There are some actors who are just born to be in every fan-centric franchise ever, and Sean Bean is one of them. He’s been a Bond villain, fought Jack Ryan, explored Silent Hill, gave an iconic portrayal of Boromir in The Lord of the Rings, and steered the first season of Game of Thrones as the doomed Ned Stark (and yes, Bean gets to die onscreen in all kinds of interesting ways). The Lucasfilm folks should give him a call soon because his reliable presence could only be an asset in one of the new Star Wars movies.
Bean is on the big screen this week in Jupiter Ascending, the latest film from the Wachowskis (who are kind of a franchise unto themselves). He plays Stinger, a former soldier who was in the galactic military with Channing Tatum’s character, Caine, until a bit of trouble leads to Stinger’s exile to Earth. Like Caine, Stinger is a “splice:” a human whose DNA is combined with that of an animal, in this case a bee, which gives him wings (clipped when we meet him), speed, enhanced vision, and a strong sense of loyalty. When Caine is tasked with rescuing the newly discovered Queen of the Universe (Mila Kunis) and saving Earth, he turns to his old friend for help.
It’s another striking character performance for Bean, who manages to stand out even when the film around him is stuffed to the gills with a continuous array of dazzling images and effects. We spoke with the British actor about going to work for the Wachowskis, as well as his continued connection to Game of Thrones and upcoming projects like The Martian, The Frankenstein Chronicles and the second season of TNT’s Legends.
Den of Geek: So did you take a meeting with the Wachowskis and they said, “You’re going to play a bee?”
Sean Bean: [Laughs] My agent gave me a call and said this is a film with the Wachowskis, and it’s very kind of secretive at the moment, which it certainly was. I was just given the sides [pages] of the scenes that I was in and then I met them in Charlotte Street in London one day, and it had gone very well. We chatted and read a few things. I didn’t know what it was about. I knew it was set in space but I thought that was it. But I think more than anything else, we got on very well with each other, and they’re both very inspiring people and very charming people. We hit it off and I was absolutely delighted of course when I got the part. And then they sent me the script, so I could actually see where I fit into this thing.
But that’s how it all came about, yeah. I was aware of The Matrix and Cloud Atlas, and I’d always admired their work and thought they got a kind of different take on life and the world. That was something that interested me a lot. You see lots of films that are mediocre and predictable — this was the opposite. They didn’t compromise. They had this vision, this wild imagination that they have. It was very exciting to be part of that.
The word “visionary” is used a lot in talking about filmmakers. You’ve had a chance to work with people who could legitimately be called that — certainly the Wachowskis, certainly Peter Jackson, and even David Benioff and Dan Weiss in terms of creating the world of Westeros on TV. Is there something different about working with this kind of creative personality?
There’s an excitement that’s kind of palpable. That’s what the Wachowskis are like. I guess you’re right — people use that word “visionary” a lot, and everybody’s got vision, but it depends how big that vision is. Some visions are superior to other people’s visions. With people like Dan Weiss and David Benioff, and the Wachowskis – you can almost see it, you know, in their mind. It’s kind of bursting to get out and that’s something you don’t see very often. Obviously, you can’t get into anybody’s mind, but it’s very infectious in creating an environment. This certainly wasn’t a job where you could do research or play half bee, half human. I couldn’t really look that up on the Internet or anywhere else. But their passion and imagination is such that…you kind of get swept away with that.
When you play a role like this, does it still come down to finding a basic humanity in the character?
I think yes. Probably the worst idea would be trying to think how do I play a half bee and half human combined. That probably wouldn’t have been a good idea. I mean, you know, I kind of start off with the human qualities and then I kind of develop a bee like quality [Laughs]. I guess it’s just something subliminal that you kind of instill without making it too obvious. It’s all the human emotions. I don’t think they’ve changed much over the centuries. Love and conflicts and anger — that doesn’t change for anyone.
Did they give you a lot of back story on him or did you fill in the blanks yourself? One thing that struck me is that there could be a whole other movie about what Channing’s character and yours were doing prior to this.
There’s not a lot of back story. The back story was, I thought, pretty well explored. We had a good chemistry together, me and Channing, and we hit if off straight away. But you could imagine them being good buddies in the military and kind of rising to the top together, you know, with Stinger as a kind of father figure to him. I could see things in his character that were similar to when I was a younger man. Lana and Andy were very specific about the history and I guess that’s what we went with.
Using The Lord of the Rings as a benchmark, how have the nuts and bolts of doing these kinds of effects-heavy movies changed for you as an actor in the past decade and a half?
When we were doing Lord of the Rings, we would maybe meet up and Peter Jackson would show the cast and crew a kind of rough guide, a rough version. I look back on it now and it seems quite kind of old fashioned. At the time we were all going wow, this is incredible. But you can certainly see how far it’s come. The good thing about Lord of the Rings is that Peter tried to do as much as he could in terms of putting the characters and the actors in real settings, with massive mountains behind us and stuff like that. But with this one, this is kind of unashamedly brilliant CGI. But running through it all are, I think, very interesting and different characters.
With Lord of the Rings, it still stands up there strong because I think the heart of it was these emotions, these people. And you can’t really use CGI to replace emotions and people’s faces –everyone’s a bit quirky, which is what makes it interesting. We can empathize with that and see the faults and the weaknesses. If we left it to Hollywood to use CGI for everything, everybody would be perfect. And that would be very boring [Laughs].
Have you kept up with Game of Thrones at all? Do you watch it?
Kind of. I’ve been working away quite a lot, so I don’t catch it all the time. But I know they’ve just finished the fifth season and they’re going on a sixth. So it’s just interesting. And it’s kind of interesting to see the kids getting older in front of your eyes on screen. When we started six years ago, they were 10 or 12 years old and now they’re 18 years old.
Did George R.R. Martin ever give you any tips on what was going to happen down the line?
No he didn’t really. We were in Scotland, and he came along one night and we all had a drink with him, and he was a very affable chap. It was good. He gave us all a little coin for good luck. That was the first time I met him and he kept very much in the shadows. But it’s incredible, what he’s created. There are many similarities between that and what the Wachowskis are doing. I mean Lord of the Rings, you had Tolkien’s book and Game of Thrones, you had George R.R. Martin creating that world, and the Wachowskis doing the same thing with this one. I find it incredible, the imaginations they’ve got and where it all comes from.
You’ve got so many projects going on at the moment. Can you tell me about some of them, starting with Ridley Scott’s The Martian?
Yeah, I just finished filming that over in Budapest. It’s about this guy that gets left on Mars, and we’re trying to get him back, and I play this kind of space controller, technician guy who’s part of this team who are trying to rescue him. We just finished that. Then I’m doing a thing called The Frankenstein Chronicles which is set in the 1820s in London, kind of a Gothic piece loosely based on Frankenstein. It’s a dark piece of work on a new channel [in the UK] called Encore.
And you start doing season two of Legends soon?
They were just talking about that. I’m just trying to sort out some other things but it’s possible we’ll go again with that, yeah.
Thank you very much.
Jupiter Ascending is out in theaters now.