Before enrolling in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Sean Bean was going to enter his father’s Sheffield steel fabrication business as a welder. He changed his mind after he garnered praise for acting in a few roles in local theater while taking an art class at Rotherham College. Bean received a scholarship to the prestigious academy and graduated a few years later with the Silver Medal for his performance in Waiting for Godot.
Shortly thereafter, Bean performed in several West End productions. He also appeared in Romeo and Juliet with the Glasgow Citizens Theatre and with the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon. In the first he played Tybalt and in the second he played Romeo. Following more stage experience, Bean made his feature film debut in 1986 in Derek Jarman’s Carvaggio. Two years later, after returning to the stage, Bean appeared in Mike Figgis’ Stormy Monday and in another Jarman effort, War Requiem. In addition to his film work, Bean also has a thriving television career that began in the mid-’80s.
Notable television work includes Clarissa (1992) and Sharpe (1993). It is as a “bad guy” in films such as Patriot Games and Golden Eye that Bean is best-known in the U.S., though in the 1997 remake of Anna Karenina, he plays the dashing and romantic Count Vronsky. After joining Robert De Niro and Jean Reno for some international espionage in John Frankenheimer’s Ronin (1998), taking a psychotic turn in Essex Boys (2000) and kidnapping the daughter of a respected adolescent therapist in Don’t Say a Word (2001), Bean made his way to New Zealand for a role in director Peter Jackson’s eagerly anticipated Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Bean will next be seen as a god guy in both the Jodie Foster drama Flightplan, and Silent Hill, now shooting in Canada. He talked to Paul Fischer.
Question: This character is different for you. Is that one of the reasons you decided to do it?
Bean: Yeah. I thought it was a different look, a different image, different character. Very different [from Lord of the Rings], interesting. I just found it very interesting when I first read it. It was a quite complex read at first because there are so many descriptions about agnates and clones and stuff like that but it comes up off the page very well into film I think. I just thought he was a very influential character. He’s right in the middle of this whole complex. It’s his complex, his world, his manufacturing plant for these products and he believes what he’s doing is for the good of humanity. He’s a scientist. He pushes the boundaries and he can do that because he’s allowed to go as far as he can. He’s also got a Godlike factor in him, playing God. He’s actually creating life.
Question: How does greed factor into it. How much of that is part of the equation.
Bean: I don’t think it’s so much with him. It’s a bonus for him. He lives well. He has what he wants around him but that’s not the main issue. He thinks he’s a pioneer and a brilliant scientist and the respect and prestige he gets from that, I think, drives him on. And he lives on the complex. He lives in that building. He’s not off on an island or a yacht somewhere. He actually lives with these people. It’s very much a part of his life.
Question: Do you think that the key to playing a villain is to not think that you are the villain. The character doesn’t know he’s the villain. You’ve done that in a lot of films. There’s the thin line that separates the hero from the villain.
Bean: Yeah. I think you’ve got to do it that way. Otherwise you’re lying to yourself but it is that thin line. It’s where he’s obviously gone off the rail somewhere. He’s blinded by this science. He’s mislead or gone off in the wrong direction but he can’t see that himself. He can only see the good he’s bringing to society. He’s talking about things like curing leukemia in children in two years and opening up a children’s ward, saving people’s lives. If you stack all that up against the other stuff, he’s quite big.
Question: He believes the end justifies the means.
Bean: Yeah, exactly which most scientists do I suppose. They think, ‘well, if that’s what it takes to get what we want, we’ll do it’.
Question: You have to imagine that he built up to this point. He may not have been a monster in the beginning.
Bean: That’s right. At one point he says. ‘it took quite a while. We had a lot of disappointment, made a lot of mistakes but gradually, we found out how to create this’.
Question: His feelings for the welfare of these clones seems genuine until it comes time to harvest them. It’s rather like a farmer and his cattle.
Bean: (laughs) Yeah, it really is.
Question: Do you see this all being true one day?
Bean: Possibly, yeah. They’ve done it with animals. I suppose a human is a much more complex structure but the format is the same. I’m sure it’s quite possible. There are people researching it, experimenting as we speak.
Question: We were talking about some countries where people are kidnapped so organs can be harvested.
Bean: Yeah, oh God yeah. In this film they’re talking about the military being involved at one point because, obviously they’d have a lot of interest in armies of clones.
Question: In terms of villains complexity, how does this guy compare with your IRA guy in “Patriot Games” or even Macbeth for that matter?
Bean: I think, in “The Patriot Games”, it’s because of the death of his brother. Jack Ryan, Harrison Ford, had killed my brother. It was more of a personal vendetta than a political one. There were politics involved but it was more personal. He was driven and blinded by that revenge. With Macbeth I suppose that very difference in the sense that it’s ambition, greed and power. He’s got a lot already. He becomes a hero after the first battle and he’s reveling in it and he and Lady Macbeth are a celebrated couple. Then he wants it more and she wants a bit more and she goads him on and she loses it and is walking around like a lunatic. Then there’s that great speech at the end where she throws herself off the battlement and he says ‘She should have died hereafter. There would have been a time for such a word’. It’s really great.
Question: Do you ever get tired of playing the bad guy and want to do a zany, romantic comedy?
Bean: Comedy, yeah, romantic stuff, yeah. I’ve done it in the past. I did a series called ‘Sharpe’ where I play the hero and that lot and that was great.
Question: Do you still get mail for ‘Sharpe’?
Bean: Yeah I do. There’s thinking about doing a one-off right before Christmas which would be set in India which would be quite good. I’d like that.
Question: We see guys where we say, ‘he’s got to play the villain. He’s looks evil but you don’t look evil.
Bean: I don’t know. It’s good in a way. You always dread to be typecast. It’s good that people are convinced that you’re a good villain. They want you to do it again and that’s a good thing. You’ve just got to balance it with a bit of [other roles]. I’ve got this film recently where I’m playing a normal, regular guy.
Question: Is that as interesting to play?
Bean: Sometimes not quite as interesting. When you’re playing the good guy, you’re in every scene just doing ordinary things and when you’re the villain it seems to be contained and condensed, a really short burst of anger of evilness [laughs]. You can risk things. So I do enjoy it. I don’t worry about getting typecast because I’ve been playing other roles. They’re all different villains as well, from Macbeth and ‘Patriot Games’ and this one, all different agendas.
Question: You’re shooting ‘Silent Hill’ right now.
Bean: Right. I’m playing the husband. Radha Mitchell is playing my wife. We’ve got a little daughter. I play a concerned husband trying to find my wife and child.
Question: How similar is that to the game as far as storylines?
Bean: I don’t know. I’ve not played the game. Kids know about it but I’ve heard it will live up to the game. The game’s supposed to be really isn’t it. It think it will be really good. Christophe Gans, is the director. The guy who did ‘Brotherhood of the Wolf’. He’s given it a really quirky, bizarre feel, very spooky; a very European kind of genre film.
Question: What’s the basic plot of it?
Bean: It’s about this place called ‘Silent Hill’ and our daughter is quite disturbed about this place. She keeps mentioning ‘Silent Hill, Silent Hill’ She’s always trying to get there. She tries to get out of the house, wakes up in the middle of the night. My wife decides it might be a good idea to take her there. We’re trying to confront her fears. She gets involved with a very murky, dangerous world, very creepy which is all in different time levels as well. I’m in the real world and I’m trying to find passages on different planes. It’s quite interesting. I can hear her but I can’t see her. The way it’s shot is in constant fog. There’s always this fog cobwebbed around the ‘Silent Hill’ world. The real world’s just normal.
Question: So it’s more of a horror film?
Bean: Yeah. And I think the game is psychologically demanding because you have to reach certain levels. It’s not just about chopping people up. It’s about using your brain and I think the perfect guy to do it is Christophe Gans.
Question: What are your expectations for ‘Flightplan’?
Bean: I think it’s going to be good. I’ve only seen the trailer but I’ve heard some good things about it. It moves at a fast pace and it’s exciting; keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s funny because when we were doing it, we were on this plane all the time. They built the inside of this massive plane. It was very claustrophobic with the crew in there and it was quite a slow process so when you see it all put together, it’s quite good. It’s at Toronto I believe, at the film festival so I think they’re quite happy with it.
Question: What is ‘The Dark’?
Bean: That’s a film that I did with Maria Bello. That was in the U.K. I did it last year. I play her husband and we have a daughter… [laughs] and something happens. I won’t tell you what it is because that’s quite a sort of disturbing film as well. It’s very ghostly.
Question: A supernatural thriller?
Question: Do you like that kind of film to do two in a row?
Bean: It wasn’t intentional. I did that, then ‘Flightplan’, then I did ‘The Island’ then I did ‘Silent Hill’. I suppose it’s a different look and take on it but it’s quite funny that I’m playing a concerned husband searching for my daughter twice in a year.
Question: If you were not in this field, what would you be doing?
Bean: I don’t know. I wanted to be an artist originally or maybe a concert pianist.
Question: Do you like doing period dramas? Do they transport you?
Bean: I quite like period dramas, yeah.
Question: Does the costuming help?
Bean: Yeah, it does when you see everyone dressed like in ‘Troy’ or ‘Lord of the Rings’, it gives you an extra boost. But it’s a pain like in ‘Troy’ when I had to put all that stuff on and the hair and beard and all that but it certainly gets you into that spirit and I’ll look for a period job because the dialogue always tends to be good as well. Like in ‘Lord of the Rings’ it was sensible and intelligent.
Question: Are you interested in doing an animation voice?
Bean: Yeah, I actually did a thing called ‘Pride’ which was a BBC things all about these lions and I did the voice of this lion called Dark. That was as close as I’ve got to that sort of thing.
Question: Would you do more of that…voice over work?
Bean: Yeah, anything.
Question: Do you still live in the U.K.
Bean: Yeah I do. I still live over there. Spend a lot of time here.
Question: What in your life would be like the Island is to the clones in this film; a goal or a place you would want to go?
Bean: I quite like being in Paris. I always find that very relaxing going on the [sounds like: Eurostar when I was in Paris or maybe an island someplace but then I think I think I get a bit bored on an island sunbathing and stuff like that. Or my house in London, whenever I get there.
Question: Have you been asked to do ‘National Treasure 2’ yet?
Bean: No. I was talking to a couple of people about that. Good story, wasn’t it?