yesean Bean used to be known as an action hero, a tough and brave Hollywood man who usually died before the credits rolled. However, the last decade has seen him become one of our most trusted great dramatic actors – a tender and excellent performer with multiple awards to prove it.
Now aged 63, he trained as a welder in his hometown of Sheffield before discovering acting, winning a scholarship to Rada in London and becoming a member of the RSC in 1986. He found mainstream fame in the ’90s as the fearless hero of ITV’s period action. romp Sharpe. His film roles have included a terrorist in patriot gamesa James Bond villain in golden eye and Boromir in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. On television she played Mellors in the 1993 BBC adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s LoverMr Wilford in the current dystopian drama snow drills and Ned Stark in Play of thrones.
Bean won an International Emmy Award in 2013 for his performance as a cross-dressing teacher in Jimmy McGovern’s Accusedfollowed by a Bafta in 2018 for his role as a troubled Catholic priest at McGovern’s Broken. His next collaboration with the writer was in the 2021 prison drama. Weatherwhich earned Bean his second Bafta for Best Leading Actor.
She now stars opposite Nicola Walker in the new BBC drama from writer-director Stefan Golaszewski. Marriage, about a middle-aged couple who have been together for 27 years. It’s a far cry from Napoleonic exploits and Bond villainy, and also somewhat ironic given that Bean has been married five times. He moved to Somerset with his fifth wife, Ashley Moore, in 2017 and recently said: “I’m a romantic, otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed married. I don’t regret a thing. I would live it all over again.”
Were you a fan of Stefan Golaszewski’s previous series? Breast?
i saw everything Breast and it was extraordinary. Bold, uncompromising, provocative in her own way. I just thought, “Here’s a guy who writes exactly how he feels and translates it to the screen.” There is no dilution of the original idea of it. Stefan’s work has pathos. He notices the small weaknesses of all people. Those vulnerabilities and insecurities that we all feel but rarely express. I was listening to Velvet Underground yesterday and the lyrics somehow reminded me of his scripts. It is this dark reality, which sometimes seems quite cruel and sad, but with a sly humor. Stefan should call himself “the Lou Reed of screenwriting.”(laughs).
Was the opportunity to act alongside Nicola Walker a factor?
I was blown away by his performance in [ITV crime drama] unforgettable. He has a very natural approach to acting and we complement each other. Sometimes you just have chemistry with someone. That’s what I had with Nicola.
You play a suburban married couple ian and emma. Tell us about your relationship?
On the surface, it often doesn’t seem like much is happening, but deep down there is a lot going on. Through Stefan’s economy of words, you realize that they often say the opposite of what they really mean. There are a lot of emotions to extract from everyday interactions.
It feels like the theater, or a mike leigh movie…
It goes a lot in that direction. Stefan said the other day how hard it is to be a human being. Going down every morning and having to talk to people. Cats and dogs don’t need to do that. they just sit there (laughs).
The opening scene is set on a plane, which seems cruel. Aren’t you afraid to fly?
It was okay because I knew it wasn’t a real plane. I was afraid of flying for a long time. I was clutching the armrest, almost crying. I used to have to drink a lot before I got on the plane, and then drink a lot on it. When I came down, it was shocking. But suddenly, around 9/11, there was talk of possible terrorist attacks on planes and long-range missiles. I thought, “Why do I care about engine failure if all this is happening?” And somehow I got over it. I still can’t stand the turbulence but I’m much better now, thank God.
There is a devastating crying scene in episode one of Marriage. How did you channel that emotion?
To put it honestly, you can’t improvise. You have to think of something annoying in your life that will fix the feeling in your head. That means going back to unpleasant memories but there is no other way. Sobbing or mourning is often not necessary, because when people cry, they usually try to hide it. Facial expressions are incredibly articulate when you’re trying to hide powerful emotions. We’ve all seen that on the news or on documentaries, when people are reliving the tragedy. The only way to replicate that is to think about it and live it.
Did you love the reaction to Weather last year?
Very happy. It was four years in the making from Jimmy McGovern’s initial idea, so a lot of work went into it. The topic interested me. Many of us, especially men, think about being sent to prison and wonder how we would manage.
Do you think that was an accurate description of prison life?
Prisoners and prison officials have said how realistic it is. He even started conversations about the prison system: the understaffing, how people are left to stagnate, how we should do more to rehabilitate them. Some people disdain prisoners, but they need our support, both while they’re in and after they’re out. It was good to stir up controversy and raise those points.
He first worked with Stephen Graham a decade ago on Tracey’s storyan award-winning episode of the Jimmy McGovern series Accused. How was the reunion with him? Weather?
We have formed a great working relationship, the two of us and Jimmy. She had always admired Stephen. He is up to the task in all roles, especially This is england: chameleon. So I jumped at the chance to work with him, but I never imagined it would be like lovers. (laughs). But we got stuck in and had a great time. The final scene was me watching him being taken to prison, while I walked free. And then at the end of Weather, Stephen’s character was sent downstairs, while I was leaving. I said, “Damn, Stevie, this feels familiar, doesn’t it?”
For what role are you most recognized today?
It used to be Sharpe, then it was Play of thrones Y Mr of the Rings. but now i understand Weather also. It was widely seen and people tend to remember it.
Is it true that you don’t like being killed? There’s a compilation of your death scenes on YouTube…
I’ve seen that. Is it called Death Reel? I’m not too upset. If it’s a good part, it’s worth dying for. With scripts, she used to read from the end to see if she was still in it. She’d be like, “Oh no, I only lasted until page 34.” When you’re starting out, you’re much more expendable. Now they could keep me alive and get their money’s worth (laughs).
Play of thrones It was a surprise, right?
when i met the game of Thrones writers, they told me, “You die, but you’re in it for most of the season.” But he was a great character and it was a good death, so I didn’t care. by Boromir [in The Lord of the Rings] It was probably the best kill I’ve ever done. It was so heroic and tragic. I got a reputation for dying on screen, but I’d rather be alive now, if you don’t mind.
There’s also a YouTube compilation where you say “bastard” in Sharpe…
That’s pretty funny, I didn’t realize how many times I said that. Perhaps it would be nice to show theater students: this is how the word “bastard” is said, as proved by a stuntman.
You started in the theater, but it’s been a while. Would you like to do more stage work?
Possibly, if it is a project that I am passionate about, and if it is not for a long time. Sometimes you get these six-month runs and it’s a wonderful experience, but it gets repetitive. I don’t like being formulaic. I enjoy changing it up with different mediums, different genres, unique cutting edge directors. I would certainly describe Stefan as such, and Marriage as an unusual piece.
Is it weird to be 63 and still a sex symbol?
It’s me? That’s news to me, but I’ll take it as a compliment and say it feels great. (laughs).
You now live in Somerset. What took you there?
It was just by chance. I moved to London to study theater and ended up staying for 35 years. But my friends slowly drifted away and I began to realize that London was not the hub of everything. And then my wife and I just saw this wonderful and curious house, which decided us. It is situated on two acres of beautiful land with wild gardens. It’s not a big house, but it’s quirky and interesting.
And have you become a great gardener?
I went out this morning, actually. I find it very relaxing and comforting. There is a lot to take care of. I made it wildlife friendly because I love attracting birds and butterflies, bugs and animals. We have a pond with swallows flying over it. There are stoats, weasels and bats. We have planted trees, bushes and meadows. It keeps me busy, although I get a little help. Jeremy, my gardener, does all the legwork. I just put things in their place. He digs the holes.
You are a big fan of music. What have you been listening to lately?
Mainly old stuff. I love the Velvet Underground, as you’ve probably guessed. The Beatles, the Stones, Bowie, Iggy. I put on Brian Eno’s [1978 ambient album] Music for airports basically enough.
If you had your time again, would you still be an actor?
I would like to. But she’s not done yet (laughs). I have had wonderful experiences and have traveled the world. It never crossed my mind to do anything else, but I would have loved to be an artist. I try to draw or paint. I gather all the pens and pastels, then finish doodling on a piece of paper. I love to use my hands and my imagination, to be productive and to make things. I guess acting combines all those elements. That’s what makes it so rewarding.
A religious opera called The seed of the witches. My friend Jonathan Moore has written the script and I voice a character. Gabriel Byrne, Chrissie Hynde, and Stewart Copeland are involved, so it should be interesting. Otherwise, I am enjoying some time at home. Taking a breather, recharging my batteries and pursuing my other interests. There’s more to life than acting, right?