America’s favourite bad-guy, Sean Bean, is without shadow of a doubt a legend. From Sharpe to Lord of the Rings, Bean has been a dominating presence in British film and television. Famed for his ability to pick challenging and interesting projects – not to mention for being a favourite of the ladies – Bean has carved one of the most successful acting careers of his generation.
So suffice to say Rotten Tomatoes UK leapt at the chance to have an extended chat with Bean to talk about his career and his latest role, in Nick Love’s new film Outlaw, in which he plays the leader of a vigilante gang determined to right what they see as the wrongs of society. With guns.
RT-UK: What do you think of the film?
Sean Bean: I saw it about two weeks ago with Nick actually. I really enjoyed it. It’s pretty hard-hitting and I was pretty quiet when I came out. I didn’t really know what to say when I first came out. Nick had obviously seen it a few times so he was wondering why I was being so quiet! [laughs]
It’s pretty relentless and there’s a lot to take in. There are so many different issues that it deals with and it just sort of rolls along and smashes you in the face. It’s certainly got a sort-of poetic feel to it. You can identify with these guys, and I think that’s the most important thing. People in this country and this society today are going to be able to identify with them. There are things happening in this country that people are getting very confused and isolated by and the film deals with those issues.
RT-UK: What appealed about the script?
SB: I’d not really seen a script when I first met Nick; he had it all in his head! [laughs]
I met with Nick and Allan Niblo, the producer, to talk about the project and he was very excited about it; as I was by the prospect of working with him because I find him a very exciting director. He does what he wants to do and he does pieces of work that really mean something to him. He can put things across that people find really relevant and are concerned about. I just find him a very exciting individual; it excited me to have an opportunity to work with him.
What he had in mind for this project was also something that really intrigued me. He took me through it for about an hour or two and said, “This’ll all be down on paper in three weeks.” And I was sort-of blown-away by it, the idea and the way he wanted to present it. From that moment on I said, “Yeah, I want to be involved in this.” Every actor wants to find a piece of work that’s this innovative and powerful and moving. The characters were original and well-drawn. This project, and his enthusiasm and passion for it, were what really made me want to work with him. I was initially interested and keen to make it work before I even saw the script, because projects like this don’t come by every day.
And then when I got the script it was everything he said it’d be. I didn’t have a single reservation about it; it was just pretty much up my street and I thought a lot of actors would have jumped at the chance of playing any of those parts because they’re very well written. They’re forced over the edge, really, and they do have lives. Deep down they’re decent people – which I think most people in this country are – but they’re tipped over the edge by a government and a justice system that’s not serving.
RT-UK: As you say, it deals with subject matter we can all relate to.
SB: It does. I could understand where he was coming from. You only have to pick up a paper these days to see the sort of scams and injustices that are out there. There’s a sense that people don’t belong and just aren’t very happy. They’re outraged, in fact, and they’re being shafted left, right and centre. I think this guy actually draws that together and gets a group of people organised to actually do something about it.
You’ve only got to walk into a pub or a café or anything and you’ll find people talking about these things; topics they’re very unhappy with. You feel as though things are being eroded and people don’t know where they belong anymore. They don’t seem to know where they stand in society. At the same time people are getting stabbed, beaten up. Things are just getting out of control.
In forming this gang, though, I think it’s about concern for those people who are being wronged by society – and it’s made up of those people, really – as opposed to a desire to be shamelessly violent. I think that’s what makes the film really stand up because I think most of us can understand feeling like that.
RT-UK: Was it exciting, too, to get back into British film? I guess this is your first project back since the Lord of The Rings days…
SB: Yeah, I guess the last film I made over here was Essex Boys, which was about six years ago. That was a good piece of work, I enjoyed that a lot. Since then I’ve been working a lot in North America and South America. To be back here working on something that was so related to this country and to issues that really reflect Britain – that was incredibly exciting. Just to be part of an independent film in the UK was something that was very important to me after working on a lot of big American projects. And to do it with someone like Nick, who is so passionate about this country, was a very big thing for me.
RT-UK: You seem to be quite good choosing interesting projects from both sides, Hollywood and independent; do you have any rules about the kinds of films you’ll do?
SB: To be honest, you have to do a big Hollywood film to get enough money to do a good independent film! [laughs] I’d love to be working on films like Outlaw for a long, long time to come but unfortunately we haven’t got the sort of set up in this country that they have in Los Angeles for instance and the money’s not as great and the exposure, but it’s much more gratifying and rewarding as an actor to work on something like this. I did a film called The Hitcher just after I did Outlaw and before that I did another independent film called True North. I kind-of try and balance it up for a bit, get some money in the bank and think, “I can do what I want now for the next few months. I can do some proper stuff!” [laughs]
Bean (right) in Outlaw with co-star Danny Dyer.
RT-UK: Who is Bryant?
SB: He’s a former Army officer who’s spent a lot of time in different parts of the world – Afghanistan, Serbia, Iraq… – and he’s just returned to the UK from his latest tour in Iraq. And he’s generally disillusioned. We don’t actually know what happened to him there, but he’s kind-of borne of the general impressions of the current conflict. He’s disillusioned by what he was doing out there and by the state of the country he’s come back to, which I suppose many people are these days. He feels alone and very cut-off from the rest of society. There’s a general sense of uneasiness about him and disappointment.
I think he’s seen so much in his life. He’s seen the injustices of war and he’s returned home to witness injustice in this country; people being abused by the system and people getting away with great injustices. He decides he’s going to take it into take it into his own hands, as it were. I don’t think that’s intentional right from the beginning, but it’s certainly something that grows within him and eventually evolves into something substantial; which is the idea of forming a group of people to actually do something about it. And so he does; he brings these people together to right these wrongs. He’s kind-of the leader of this band of outlaws.
RT-UK: The characters all seem to be pulled from different backgrounds and I get the impression the same is true of the actors playing them %u2013 how have you been getting on with them?
SB: You’re right. Though I suppose we’re all actors so we do have things in common to talk about! [laughs] The characters do come from very different backgrounds, though. Rupert Friend, for instance, who plays Sandy Mardell; he plays a character in the film who goes to public school and was attacked by a gang and has never looked the same again %u2013 they pull his face apart, basically.
We’ve been getting on really well. With some of Nick’s other work, we’ve seen characters from a similar background and how their relationships work, whereas here we’re seeing lots of people from very different backgrounds and the film explores how they mix.
I suppose Bryant is closest to Danny Dyer’s character, Dekker, in that we’re from a quite working-class background. But then you’ve got Lennie [James], who plays a barrister, and the posh one, Sandy. Not to forget Sean Harris who plays the nutter! [laughs] Well, he’s not a nutter; he’s a lonely man who’s had too much time to spend reading football hooligan magazines and war magazines. They’re very much a motley crew but I think they get on very well because of their different backgrounds and because they’re very disparate. They have genuine reasons for what they do, and it’s not about them trying to outdo each other. The violence comes from their situations and they’re good people. You look at my character, he’s a good man, he’s a strong man and he’s done everything he was supposed to be doing all his life. The same with Bob Hoskins’ character, he’s done everything he’s supposed to be doing all his life and he’s got f*ck all to show for it, really. These are people who are completely disillusioned and bitter and they decide to turn to other forms of justice.
Bean in Outlaw with co-stars Danny Dyer and Sean Harris.
RT-UK: How have you been enjoying the Nick Love experience so far?
SB: It’s been great! Quite… unusual – I’ve never experienced anything quite like this before! [laughs]
He is very hands on and very, you know, passionate and very raw. It’s really exciting to be with someone like that who wrote the thing and knows the script like the back of his hand. He can quote the lines; he knows every character’s lines. He sort-of lives and breathes this film. It’s very heartfelt, what he’s put down on paper, and I think we’re all finding it very inspiring and very exhilarating to get that across. Every scene comes off the page so beautifully and so brilliantly; it comes alive. I’ve never quite experienced that before. Usually you’re struggling with a scene; perhaps it’s not quite written right and you’re just struggling to bring it to life. With this, the job has been done for you. It’s quite extraordinary.
RT-UK: So it’s making it easier for you to involve with your character just by being around a director so involved with the film?
SB: It does; you can immerse yourself in the part and in the feel of the piece. He’s also cast it so well; all these people have histories and back-stories and they’re not just written to sort-of supplement me or support me. There’s a sense that the characters have all got a story. There’s no need to invent anything because they’re written so well that you’re immediately clear who these people are. When they all come together it’s really quite explosive. And because everyone knows what they’re doing there’s a really strong chemistry; things evolve and develop that you never expected. Nick’s so hands-on and excited; that’s infectious.
RT-UK: Has this experience made you want to work with him again?
SB: Yeah, I’d love to work with him again because I get on with him really well. And I mean it when I say I’ve never worked with a director like him before by the way! [laughs] He’s the sort of guy that I enjoyed very much working with and for and we had a great working relationship; he’s brilliant with actors and he creates a fantastic feeling on set. He made everyone welcome on the crew; you can have a laugh with him. You know what he’s like, he doesn’t give a sh*t, does he, and he makes the films he wants to make which is brilliant these days. He just says, “This is what I want to do and that’s it. I’m not going to f*cking pander to what the studios want or what’s PC or what’s not.” And I admire that passion, that fire. He’s also a very intelligent guy and he’s not just doing this kind of thing for effect; it’s something he feels very deeply down inside. There are reasons for the things that he writes about; they’re relevant and important. I’d much rather be working with something like this with a director like him than working on something that’s very-much plot based with cardboard characters. He more or less lets you do what you want, he’s very open to ideas and he’s just an exciting guy to be around.
RT-UK: In terms of next steps for you, I understand you’re about to play Macbeth…
SB: This is something that’s been talked about for a while now. I think they’re still trying to get it together. Friends of mine called Nick Saunders and Vincent Regan – who’s an actor who was in Troy with me – they put the thing together. It’s a great script but it’s just about getting the financing for it, like anything else. Tilda Swinton wanted to play Lady Macbeth which I was very excited about having worked with her on Caravaggio many years ago. Everything’s set up for it but it’s still in the producer’s hands right now. It’s something I’d very much like to be involved with but it’s difficult to get these things off the ground. If you’re given a chance you can show just how exciting Shakespeare can be and certainly, in this case, how dark it can be. Trying to convince people to finance a film that’s dark, gritty and independent; that’s the challenge. It’s quite a hard sell.
I’m also doing an Oscar Wilde adaptation, A Woman of No Importance, which should be starting in about four weeks. That’ll be a change for me, anyway. It’s with Annette Bening and Jessica Biel; I’m playing a guy called Lord Illingworth who’s a bit of a charmer – a bit of a lad, really, in the late nineteenth century. [laughs] It’s definitely an independent project and the director is a guy called Bruce Beresford. It’s probably as opposite as you can get to Outlaw!
RT-UK: Back to the period piece? Was Sharpe the last period piece you did?
SB: Yeah. I did a lot of stuff when I was younger when the BBC was doing a lot of period pieces. I did a film called Clarissa and Anna Karenina and, of course, Sharpe. It’s been probably eight or nine years since I’ve done anything like this. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve played pretty contemporary figures over the past year or so and they’ve tended to be quite psychotic! [laughs] I’m quite looking forward to a change, this guy’s very urbane, very dapper, and very humorous. It’s just something that’s a bit of a challenge for me – trying to get my head around that – and it’ll be nice to do something different. Especially Oscar Wilde, I’ve always been interested in his material. The film’s been on and off for about a year and it’s finally got the green light so I’m pretty pleased about that now.
Bean in Outlaw with co-stars Lennie James and Danny Dyer.
RT-UK: Oblivion has become a very popular game – have you seen it? Did you realise how well received the game would be?
SB: I’ve seen it but when I was actually recording it there was no picture, I was just using a script. That was quite interesting; it’s good to do stuff like that. I do quite a lot of voiceovers anyway which are just pretty straight-forward voiceovers but with something like Oblivion there was more of a story and an adventure; it was really quite exciting. I find that kind of thing quite interesting and it just turned up out of the blue.
I do this character who’s part of this group called The Blades which made it quite interesting for me [laughs] These group of fine warriors called The Blades! I actually mentioned that when I was reading it to one of the producers and he said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s kind-of funny.” I said, “No, you don’t get it, like, ’cause I’m a Blade!” He said, “You’re what?” I said, “It’s my football club! Never mind, let’s just get on with it!” [laughs] Probably just a little too much for him to take in at that point!
RT-UK: Actors seem to be appearing in videogames more often now – I know Andy Serkis is doing a game for the PlayStation 3 – are videogames the new medium for actors?
SB: It’s good because you don’t have to show your face, you know. You can turn up in the morning looking a right mess and it doesn’t matter! [laughs] You don’t have to go to makeup or do anything! The more cigarettes you smoke the better you sound!
It is a different medium but it’s one that I wanted to get into. I don’t really have any hard and set rules about what I want to do and what I don’t want to do; something like this comes along and it’s worth giving a go. Andy Serkis is doing one and he understands the performance involved in characters like this; that’s why he’s so good in Lord of the Rings and all the other stuff he’s done. I think people are clamouring to do this kind of work because it’s just fun; it’s a laugh.
RT-UK: Would you be up for doing a sequel?
SB: Yeah, considering it’s been so successful. And I thought it was a really good story anyway. It had Patrick Stewart involved with it. You get some good actors involved and, yeah, I think it was a good, stylish and successful piece of work and if a sequel came by I’d definitely be up for that!
Outlaw is out in UK cinemas on Friday 9th March.