Sean Bean: dying in Game Of Thrones is my acting legacy – but I’d kill for a fairer future

The Lord of the Rings and new ITV drama Frankenstein star is used to passing away on screen. But, as a staunch 'old Labour' supporter who backs Jeremy Corbyn, what does he hope he will pass on to his grandkids?

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The first inkling that Sean Bean is as outspoken as his roles comes at the press conference for his new series, The Frankenstein Chronicles. “There’s a lot about this story that resonates today,” he tells a suddenly electrified roomful of hacks.

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“From the social issues to the cover-ups. It all sounds familiar and nothing’s changed. Which whitewash do you want to talk about? Jimmy Savile and Margaret Thatcher making him a sir? It’s something that’s systematic about the behaviour of those in power, who are protected and untouchable. It’s good to see them exposed.”

Later, Bean explains to me in his soft South Yorkshire accent that his character in Chronicles, Inspector John Marlott, is “an ordinary man who has been thrown into that elite world and who challenges these people. He’s disgusted by a cover-up and he won’t give in to it.” He’s investigating the sinister kidnapping of street urchins, apparently to chop them up and bring them back to some sort of ghoulish life.

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Bean, looking as chiselled as ever at 56, shares more than a stubborn nature with Marlott. Both have humble births and both move in elevated society, feeling a little like outsiders. Born on a Sheffield council estate the son of a metal fabrication shop owner, Shaun Bean stumbled into drama classes while taking a welding course in Rotherham before winning a place at Rada, and re-spelling his name Sean. This was in the days when Sheffield City Council thumbed its nose at the Conservative government, and even the local brewers, Wards, had a huge poster greeting rail travellers from London saying, “Welcome to the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire”.

“It was very firmly a socialist kind of city at the time – with huge benefits, I must add,” he gives a smile. “Not least the free bus journey. It’s just a shame about the architecture.” Describing himself as “still old Labour at heart”, he’s glad to see Jeremy Corbyn in charge of the party. “I think he speaks a lot of sense,” he says. “I don’t mean I want to go back to the 80s, the strikes and stuff like that, but he’s sticking up for the working-class man and it’s time we heard that voice again.” 

It was also in Sheffied that he first fell in love with the horror thriller. “When I was younger I used to watch all the black-and-white Draculas and Frankensteins,” he recalls. “I saw The Exorcist at the cinema when I was quite young, maybe 14. When I went back home, my mum and dad weren’t in so I had to wait for them on the main road. I were too scared to enter the house.”

While The Frankenstein Chronicles is Gothic, it isn’t a retelling of the Frankenstein story, but it is set around the time the original book was published and does involve a re-animated corpse or two. Bean met creator Benjamin Ross before there was even a draft script and was drawn by the dark vision of 19th-century London and “the political, social and religious issues of the time”. It’s something he feels is lacking in today’s film and television.

“Thanks to American interest in a very rosy view of upper-class Britain, real stories about working people aren’t getting told,” he leans forward to emphasise his point. “No disrespect to the actors involved, of course. But, there are other stories. This Is England was great – and you remember Gary Oldman doing The Firm? Magnificent. Jimmy McGovern – I love his writing, and I’m a big fan of him and Alan Clarke. That’s my personal choice, and that’s what I’m good at. But it’s a make-believe view of England that our friends across the pond seem to prefer.”

Either way, what every scriptwriter seems to prefer is something fatal happening to Sean Bean’s characters. Marlott, for instance, is haunted by death. He’s been dropped from a satellite dish in Goldeneye, peppered with arrows as Boromir in The Lord of the Rings, and decapitated in Game of Thrones. According to Nerdist.com, only three actors (Vincent Price, Bela Lugosi and John Hurt) have died on screen more often. This has led to the #DontKillSeanBean campaign, with clips of his many deaths on DontKillSeanBean.com.

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“I have died quite a few times, to be fair,” he says with a grin. “I’ve seen that reel of clips – it sounds a bit macabre, but I watched that back, and I’d forgotten some of the scenes I’d died in.” 

Does it give him pause for thought? “I didn’t take it to heart,” he laughs. Though becoming a grandfather does, he admits. He’s been married four times, to childhood sweetheart Debra James, Corrie star Melanie Hill, Sharpe co-star Abigail Cruttenden and actress Georgina Sutcliffe, and he’s now engaged to Ashley Moore. He has two daughters, Lorna and Molly, from his second marriage, plus Evie, with his third wife. It’s Molly who gave birth in September.

“Obviously I’m delighted I’m a grandfather but I guess it takes a little while to digest,” he says. “You start thinking, ‘Oh, I’m half- way over the natural life span. So this is the last bit and I’d better enjoy it.’”

In The Frankenstein Chronicles, renegade surgeons battle to defy death. Bean compares them to biotech firm Calico, which aims to slow then prevent ageing. “Given the option, I’d probably be tempted…” Bean says with a grin.

He continues: “I’m in the US a lot and I can see President Obama trying to push through free healthcare and the deal with Iran. I can’t understand why people are fighting against them – they’re both great achievements.

Everybody wants to leave a legacy, don’t they?” And what’s Bean’s ideal legacy? “I don’t know, really. For some reason, the parts I play, like Boromir or Ned Stark, have a life online long afterwards. I keep seeing, what do you call them – memes? “One does not simply ask for a drink” instead of “One does not simply walk into Mordor” – that sort of thing. They’ll probably be my unintended legacy. It’s a shame, as a Sheffield United supporter, that Boromir appears in West Ham colours.”