In the News: The Dangerous Mr. Bean - Daily Mail Weekend (UK)
There was a large article in Saturday's Daily Mail Weekend magazine (UK) (Oct
23/99) about Sean Bean. No
mention of LOTR again (sorry) but this interview was done back in June, before
Sean had been confirmed in the part of Boromir. The article is printed in
support of Extremely Dangerous, a 4-part tv series which will be shown on
tv in the UK next month.
Here's the article!
THE DANGEROUS MR BEAN
Daily Weekend Magazine
Women swoon over him, men envy him. Sean Bean, the working-class lad from
Sheffield who became a star, would seem to have it made. But there has been a
price to pay, as WENDY LEIGH discovered when she finally met him.
The Sean Bean we see on our television screens seems as tough and resilient as
the steel city which forged him. As he struts about in his period uniform as
Sharpe or in his modern fatigues in Bravo Two Zero he seems well cast as the
courageous yet unemotional military man.
In his private life, too, he might be seen as cold and hard as steel; for how
else could he find himself, at the age of just 40, on his third wife? Some who
have followed the lurid tales of his love life might be tempted to think of
as the sort of upwardly-mobile cad who trades in wives as his career
progresses. But Sean isn't so easily pigeonholed. If he really was ruthless in
love, how could it be that his first wife, his teenage sweetheart, Debra (with
whom he lost his virginity), won't say a word against him and still enjoys
calling on his mother for a friendly chat in their home town of
Sheffield? And how come he is so obviously devoted to his third wife, Abigail
Cruttenden, and their baby Evie, now almost a year old? The wife in the
Bread actress Melanie Hill, is a more painful subject, for they broke up amid
much acrimony about their manifold separations and talk of his supposedly
He won't dwell on the subject, the wounds seemingly still raw. "I think you
have to get over it, otherwise you can be worrying about what should have been
for the rest of your life. You have to look back and remember the good times,
the good qualities, the happy times."
But Sean does have regrets, and one in particular which does little to dispel
the image of him as a soccer-obsessed bloke in the pub. "I would like to be 20
years younger and play football professionally," he tells me earnestly.
great, lucrative time for players like Beckham and Ginola."
The fact that he has a £2 tattoo on his shoulder with the words "100 per cent
Blade" - the nickname of his team, Sheffield United - merely adds to the
feeling that here is a man who hasn't quite adapted to the sophisticated fast
lane of Hollywood superstardom in which he finds himself. "I'm as
ever about the game. But sometimes you get a bit disillusioned by the money
that is being bandied about in various directions by the clubs, I think it
takes the edge off the game. You get smaller clubs who don't have the money
go out of businesss and people can get very greedy."
His accent gets stronger as he pronounces the word "greed-day" with great
contempt. "So I'm disappointed in the way it's progressed. I'm very passionate
about who I support and always will be, but I hope in years to come that the
big clubs are more gracious to the smaller clubs and help them out more."
It would seem ungracious to point out that for Sean the hard truth is that he
could never have made it as a professinal footballer. As his old PE teacher
said, "He played for the school football team, but he wasn't outstanding."
Yet Mr Bean - the name is unfortunate, for there are very few laughs in Sean -
already has the world at his feet. He doesn't need to prove himself against
likes of Beckham on some muddy football pitch when he has already proved
himself among the finest British actors of his generation at the Royal
Shakespeare Company and made his mark in big Hollywood movies, such as Stormy
Monday, Patriot Games and Ronin.
Could it be that he's a tad embarrassed by what he does for a living when he
drives back to Sheffield to see his old mates, all of them plumbers, welders
and carpenters? Is there a part of his soul that cries out for the life of a
As he sits opposite, leaning forward to answer my questions in a low voice,
this seems the clue to Sean Bean. He is in costume for a new TV series,
a Cable and Wireless technician's uniform, and his appearance is so entirely
convincing, the workman's overalls so suited to him, that I am reminded he
became an actor partly by accident, having never done any drama at school and
leaving at 16 with a miserly two O levels.
After school, he spent three years drifting, worked at a supermarket counter
selling cheese, but only lasted a day, and ended up becoming a welder at his
father Brian's steel-making shop, producing gear wheels and plant machinery.
Had fate not intervened, he might well have stayed there in Sheffield, working
as a welder, along with the pals whose company he still enjoys so much.
But fate, assisted by a huge dolop of talent, came along and changed
everything. First he quit welding and went to art college. There, he
read Macbeth, was mesmerised by the play and decided to become an actor,
applying to the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), merely
because he believed it was England's only drama college. Against all odds, he
was accepted - one of only 30 out of 11,000 applicants. Even now, Ian Footitt,
his old teacher at Brooke School, Sheffield, can hardly believe his meteoric
rise to fame. "I am still stunned as to how this lad in my class got to be a
famous actor. He never did plays. He was popular with the girls, he loved to
chase a ball, but he didn't work."
Along the way, Sean met his first love, Debra, a hairdresser, and they married
when he was 20. "Debra and I had a very strong relationship," he says, "We
very young and drifted apart. But Debra still goes around to my mum's for a
His mum, Rita, has always been a powerful influence on Sean. She was a
secretary until he and his sister, Lorraine, came along, but gave up her
that she could devote her time to them. He, in turn, is fiercely loyal to her.
"She is a good woman who has a good heart, a sense of fairness, the ability to
laugh at herself, compassion and love."
It is when the subject turns to his father that one begins to wonder whether
Sean is certain he took the right route in life. "In some ways, I wish I'd
followed him," he says. "It would have been good to have carried on working
with him, but I always felt I wanted to do something else..."
That something else has brought him to his new starring television role as
Byrne in ITV's four-part thriller Extremely Dangerous. He plays a former MI5
man accused of murdering his wife and children. Despite the title, it is a
curiously emotional role for such a macho actor, and he is called upon to
into tears. "It was easier to do that scene because it was near the end of the
shoot and I had become involved with the role. He has been through a hell of a
trauma and finally breaks down."
But Sean Bean, the tough guy crying? "Everybody does, don't they? It's just a
natural emotion. People laugh, people cry. It is part of my make-up."
Off-screen, though, he initially redressed the balance with an unfortunate
display of machismo. I planned to meet him on the set of Extremely Dangerous,
but he flatly refused to see me because he "didn't know" me. He declared that
he would rather be interviewed by a male colleague of mine whom he had met
before. I suspected that his refusal to talk to me might stem from him having
problems communicating with women when they are vertical. Nonetheless, I
entered into negotiations which reached the absurd point where I offered him
the opportunity to interview me to see if I could interview him.
When we finally meet, his handshake is diffident and almost apologetic. I
wonder if, in an attempt to disarm me by confounding expectations, he is
a part, pretending to be a gentle, retiring soul. Later, one of his closest
colleages tells me, "Sean really is very shy. But he is also very difficult,
and extremely clever."
His cleverness is immediately evident in the sardonic way in which he handles
our conversation. He wears a wedding ring and I ask, "Have you worn one during
all your marriages?"
"Yes," he says, "through all of them. All of them." Then he laughs, a
self-deprecating laugh. The subtext clearly implied is, "Yes, I know you think
I'm Bluebeard, that I trade-up wives from Sheffield girl-next-door Debra to
actress Melanie from Sunderland to Abigail, the posh Londoner, but I'm not
going to let you stick labels on me."
We enter a battleground as lethal as any of those he's trodden on TV, of
dodging questions and avoiding areas which he perceives as potential traps.
During his career, he has stripped for the cameras inordinately often (and
there is even a nude scene in the generally sombre Extremely Dangerous),
won't be drawn into revealing how his mates in Sheffield responded to seeing
him on screen in the altogether. "It's unprintable," he says. I suggest
actually relishes it, that being filmed nude turns him on. He says it doesn't,
then relents and concedes, "It's fun."
Sometime later, he telephones me and asks to amend his quote. "I don't want to
say that doing love scenes in the nude is fun. But you could write that I
it is funny." He proceeds to underline the point by telling me an anecdote
relating to Lady Chatterley's Lover, in which he played the libidinous
gamekeeper, Mellors. "Joely Richardson and I had to run through a field
starkers. The director said 'Don't worry about it, there's a big wall
surounding us, ten foot high, so no one will see you.' We did it on the first
take, but in the middle, a double-decker bus came by and everyone on the top
deck stared at us. We had to just carry on."
He and Abigail met when they starred in Sharpe and one assumes that their love
scenes together were, indeed, fun. After all, they coincided with his break-up
with Melanie Hill, after a relationship of 16 years. Now that Sean
do love scenes with other actresses, he may wish to reassure Abigail that,
these days, they are hard work for him and certainly not in the least bit
The only other remotely sex-related comment he makes relates to his co-star in
Stormy Monday, Melanie Griffith, of whom he says, with Mellors' distinctive
earthiness, "She's got a good face and that, but she's also big and buxom,
which I like. I don't like skinny birds."
In general, he shies away off-scrEen from promoting the sexual elements of his
persona and says, "I do laugh at this image of myself as some sort of sex
machine." In contrast, he is touchingly eager to tell me that he reads
everything he can get his hands on. "I like Oscar Wilde - I'd like to act in
his plays - and Dickens and D.H. Lawrence." He studied Lawrence extensively
after Ken Russell chose him to play Mellors. His favourite film, tellingly, is
Kes, the story of the defiant boy with the broad Yorkshire accent whose escape
from the bleakest of lives in a Northern mining town comes with the joy of
catching a kestrel and learning from a stolen book how to tame it.
Sean Bean is probably perfectly capable of permanently shedding his own broad
Yorkshire accent (and, indeed, contemplated doing so while at RADA), but says,
"An accent is something really to be cherished. It defines who you are and
where you come from and you're proud of that."
Sometimes he exaggerates it, parodying himself. When asked about the first
major purchase he made once his career hit the heights, he lays it on thick,
calling it, "Very flaashaay," perhaps to mitigate his embarrassment at what he
bought - "A big American-style car, a Datsun 280Z in metallic gold. I lined it
all with fur and hung dice from the mirror ..."
He was 26 then and Stormy Monday (his first major film), Sharpe, Lady
Chatterley, Clarissa, his stint as a Bond villain and his romantic turn as
Count Vronsky in Anna Karenina were all ahead of him. So, of course, were his
divorces and remarriages. The parting from Debra appears to have gone
relatively smoothly, but although he and Melanie Hill have two daughters
(Lorna, 12, and Molly, 8) together, Melanie did not emerge from the divorce
unscathed. She has put a brave face on it since, making plucky public comments
like, "Well, you just get on with it, don't you? You don't stop being a parent
when the marriage ends." but is clearly sad at having lost the man whom she
once described as "the love of my life."
Meanwhile Sean, in both geographic and romantic terms, has strayed south and
now lives with Abigail in an exclusive part of north London. She was educated
in private schools and has an accent to match. He realises that his
Southern-raised children's childhood is far different from his own, but isn't
so consumed by a loyalty to his Northern roots to feel he has to apologise for
the differences. "I didn't have a hard childhood, but of course theirs is
different. But why shouldn't it be?" he asks defiantly. "I want them to have a
good education, to learn to have it easier that I did."
Now at 40, he isn't about to indulge in any form of mid-life crisis. "Hitting
40 wasn't a trauma for me - not that I was aware of." And he still seems
relatively dazzled by the trappings of Hollywood stardom. "For Patriot Games
they flew me backwards and forwards to Hollywood three times. First Class.
His down-to-earth nature is epitomised by the story of the small scar above
left eye. Far from it being a wound won on some Sheffield football pitch, he
explains, "We were filming the last scenes of Patriot Games, on a boat in
stormy weather. The deck was very slippery and Harrison Ford accidentally hit
me with a boat hook. There was a bit of blood. I had a few stitches, but it
never occurred to me to sue. It was an accident. Afterwards, the producer said
(and he puts on a credible American accent, completely erasing the Sheffield
one in the process), 'Hey, Sean, why doncha keep the suit? And anything
want from wardrobe....' So we called it quits." He laughs, relishing the
memory, and the entire experience of Hollywood and all it offers to those
blessed to be stars. At the same time, he is living proof of the axiom, "You
can take the boy out of Sheffield but you can't take Sheffield out of the
And he knows it.
His greatest dream, he says, is to play Macbeth. "I love the play," he says.
"Love, death, ambition, betrayal. And Lady Macbeth." So you like strong women?
I ask. "Yes." he says. "Yes, I do."
Sensitive, shy, clearly somewhat embarrassed to find himself so succesful in a
profession from which real men's men from the welding world would steer clear,
Sean Bean is not as big a macho cliche as has been projected. He is clearly
capable, too, of communicating with women when they are vertical.
Extremely Dangerous will be shown on ITV next month.
From The Daily Mail Weekend magazine, Saturday, 23rd October 1999, pages 6-8