Actor Sean Bean

The Game of Thrones star unpacks his latest role in the sci-fi epic, Jupiter Ascending.

A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and a former member of the Royal Shakespeare Academy, Sean Bean has turned his stellar training credentials into quite a remarkable career as a dramatic actor. The British-born performer initially made a name for himself in television with his role as Richard Sharpe in the hugely popular UK series Sharpe. He became known to audiences in the U.S. by playing villains in the hugely successful action films Patriot Games and GoldenEye, the latter being the first James Bond film starring Pierce Brosnan. Since then, he has played a variety of notable characters on film and TV, including the role of Boromir in Peter Jackson’s acclaimed Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Eddard Stark in the widely beloved HBO series Game of Thrones. Sean stars as Legion Commander Stinger Apini in his latest film, Jupiter Ascending, from the directors of The Matrix trilogy.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: “Jupiter Ascending” is a sci-fi action film opening this week. It stars actor Sean Bean who has become somewhat famous for playing these villains that we love to hate, as James Bond’s nemesis in “Golden Eye” or as Jack Ryan’s enemy in “Patriot Games”. But before we start our conversation about his new project, “Jupiter Ascending”, let’s look at a scene.

[Clip]

Tavis: So the obvious question for me as a fan of your work is whether or not you play the villain in this too.

Sean Bean: He’s a mixed bag, I guess [laugh].

Tavis: Okay. Unpack that for me. A mixed bag, Sean? What does that mean?

Bean: He’s a bit of a wild guy in his youth and he kind of sees that quality in Channing Tatum’s character, Caine. So he takes him under his wing like he sees what he could have been when he was a young guy. He’s strong, he’s brave, he’s a fighter.

The story is that he kind of takes Caine under his wing and he’s a mentor for him, a father figure, and they fight together and they’re very good in battle. They’re a very powerful force and they form a very strong bond between each other.

But, unfortunately, Channing’s character, Caine, has a very kind of anger and kind of hatred towards anything royal, you know, the royals that are in the picture, and he attacks one and gets into a lot of trouble for it.

I stand up for him and I’m court-martialed and sent to the middle of nowhere. I’m exiled to this outpost and demoted. My life’s more or less ending. I kind of go to seed a little bit.

I look after my teenage daughter and she’s not very well, so I’m in this house living with her and with a lot of bees. I’m a half human, half bee. Maybe I should have told you that [laugh]. I should have started up with that [laugh].

Tavis: Yeah, should have started with that [laugh]. Now you tell me. You’re half human, half bee. Oh, it makes perfect sense now, son. I get it [laugh].

Bean: And, by the way, I’m half…

Tavis: When you saw this–I want to back my way into something here. When you saw the screenplay, saw the script for this, what made you want to play this character? I’m going somewhere with this, but let’s start there.

Bean: Well, I was fascinated by the concept of it without being a hybrid [laugh]. And also at working with the Wachowskis. You know, I’m a great admirer of their work with “The Matrix” and “Cloud Atlas” and whatnot.

You know, work with someone with that originality and that kind of avant-garde kind of approach to filmmaking. Originally, I think none of us on the film, the cast, had a script. You know, we only got a few pages, so it was very secretive.

Tavis: That’s how the Wachowskis work, though. I’m told they did that on all their films.

Bean: Yeah, they don’t tell you much.

Tavis: I mean, people love their work, obviously, and there are always messages in there. Their movies make you think and you have to pay attention to these things. You got a Wachowski film, you can’t like fall asleep.

Bean: No, no. There’s always something happening and this is a very complex story. It takes a little time to unravel. For us, it took some time and it was that kind of complex at the beginning that we had to read through and everybody was going, “What’s this about?” [laugh] They were going, “Do you even know what it means?”

Tavis: Yeah. Did it make sense to you in the end? Did it make sense to you?

Bean: It did. They put a short animated version together for all the cast. We went to the cinema and we watched and it kind of gave us an idea of what they were trying to achieve and what they were going for. That made it a lot easier for us. But it was a wonderful thing.

I mean, it’s a film that’s got so many days. It’s got different civilizations, it’s got different planets, it’s got the idea of people becoming slaves, becoming clones, a real kind of vying for power. It’s really super powers in space. There’s a hell of a lot going on there, you know.

Tavis: That’s the Wachowski family for you. They make you pay attention, as I said earlier. I asked that question of whether or not you played a villain in this because, as I mentioned a moment ago, you play the villain so well.

Did that just sort of happen for you where you get cast as the villain in all these movies ’cause you do it so well? Or did you like set out to do that?

Bean: No, I didn’t set out [laugh].

Tavis: I want to be a villain!

Bean: I think I was just good at it [laugh]. I think I was good playing powerful, angry characters, you know. And I’m good at powerful good characters, but people see something in me that was quite nasty and brutal [laugh], and I was quite happy to accommodate them.

Tavis: What attracts you–because there are some people in this town who only want to play the good guy. Again, as I said a moment ago, you’ve done really well at playing these bad buys.

What is it about those characters, whether it’s, again, in the Jack Ryan movie or the James Bond film or “Game of Thrones” or whatever, what is it about those kinds of characters that you like wrestling with?

Bean: I think it’s kind of psychologically, mentally, there’s something not quite right with them. But when you play that kind of character, you totally believe in what you’re doing. I mean, you look at some of these psychos and stuff and, you know, they have a very strong belief in what they’re doing. People might just not happen to agree.

But when I play a character like that, like Sean Miller in “Patriot Games” or “Goldeneye”, I look for what their aim is in their life and what they’re trying to achieve. You know, they think they’re on the right path. It’s just that they clash with the law and with various other people.

I never try and play a bad guy to be bad and to be brutal and to be nasty and vicious because I think you’re going to be very cliché there. You know, you’ve got to find the truth in that character and what he believes in. It just happens that, you know, he’s wrong.

Tavis: And what happens when people meet you on the street and they think that you are who they see on the screen? How does that work out for you?

Bean: When I used to come to the airport, you know, after “Patriot Games” and then some various other unsavory characters, at the airport I used to get a few funny looks at customs. “What are you doing here?” [laugh]. You’re like a terrorist.

Tavis: Yeah, these days that gets you in a little trouble, especially at the airport.

Bean: People look at you quite peculiarly or they used to do. But I’ve kind of played some good guys since, so they seem a bit more friendly now.

Tavis: So you grew up in England?

Bean: Yes, in Yorkshire. Sheffield in Yorkshire north of England.

Tavis: Is this what the game plan always was? To be a thespian? Or how did this happen?

Bean: Just kind of by accident really. I left school when I was 16, then I worked for my father who was a welder. And I was a welder for three years, you know, welder of fabrication, metal ’cause it was a big industrial town, Sheffield. It was much steel and coal and stuff like that.

I kind of was interested in drawing and painting. I always wanted to be an artist really and I was quite good at it, but I don’t think I was good enough to make it.

But then I got interested in music and poetry and literature. I thought, God, I’m interested in so many things, but I’m not very good at any of them [laugh]. I think by chance I kind of encapsulated all those kind of mediums. I went to an art school after I left my father’s place.

I wanted to be different. You know, I wanted to be something different. I just happened to see somebody doing acting class through an open door at this college in Rotherham, where I trained eventually. But I just thought, wow, that’s quite interesting, that acting business. Maybe I’ll give it a go.

It was totally out of the blue for me and I never thought I’d be an actor ever. You know, I thought it was a bit namby-pamby. I started to give it a go and I realized it kind of brought all those things together that was interesting. I felt very comfortable with myself and I thought this is it. You know, I can do this.

Tavis: I think I know what you mean. When you say it brought together all these other things that you were interested in, unpack that for me. How does acting allow you to express all those other gifts? What do you mean by that?

Bean: I think, for a start, you’re studying kind of literature. You’re studying scripts. You might be studying Shakespeare and poetry and then there’s music. I think there’s an expression that you want to express yourself in some way.

It’s just, I guess, finding the right avenue, the right path. Fortunately, I found it with some encouragement from good tutors. But it’s only when it goes click in your head, and then this is it. It kind of brings it all together.

Tavis: There’s a great poet who passed away last year. Maya Angelou was a dear friend of mine. Maya Angelou always said to me, “Tavis, we find our path by walking it.” We find our path by walking it, and that’s what your story kind of says…

Bean: That is absolutely…

Tavis: It’s only by walking the path and trying different things that you make your way to where you’re supposed to be.

Bean: Yeah. I mean, you walk a little bit further and you say, “Wait a minute. This might be the right path for me.”

Tavis: It’s working out for you [laugh].

Bean: Yes. It’s going all right so far [laugh].

Tavis: Before I let you go, your dad still alive?

Bean: No, he passed away two years ago.

Tavis: So he lived long enough to see you…

Bean: Yes, oh, yes. He was very proud.

Tavis: But what did your dad initially think of you leaving the welding shop and you saying I’m gonna become an actor one day? How did your blue collar dad take that?

Bean: Yeah, he was pretty flabbergasted, I think [laugh]. He saw me–and my mother, you know, she’s still alive, bless her. She sees me and stuff and they just said, “What? An actor?” I say yeah, yeah, that’s what I want to be now.

It was a big jump, but they’ve been very supportive over the years and then now they’re very proud. But they weren’t sure of this at the time [laugh].

Tavis: Well, it’s worked out.

Bean: Thank you. Yeah, it seems to have.

Tavis: I’m glad to have you on. If you like Sean Bean’s work the way I do, you’ll want to see “Jupiter Ascending”, again, from the Wachowskis. Sean, good to have you on. All the best to you.

Bean: Thank you very much.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Last modified: February 6, 2015 at 3:01 pm