Exclusive Sean Bean Interview, The Hitcher

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sean Bean in an exclusive 1 on 1 interview at the junket for The Hitcher. Sean Bean is one of England’s most talented and versatile actors, who is currently promoting his latest film, the highly anticipated "The Hitcher.” Bean is an elegant and accomplished artist whose stellar acting career has spanned every medium over the past 20 years from film to stage to radio and television. He has appeared in roles that are as diverse as they are memorable -- from angst-ridden villains (Robert Lovelace in "Clarissa”) to rough-and-ready soldiers (Major Richard Sharpe in the Sharpe’s TV series) to passionate lovers (Mellors in "Lady Chatterley’s Lover”) and noble Greeks (Odysseus in "Troy”). He gained international fame as the noble warrior Boromir in Peter Jackson’s multi-Academy Award-winning "The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

The Sheffield native worked as a welder in his father’s welding firm before turning to acting and undergoing classical training. After graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and appeared in a number of West End stage productions including RSC's "Fair Maid of the West" (as Spencer, 1986) and "Romeo and Juliet" (Romeo, 1987), as well as "Deathwatch" (Lederer, 1985) at the Young Vic, and "Killing the Cat" (Danny, 1990) at the Theatre Upstairs. His credits with the RSC also include "A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and "King Richard II.” After a thirteen year absence, Bean returned to the stage in 2002 to play Macbeth at the Albery Theatre in London, delivering a critically acclaimed performance that led to an extended run.

Mr. Bean’s notable initial starring roles on-screen included ones in Mike Figgis’ "Stormy Monday” (with Tommy Lee Jones, Sting, and Melanie Griffith); Jim Sheridan’s "The Field” (with Richard Harris, Brenda Fricker, and John Hurt); and Phillip Noyce’s "Patriot Games” (as an Irish terrorist opposite Harrison Ford). During their final fight sequence in "Patriot Games,” Ford accidentally struck Bean with a boat hook that left him with a scar over his eye which has only added to his tough guy allure.

Bean’s next role made him one of the U.K.’s best-known stars. He was cast as novelist Bernard Cornwell’s enduring character Richard Sharpe, hero of the Napoleonic Wars, in the 1993 telefilm "Sharpe’s Rifles.” He subsequently starred in the role 14 more times for director Tom Clegg, including the recently completed final project, "Sharpe’s Challenge.” Bean looks back on his role in the 14-part British TV series with fondness and genuine enthusiasm, "It was a fantastic role – the people involved in it, the other actors, the crew – they were very special to me. Sharpe’s a great character.” It’s obvious this is one role he enjoyed playing and of which he is particularly proud.

Mr. Bean’s other feature films include Martin Campbell’s "GoldenEye” (opposite Pierce Brosnan in his debut as James Bond); Bernard Rose’s "Anna Karenina”; John Frankenheimer’s "Ronin”; Terry Winsor’s "Essex Boys”; Gary Fleder’s "Don’t Say a Word”; Esme Lammers’ family film "Tom & Thomas”; Wolfgang Petersen’s "Troy”; Jon Turteltaub’s "National Treasure”; "The Island” (directed by The Hitcher producer Michael Bay); Robert Schwentke’s "Flightplan”; Christophe Gans’ "Silent Hill”; and Niki Caro’s "North Country” (opposite Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand).

Bean currently resides in London with his three daughters – Lorna, Molly and Evie. He is an avid fan of Sheffield United, his favorite football team whose nickname is "The Blades.” His zealous support for the team is well known and he roots for them whenever and wherever satellite reception allows. He sports a "100% BLADE" tattoo on his left shoulder in their honor. The tattoo is frequently concealed with makeup or converted into a scar or a different tattoo when he is filming. Bean is also passionate about wildlife and enjoys gardening and working outdoors when time permits between films.

In his latest project, Bean stars as John Ryder in "The Hitcher,” a bold remake in which Bean takes on Rutger Hauer’s original role as the homicidal hitchhiker. The thriller, directed by Dave Meyers in his feature debut, tracks the terrifying trajectory of Grace Andrews (Sophia Bush) and Jim Halsey (Zachary Knighton), a collegiate couple who are tormented by the mysterious hitchhiker John Ryder, a.k.a. The Hitcher (Sean Bean). The young couple hit the road in a 1970 Oldsmobile 442, en route to spring break. But their pleasure trip soon turns into a waking nightmare. The initial encounters with Ryder are increasingly off-putting for Grace and Jim, and they bravely fight back when he ambushes them. But they are truly blindsided when he implicates them in a horrific slaying and continues to shadow them. The open road becomes a suspenseful, action-packed battleground of blood and metal as, in trying to elude not only Ryder but also New Mexico State Police Lieutenant Esteridge’s (Neal McDonough) officers, Grace and Jim must fight for their lives and face their fears head-on.

Bean admits, "I’ve never been a hitchhiker, and I’ve never picked any up -- and I don’t think I ever will, now…” With respect to his character, he reveals, "I felt it was important that, initially, you encounter him as a regular guy and not as an out-and-out psycho from the beginning. Ryder is intelligent and shrewd, and a good actor. I see his clothes as coming from a previous victim, as he takes the part of someone else. He himself is a kind of phantom, without his own back story.”

Director David Meyers notes, "Sean is the strong actor we needed to bring a strong interpretation to the role. Rutger Hauer’s performance in the 1986 movie helped define who our Hitcher was written to be.” Producer Andrew Form adds, "Clearly, no actor would want to imitate what Hauer did, so Sean’s is a different John Ryder – and just as powerful.” Co-star Zachary Knighton reflects, "He had been on my own ‘Hitcher’ list even before anyone told me that they were after him to do the role. Sean is always prepared – and intense. I think people are going to be really surprised by what he does with the character.”

Sean Bean is not only a sensational actor but he’s also a terrific guy and I really appreciated his time. For our interview, we met at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles during the recent press junket for The Hitcher. As John Ryder, Bean is one of the scariest men to be seen on screen in a long time. But in person, you would never know it. He was polite, charming and friendly. And he went out of his way to make sure I was warm on a rather chilly afternoon -- even offering to close the veranda doors of his hotel suite that opened onto a spectacular view of the L.A. skyline from one of the hotel’s top floors.

Bean has been thrilling audiences for over two decades – ever since his acting career first began on the British stage in the mid-1980s. I couldn’t help but ask myself how someone who looked so devastatingly good could play a character so inherently evil. No wonder his fans refer to him as Sheffield’s best and The Mighty Bean. This is an actor who does not equate success with high profile parts and top billing. He loves the opportunity to play a well written role no matter how small or large the part as long as the character is interesting and substantial.

Dressed casually in jeans and a two-toned, navy striped shirt, Sean spoke thoughtfully and enthusiastically in a distinct Sheffield accent about his new film, his multi-faceted career, and his beloved football team, The Blades -- all while sipping a cold Heineken. Here’s what he had to tell me:

Question: What was it about the character of John Ryder in Hitcher that drew you into the film and attracted you to this role?

Sean Bean: I suppose just reading the script. I just thought there was a lot of space, a lot of room to maneuver in terms of how I could play the character. You know, usually it’s so jammed full with exposition and plot and explanations, and this character wasn’t conveying that kind of information. He was just being himself. He was just being his character and he spoke very little and when he did it was… (laughs) when it came out, it was very powerful. So I just enjoyed being able to have that sort of leeway and that freedom to be able to sort of build a character and emotions and blocks around him.

Q: How did you go about conceptualizing and creating the character of John Ryder? Do you base your characters on people you know?

SB: I don’t know. I just look at the things that he does and what he says and what people say about him, I suppose. And I think, ‘What kind of guy is this?’ And in this case, he’s obviously not a very stable guy, you know. (Laughs) There’s lots of things going on there that are causing him to behave the way he does and I suppose I just think to myself, ‘Why would he do that? Why would a man do that?’
 
Occasionally you think about things in the past where you’ve seen programs or you’ve met people or knew people who behaved in very unstable or in very unnatural ways and have done horrific sort of things that you can draw upon because there’s very little to draw upon… well, there’s nothing to draw upon in terms of background or information of his history. So I just kind of invented it which I found quite interesting to have that freedom to do.

Q: Did you get a chance to watch the original Hitcher film before filming began?

SB: Yeah, I saw it. It was about 20 years ago, wasn’t it, I think? And, you know, that was good. I enjoyed it and it was a very well made film. At first, I suppose I thought like it’s a remake, but then I talked to the director, I read the script, and I thought, ‘Well, there’s a lot of room here and it’s very different.’ It’s quite different from the original and I suppose that’s the main reason I thought, ‘Well, we’re not doing a remake here. We’re doing another version of a previous film.’ So I didn’t have any problem with it from then on.

It was a very well constructed film and Rutger Hauer turned in a very good performance and I remember being scared by it, and as I said, it made an impact but I really didn’t want that running around my head and cluttering things up when we were making our version of it. So, I think working with Dave and obviously, Zach and Sophie I think we created quite an interesting new version. And I didn’t really have any reservations or concerns about being compared to another actor. I just wanted to start from scratch and do it my way.

Q: As an actor, is it hard going into a remake that has a cult fanbase from the original that is already against the film just because it’s a remake?

SB: I don’t know. I’m not really aware of that. I supposed with every remake you get people who – regardless of whether it’s a finer approach than the original – will always want to criticize it because it’s a remake. You know what I mean? I mean I’m just trying to think of remakes that have been successful in the past and I think that there’s been a few.
 
There’s not many but I do think you get people who are going to be pessimistic right from the beginning. Just like James Bond, you know, Daniel Craig, who right from the beginning they were writing (slacking?) him off and saying he’s not up to it. And then it comes out and he’s probably the best Bond that’s ever been. So I don’t really listen to so much nonsense when people say stuff like that.

Q: What was it like working with Dave Meyers in his feature directorial debut?

SB: It was good, you know. I wouldn’t have noticed that he’d never made a film before because he was very focused anyway and he’d obviously done his homework and he knew what he was doing. I just liked him as a man, you know, when I talked to him on the phone because I’d never met him until I got to Austen, Texas the night before we started shooting. So I didn’t really know him that well. But we had dinner the night before and we got along very well and we were both on the same wave length. I didn’t have any problem with that whatsoever.
 
I quite enjoyed being with him and the humor that he instilled in the film as a whole but certainly in some of the characters. I think he brought a certain humor out in John Ryder which I thought was very difficult to do. (Laughs) And there are some quite wry moments in there, I think. Thank god there are because otherwise it’s pretty relentless. There are some little moments, some great details there. I like to see what happens on the set and be spontaneous about the possibilities. Dave, who has a great eye, gave us a creative environment where the actors could play around and experiment with a scene. We were able to take our time and find the moments that we might otherwise have missed.

Q: What is it about the Hitcher that will make it worth the fans money to run out and see rather than rent the original film on DVD?

SB: Personally I think it moves much quicker. I think it’s scarier. I think it’s an updated version that people will be able to relate to more than the original without putting the original down. But you know I think that we often have things in our heads where we think ‘Wow, that film was great.’ I know I do. I have favorites of mine.
 
I tell my kids, ‘You’ve got to see this film. When I saw it when I was 15, it was amazing.’ And I get it out and I show it to them and they say, ‘Dad, what are you talking about? It’s rubbish. It’s boring.’ And I say, ‘Yeah, yeah, it’s kind of dated.’ So my advice is just to go out and see it. It’s now.

Q: Having been in The Dark, Silent Hill and now The Hitcher, do you plan on doing more films in the horror genre?

SB: Not really. No. I’d like to sort of do something in real life (laughs) if you know what I mean -- something a little different. I’ve just done a couple films that are very different from The Hitcher and so I feel as though I’ve balanced it up a little bit last year, but it would be nice to…
 
I’m just at the moment having a good time and just looking at things and seeing what would be best for me, which direction for me to take. I don’t want to get – as much as I love playing these kind of roles – I do like trying to diversify and see if I can do different things.

Q: When we spoke to Nicholas Cage about National Treasure 2, he wasn’t sure if you were on board. Can you tell us if you are? And if so what role you will play?

SB: National Treasure 2? I don’t think I am. No. Not as I know anyway. (Laughs) I don’t know where I’ve gone from the last one. I think I’m probably in prison at this point. (More laughing) So maybe I’ll break out or something. Maybe I’ll be in National Treasure 3 or 4 or 5. No, at this point, I’m not aware that I’m part of it. No.

Q: You have an upcoming project called Outlaw, it sounds like a post apocalyptic Vigilante story, what can you tell us about it and your role?

SB: I play someone called Danny Bryant who’s a Marine just returning from Iraq who comes back to the U.K. and he’s been around the block a few times and he’s very disaffected by what he sees when he returns home and the injustice and social injustice, the PC, the political situation that is so prevalent in Britain, in sort of Blair’s Britain, and he knows of people… It’s an ensemble piece in some ways.
 
It’s about people who have suffered injustices – physical or mental injustices – who have turned to the law, who have turned to the courts or everywhere without getting any response or any sense of satisfaction or justice. And they decide to – quite inadvertently in a way – come together as a group of people who mete out their own kind of justice. And that’s not to say it’s some kind of death wish film. You know it’s not just people going around and smashing people up.
 
I suppose it’s about people who have been isolated, who are vulnerable, who have gone every single way they can which they’ve been told to do. Go through the courts, go through the police, go through the law. They’ve been let down by everyone and by society and the government in general and there’s only one way to take this and the way they take it is through their law. It’s quite violent in places but it’s more poignant than anything else. It’s a quite poetic piece of work about people who were forced into that situation. I’ve not see it yet, but it’s creating quite a lot of interest over in England at the moment and it should be out in a few weeks time.

Q: With Silent Hill 2 starting to make some progress, what will be your involvement?

SB: Silent Hill 2?

Q: Silent Hill 2.

SB: Really? (Laughs) That’s something else I’m not totally aware of. (More laughing)

Q: You haven’t heard that? No?

SB: No, but thanks for the information. (Laughs) I’ll get on to my agent about that. (Laughs)

Q: Yeah, you should. There are rumors out there.

SB: Yeah, yeah, I don’t know what stage they’re at. I’m still alive in that (laughs) -- for once.

Q: You graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, you’ve appeared in several stage productions of the Royal Shakespeare Company, your acting career began on the British stage. How does your classical training, background and experience in theater influence how you approach your work in film?

SB: I think it’s … I spent about five years doing theater with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Glasgow Citizens’ [Theatre] Company and, you know, various touring companies in England, and that was a good grounding for me. I suppose it’s a time where you’re allowed to find out who you are and what you can do and what your limits are, what you can achieve and what risks you can take, and you can make mistakes as well. It’s very nice for future work, for film work.
 
I think it gives you some gravity and some weight and you realize that it’s about telling a story and it’s not about rushing things. It’s about creating a character first and foremost. And I’m very grateful for that because I wouldn’t have liked to come straight from school or college and gone into films, you know. That’s just my way. I’m just pleased that it happened for me like that. I just feel as though I can fall back on that in times when I’m unsure or when I’m uncertain about a role. I feel I can fall back on the skills that I acquired during my time in theater to rectify the situation and to bolster myself again. It’s really good to do that, you know. You don’t fall apart as easily.

Q: Throughout your career, you’ve played both good guys and bad guys. Do you attempt to strike a balance between the villainous and sympathetic roles that you select?

I suppose I always try to choose projects that will challenge and excite me, but I’ve found that playing villains can be more psychologically rewarding. I quite like being scared by movies such as this one, where it’s based on psychological fear and suspense and tension. The script was a page-turner. Also, I had seen the original film when it came out, and I remember being very scared by it. So, I was delighted to be asked to play this very disturbing character – someone who pushes limits and gets away with it.

Q: Do you have any plans to go back to the Sharpe series?

SB: I don’t know. We did one in India last year called Sharpe’s Challenge, which was a lot of fun. It would be good to maybe resurrect it one day so long as there is something to talk about. As long as we’re not just going on for the sake of it because it was popular and it was successful. But I would like to think there is life in it as long as it’s meaningful and we are just not repeating what we did already.It’s particularly, obviously a favorite of mine.

Q: Have you ever considered directing?

SB: I think I'm quite happy doing my thing as an actor and just concentrating on that.

(Mr. Bean’s publicist enters the hotel suite at this point suggesting we wrap up our interview. She asks me to pose my last question. I take my best shot querying Sean about something I know is near and dear to his heart -- his favorite team, The Blades.

Q: How’s Sheffield United doing this season?

(I quickly discover that this is a subject Sean is very passionate about as I see his face and eyes light up and he claps his hands enthusiastically.)

SB: Oh, good! Alright now! They’re doing very well. I mean they’ve just been promoted to the premier league in England so that’s a really good thing. We’re struggling at the moment with the box on the table but you know I’ve got high hopes. I’ve got every confidence that we’ll manage to stay open and consolidate next season and go on to achieve greater things. I’m a big fan.

Q: That’s what I hear.

SB: Yes, I’d like to let people know. (Laughs)

Q: Thanks so much for your time.

SB: It’s a pleasure.

"The Hitcher” opens in theaters on January 19th, 2007. Be sure to enter our Contest for The Hitcher! WE are giving away 3 great prize packs!  Sean Bean will be seen next in "True North” and "Outlaw” which are both currently in post production. His upcoming projects also include "A Woman of No Importance” opposite Annette Bening based on the play by Oscar Wilde and "Come Like Shadows” opposite Tilda Swinton based on Shakespeare’s classic play. Be sure to read my Hitcher Movie Review

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