The Mother Brain Files Underrated Actors Special: Sean Bean

The Mother Brain Files Underrated Actors Special: Sean Bean
By Mother Brain

There have been many famous actors who have made a whole career out of playing ruthless villains. From Edward G. Robinson to Hugo Weaving, these actors are known for stealing the show nine times out of ten while trying to make audiences root for the hero. British actor Sean Bean fits into this category. His dirty blond hair, chiseled features, and piercing blue eyes have made him the gold standard for the ultimate antagonist of most action thrillers of the 90s and 2000s. As successful as he has been in these roles, however, Bean has had to struggle breaking typecasting.

The future star of HBO’s Game of Thrones was born and raised as Shaun Mark Bean to a working class family in South Yorkshire, England where his father owned a large fabrication shop. His initial passion was to play football until an accident involving a broken glass door injured his leg. He soon turned to studying art for several years until he discovered a drama course at Rotherham College. Bean’s early acting efforts in school plays led to a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art which he would attend from 1981-1983.

Adopting the Irish spelling of his name “Sean”, he began to work in professional theatre and television following his graduation. His first film role came in 1986’s Caravaggio and later starred opposite Sir. Laurence Olivier. The notoriety of Bean came in the early 90s with films such as The Fifteen Streets and the BBC television productions of Clarissa and Lady Chatterley. The latter made him a sex symbol due to his love scenes with actress Joely Richardson.

But it was the ITV series Sharpe that gave Bean attention in America. He played Richard Sharpe, a sergeant in the 95th Rifles serving in Portugal in the early 1800s. The series ran from 1993 to 1997 with 3 episodes a year produced and also featured other prominent English actors including Brian Cox, Elizabeth Hurley, Paul Bettany, Tobey Stephens, Mark Strong, and Daniel Craig.

Bean made his American cinema debut in 1992’s Patriot Games starring Harrison Ford. The second installment of the Jack Ryan film series based on the Tom Clancy novels starred Bean as Sean Miller, an Irish terrorist part of a splinter IRA group who breaks ties with his colleagues to get revenge against Ryan for the death of his younger brother. It was the perfect American debut for Bean as he proved to be a good physical match against the superstar Ford. Their fight scene on a runaway motorboat proved so serious he got permanently scared over the eye by Ford by accident with a boat hook.

After playing Farmer Grey in a 1994 adaptation of Black Beauty, Bean won the role of rogue Agent 006 Alec Trevelyan in Goldeneye, the debut film of the new James Bond, Pierce Brosnan. Ironically enough, Bean auditioned for Bond in 1986 for The Living Daylights until Brosnan beat him out (and Brosnan was forced out of the role due to TV commitments, leading to the casting of Timothy Dalton). Unlike Sean Miller in Patriot Games, Trevelyan starts out as a loyal friend to Bond and the British Secret Service until he’s left for dead at the hands of the Soviets and seeks revenge for the betrayal. Such a character type became a common theme for Bean’s characters for years to come. The success of the film and its equally popular video game for Nintendo 64 won Bean some very young fans around the world.

Bean’s typecasting as the main villain continued throughout the 2000s: The weak-minded special ops agent in Ronin, an ex-con in Essex Boys, a mastermind jewel thief in Don’t Say a Word, the ruthless cloning tycoon in The Island, a rival explorer seeking treasure with the Declaration of Independence in National Treasure, and the list goes on and on. Bean made it no secret that he yearned to play some good guys for a change. The amount of villain roles he has played led to an infamous YouTube video showing the many on-screen deaths of the actor:

Bean would soften up his tough guy image in the role of Boromir in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. As part of the nine men of the fellowship, Bormir came across as honorable but also tempted by the power of the ring. Unlike most of his death scenes in earlier films, Bean’s death in this film proves to be heart-wrenching. Even more noble of a character was Bean’s performance as Odysseus in Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy who motivates Brad Pitt’s Achilles to fight the war in Troy and actually survives the movie after a lengthy massacre.

Most of Bean’s recent film roles range from the concerned husband in Silent Hill to the role of Zeus in Percy Jackson & The Olympians which also re-teamed him with Pierce Brosnan. Both films have sequels in the works. But audiences today truly know him best as Lord Eddard Stark, the moral rock of the cast on Game of Thrones. To be quite honest, I haven’t watched the show. Yet, all the critics praise it as one of television’s best in many years and the involvement of Bean as well as co-star Peter Dinkage were very vital to the show’s success.

While not quite the a-list star like fellow actor Daniel Craig or as critically acclaimed as Gary Oldman, Bean remains one of the most prolific actors of our time. Anytime you see his face on screen, you’re usually guaranteed a lot of thrills and the occasional surprises. But beyond his rough looks and bad guy persona, Bean is just a mild-mannered family man with a body of work much bigger than his short-lived football career.

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