Sean Bean interview: Cleanskin, Bond, Boromir and Black Death

As the mighty Sean Bean films his next movie, Cleanskin, we caught up with him to talk about some of his finest roles...

Just before Christmas, we were kindly offered the chance to come and see an action scene being filmed on the set of forthcoming independent Brit thriller, Cleanskin, which also afforded an interview with the film’s main star, one Sean Bean.

From what we were told, Cleanskin portrays Sean Bean’s character, Ewan, a secret service agent with a personal vendetta, defining his path and a need to stop any form of terrorist activity, while at the same time it aims to portray the other side of terrorism, which shows how the character of Ash (Abhin Galeya) is turned towards terrorism, bucking the trend of taking a one dimensional approach to the subject.

The whole day proved to be a surreal, but fantastic one, as the freak snowstorms saw all kinds of train delays and panics (mostly from me after we left on one train, only to be returned to the same station we’d departed from half an hour ago).  But we got to the location on time and were greeted by the second assistant director, as well as our contact/chaperone from Abundant PR, James (Wilkins).

Filming was taking place inside Senate House, University of London, which has been used for a number of films, most notably for the outside of the courthouse where Joe Chill was gunned down in Batman Begins.

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The film crew were set up around a grand staircase, where a variety of extras were positioned to make the area bustle with life, immediately throwing my brain back to the Battleship Potemkin homage in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, especially with children present.

And, indeed, things taking place on the floor above the crowd were no less threatening, as the film’s main protagonist, Ash, storms into the building armed and balaclava clad, taking down what looked like a private security guard during a fight, before throwing him over the balcony railings and into the throng below, an then seemingly making his way towards the stairwell and a target protected by Sean Bean’s character, Ewan.

As with any film shoot, while the end result looks slick and exciting, the process itself can be quite slow and repetitive for the crew, yet strangely fascinating to an outsider. We observed equal attention being paid to camera movements, lighting, extras, fight choreography and reflections (damn that shiny marble), as Ash made his way through the doors to his encounter during multiple takes.

As well as our good selves, we got chatting to writers from Obsessed With Film and HeyUGuys, who were also reporting back, though, hopefully, as we loitered out of the way, we didn’t end up in shot, especially with the added risk of the film’s entrance door also leading to the toilet.

Despite the thickening snow outside, everyone was incredibly friendly and accommodating, especially the director, Hadi Hajaig (Puritan), who actually asked if we were all okay on several occasions, which was a courtesy he really didn’t have to extend with all the responsibility on his shoulders, but much appreciated.

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Hadi told us that the film was ninety-eight percent done and that the weather (which had blocked any external shots) had simply allowed them more time to get the action scene tighter, so seemed pleased with the way things had worked out.

Even a power outage was used to take an early lunch break, lit comically by the crew lights in quite a dramatic fashion. We were invited to help ourselves to lunch, but with the update that Sean Bean was reading a script before being called to set to shoot a scene, and then he would see us, my appetite was somewhat diminished by the combination of excitement and nerves.

Sure enough, with lunch finished, the focus of the crew was shifted to the lobby scene, as we noticed the stunt choreographer talking to a one of the younger children, presumably as the boy was either going to be snatched in some way, or being told how to react to a falling body. This was followed by the arrival of a large gang boss-looking character, whose entrance was accompanied by a mean looking, bearded Sean Bean, who seemed to be checking for exits and security risks.

Seeing the man himself shooting any kind of scene was absolutely exhilarating, having only ever seen Bean on the big screen, even though it was a silent and straightforward one. I made the rather stupid mistake of worrying that he looked incredibly serious and in no mood to be interviewed, then realised he was acting. (Don’t worry. I slapped my own forehead.)

Not long after Sean Bean’s scenes were wrapped, we were called outside to his trailer, where he opened the door and welcomed us inside, cigarette in hand. The trailer was warm and dimly lit. In the background, the radio was playing the football (which everyone assumed was a Sheffield United game, as his absolute love of the team is common knowledge), before he kindly offered to turn it off for us.

He moved his book aside so I could sit down on the sofa and politely asked if we (myself and Obsessed With Film’s Mark Clark) wouldn’t mind interviewing him at the same time, in case he got called back to film. If Sean Bean had asked if I’d conduct the interview on my head, while someone kicked me repeatedly, I would’ve done so gladly.

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That was the first thing that struck me about him, though. Here is a man that can genuinely be called a legend, especially amongst geeks, yet he was utterly humble and almost shy.

In the last few years I’ve either seen, reviewed or re-watched Black Death, Death Race 2, Goldeneye, Equilibrium, all of The Lord Of The Rings films, Flightplan, National Treasure and The Island, to name a few. Yet, he made time for us during a break to discuss him films past, present and future.

What became more apparent that day and even more so in the days following, is that the greatest strength of Sean Bean as an actor is that his appeal is absolutely universal. He is adored by people of all ages for entirely different roles. For me, Boromir is his crowning glory. Yet. to some of my family and friends, it’s Sharpe.  But, regardless, he’s an icon.

As Mark and I conducted the interview, the questions flowed between us and as Sean Bean got into the flow of things, he really let his passion for his work start to shine through, becoming especially animated when he talked about his friend and Lord Of The Rings co-star, Viggo Mortensen, which absolutely thrilled my inner geek.

So, it is my great pleasure to share our interview with Mr Sean Bean…

Den Of Geek: You’re here filming Cleanskin, which we know a little bit about. Can you tell me about your character in it? How did you get involved?

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Well, I got involved when my agent sent me a script that Hadi had brought and I thought it was very intelligent and a very thoughtful kind of script and it dealt with the issues facing us today, with terrorism that affects everybody’s lives – a constant threat, as it were, or so we’re told. And it is just something I have found really interesting, you know. I find it very interesting politically and socially.

I thought it was a very well written piece. I liked the character. He’s a bit of a loner. You don’t know very much about him and he seems to have- his mission is to capture these terrorists and stop them from doing what they’re doing.

It also has a bit of an edge to it, that it is a personal vendetta to some extent. So, it gives that added edge to his mission as it were.

DoG: Thinking back earlier, one of the first big things we saw you in was Patriot Games and now you are here on the other side of the ‘terrorist coin’, as it were. Do you find that with some of your roles you tend to play both sides?

Sure. Yeah, I suppose they are very similar in a sense. Police and criminals both use the same tactics and methods to outwit each other, and it is similar with this. You are trying to be one step ahead of the guys you are after and they are trying to be one step ahead of MI5, or MI6.

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Their aims are different, but the beliefs are the same. It’s not something they do half-hearted and they are very passionate about what they do. I mean Ash, for instance, is very passionate about what he believes in and he feels his faith has been corrupted and abused by the west and, of course, my character feels the opposite.

Obsessed With Film: So, as opposed to the usual ‘slam bang’ action films, it goes into more of the reasons behind why Ash is doing what he is doing?

Yeah, and it is very open ended, really. I think at the end when you, hopefully, and when people view the whole thing, they will be able to make up their own mind and come to their own conclusions.

It does give you an insight into how and why Ash’s character, for instance, is doing what he’s doing, and an insight into the reasons and you can also understand my (character’s) point of view.

What I am trying to say is that it’s quite impartial. It’s not saying this is right and this is wrong. iI’s saying ‘this is what’s happening and what can we do about it?’

OWF: Which makes a change.

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DoG: One thing I have always noticed in your career is that, despite the fantastic Hollywood success, you also find the time for the smaller British films.

I find things like this very interesting, very rewarding and fulfilling, because it is a small crew and not a massive budget and there is a certain amount of intimacy, which is always conducive to doing good work and you don’t get lost in the machine, as you can do in big Hollywood blockbusters.

They’re good fun to do and they give you great exposure. But sometimes the character is not as deep, or as profound as the ones in Cleanskin, for instance, or the one I did, Essex Boys, where you can really go to town on a part and really wring every ounce out of it.

OWF: Cleanskin‘s not equivalent, budget-wise, to some of the bigger Hollywood films. But do you think there should be more films like this? Action thriller-style films made here, as opposed to the usual kitchen sink-style British dramas?

Well, there’s plenty of stories to be told. I think the unfortunate thing is that once something works now, at these times, it becomes a franchise and it is just repeated over and over again. You aren’t really seeing anything new or learning anything new and much of them are fantasies and much of them are for entertainment, which is fine, in its own way.

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There are so many stories to be told, by so many good writers.

I suppose it is a matter of funding and finance to be able to get a British film off the ground and to get it its exposure and distribution and stuff like that. That’s why I’m interested in doing work like this. I like to mix it up a bit, then get back to kind of more to my roots, as it were .by doing something that is more intense and more character-based.

DoG: Speaking of British independent cinema, I saw Black Death earlier in the year and was left a bit speechless after I came out of the cinema. It’s fantastic, but it had a complete impact on me. You had another strong character in Ulric, but I wondered what it was like to film. Was it quite intense?

Some scenes, yeah. There were occasions when we were all in the water, at the end where they had taken us prisoner, where it was quite intense, I mean, Ulric was a very intense character, very devout and very religious and had total belief in that and was unshakeable and I found it quite an interesting character.

He meant well and he has these tactics, which are often brutal, as does this Ewan character in Cleanskin. And it can get intense, you know.

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Fortunately, with British crews and cast you can have a laugh and there is a good sense of humour. If you’re doing something called Black Death, you’ve got to have a sense of humour [laughs].

It was like when we were doing Red Riding. It was so bleak and dark that we kind of laughed hysterically in the bar afterwards to release that tension.

OWF: What’s Hadi been like as a director?

He’s great. He’s very relaxed. He researched the previous events, so it’s all in his head and he has it down on paper and he’s very competent and very confident about what he is doing. He wrote it, producing it and is directing it, and it has been a real treat to work with him.

OWF: What has it been like filming in London? As London is not always film-friendly.

No, we’ve been quite lucky, really, because we have been filming in nice hotels. It is very difficult when you are out on the street with cars. So, we have been doing some scenes this week and earlier this month, just in London, to just give it a bigger scale.

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It is great filming in London. It’s difficult, but it looks good. It has its own identity.

OWF: And no problems with the snow?

No, we have been quite lucky. We were outside yesterday and we just made it inside before it started snowing today. [laughs] It looks great, but not when you need to film.

DoG: I was going to say, if you don’t mind talking about Bond, for any British male growing up there is an absolute affinity for Bond, always has been, always will be. Did you feel lucky when you got the part in Goldeneye where you not only got to play a 00 agent, but a villain as well?

It was a surprise to me, because I was doing Sharpe at the time. That’s when I found out about it. I was out in Russia and it was brilliant. It was the first one Pierce Brosnan had done.

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Everyone was very excited, including myself, to be part of that and to be playing the arch villain. The main lead villain in a Bond film, is something that I’ll always remember.

That’s where I got this watch. [He pulls up his sleeve and reveals that he’s wearing his Bond watch, which almost made me cry with unbridled geek joy] They gave me that at the end! [He chuckles.] They don’t do that these days! [We all laugh.] It was a long time ago.

OWF: I have to ask, now that it is ninety-nine percent a go down in New Zealand. Is there any chance of getting involved in The Hobbit? I’m not sure in what capacity.

I am not sure at all about that. I mean I don’t know what is happening with it, or when they are filming it. I don’t think I would be in it. I mean having played Boromir, I don’t think he was around at that time. Maybe he was a young lad, unless I played him as a toddler! [laughs]

DoG: Boromir will always come up, particularly for the kind of websites we write for, and is just a fantastic character. Looking back on it, is it one that stands out for you?

Yeah, very memorable. For all of us, it opened doors. For a lot of us, Viggo and the young guys, the hobbits, it was just something we didn’t expect, you know?

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I got over there from England to New Zealand and you are kind of spaced out after that flight and I knew about the book. But I didn’t realise the scale of it, how big and epic it would be.

Walking round the workshops you saw the drawings in the studios and you thought, “Wow, this looks like it’s going to be a big film.” But we still didn’t realise, even when we were filming. I think it was only the hype, around when it was going to be released, that we realised what we’d done.

We were obviously totally committed to it and we lived there, more or less, for a year in New Zealand and we became very close. Peter knew exactly, having been studying it and visualising it for years and years, he knew exactly what he wanted. It was a big turning point for many of us. With the amount of interest it created and what it received, it created just good things for us.

OWF: Are you still in touch with the fellowship?

Yeah, we did a photo shoot a few weeks ago, Orlando and Bernard Hill, Andy Serkis and a few others. I can’t remember what it was for, actually, some kind of magazine celebrating 100 years of film, or 100 best films.

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We get together and we do bump into each other now and again. I bump into Viggo occasionally. We get on quite well because we’re a similar age and we have a similar sense of humour.

DoG: And you had the photo shoot for Empire magazine and you gave him an award.

I gave him an award. I went on stage, I don’t know if you were there, but he made that speech with a bottle of whiskey in his hand. [laughs] I think he was referring to- Gladiator – you know, Russell Crowe. Yeah, he’d just been on before and Viggo was making a few remarks about that.

He’s completely the flipside of the coin, Viggo, as opposed to Russell Crowe who went in and out, did his speech and went off with his entourage! Whereas Viggo is much more personable and funny and bizarre, and I just stood there watching him while he did it! [laughs] He is a good guy, a very talented guy, an artist, very off the wall, fascinating guy.

Thank you, Sean Bean!

And with that we ended the interview. Thanks to Louisa and James at Abundant for all their help in setting up the event, as well as on the day itself and a special thanks to Sean Bean for taking time out of his day to answer our questions.

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As I posed for a final picture with him, he turned to me and said that this was the easy part of the process, which I pointed out was fine for him to say, but I was posing next to him, which wasn’t very fair.  Here it is, though, a humble geek, next to a humble Hollywood megastar.

Our pictures were taken by the lovely and talented TigerBean Media, whose full set of photos can be seen here.

Obsessed With Film is here.

You can also follow Duncan enthusing on his Twitter page here.

Follow Den Of Geek on Twitter right here.