busiest that he can remember, with jobs in Norway, Ukraine, South Africa, the US and the UK. Could he have taken it farther down the Hollywood route, does he think, with a series of blockbusters, or a starring TV role such as Hugh Laurie’s in House that would have set him up for life?
“Yeah, I could have done that,” he says, without a hint of disappointment. “I had my chances, but I didn’t take them, and it was my decision not to do that. Working in LA is great. Wonderful people. Loads of fun. But it didn’t feel right ... I felt like a fish out of water. I was always looking forward to coming home. Coming back to this country. My family’s here, my friends are here, Sheffield United’s here. Why would I want to walk away from all of that? I’d miss the weather. I’d miss my garden in London. Miss raking the leaves and planting trees. Filling up the bird feeders and watching the robins swoop around in the snow at my parents’ house in Sheffield.
“If I had gone over there, who knows what would have happened? Yeah, I might have been lucky, had loads of great roles and be a multibillionaire. On the other hand, things might not have worked out, I might have become unhappy with myself, disillusioned with my job and be really depressed.
As it is, I’ve got a few bob in the bank, I’m doing all right, I still love what I do. And I didn’t get lost in the machine.”
Sean Bean’s perfect weekend
North or South?
It’s great living in London, but Sheffield will always be home.
Long hair or short back ’n’ sides?
Depends on who I’m playing. I’ve even had a mullet!
Jeans and T-shirt or suit and tie?
I quite like a suit and tie. They give me a touch of much-needed class.
Beer or wine?
Don’t mind if I do.
Posh car or cheap runaround?
I’ve had posh cars, but they keep getting nicked.
Football or cricket?
Like the tattoo says ...
“100% Blade” [the nickname of Sheffield United FC].
Wild life or wildlife?
You’ve got to keep in touch with Nature ... bit of bird watching, horse riding.
Cooking or cleaning?
I’ll be in the kitchen. We once did a Sharpe Chefs charity cookbook.
Couldn’t get through the weekend without?
Spending half an hour in the garden.