Sean Bean interview on the set of Cleanskin, Senate House, London –
December 18 2010, the height of the snow, and it’s snowing particularly heavily this morning as I arrive at the location shoot for Cleanskin, the new feature from writer/director/producer Hadi Hajaig. I’ve arranged to meet James the PR guy outside Senate House, London, an enormous art-deco block now part of the University of London. Taking us inside the main hall (also used for the Batman Begins courthouse, and CIA lobby in Spy Game) we watch Hadi direct actor Abhin Galeya as the terrorist protagonist Ash, making his way around an upper balcony, gun in hand. There’s a brief punch-up as numerous extras look on.
Later, as we wait for our 10 minutes with Sean Bean, he shoots a quick scene walking through the main hall and up the wide stairs, flanked by what look to be, two burly secret service suits. He’s looking fit and healthy, and a good few years shy of his age (51), and also sporting a nice line in 2 week beard.
Hadi eventually gets what he wants, and after a quick break for lunch we make our way to Sean Bean’s trailer in the back courtyard/parking area. I’m with Duncan, a fellow journo from Den of Geek. Sean greets us with a friendly hello, cigarette in hand, and what sounds like footie on the radio. Time is a little tight as Sean had to read a script during his lunch break so Duncan and I agree to a time-saving, Obsessed With Film / Den of Geek superhero team-up and conduct the interview together.
Duncan – Den of Geek: You’re here filming Cleanskin, which we know a little bit about, but can you tell us a little bit about your character, how you got involved?
Well I got involved through my agents, and this script by Hadi, and I thought it was a very thoughtful, very intelligent script that dealt with the kind of issues facing us today – terrorism – that affects everybody’s lives. The constant threat as it were, or so we’re told. I find that kind of thing very interesting, politically. I thought it was a well written piece, I liked the character; he’s a bit of a loner, you don’t know very much about him, and his mission is to stop these terrorists and stop them doing what they’re doing. And there’s an edge to it in that there’s a personal vendetta to some extent.
D-DoG: One of the first big things I saw you in was Patriot Games. You were on the other side of the terrorist coin as it were; do you find in your roles that you tend to play both sides?
SB: Yeah, I suppose they’re very similar in a sense. Police and criminals both use the same tactics to outwit each other, and it’s similar with this – I’m trying to be one step ahead of the guys I’m after and they’re trying to be one step ahead of my secret service division. So there’s not a great deal of difference between their aims. It’s not something they do half-heartedly; they’re very passionate about what they’re doing. Ash for instance is very passionate about what he believes in, how he feels his faith has been corrupted, abused by the West. Of course my character feels the opposite.
Mark – Obsessed With Film: So as opposed to the usual slam-bam action films, it apparently goes more into Ash’s reasons behind what he’s doing.
SB: Yeah it’s very open ended I think at the end, when hopefully you view the whole thing you’ll be able to make up your own mind about the conclusions, the subjects that it raises. It does give you an insight into how and why Ash’s character, and Islamists, are doing what they’re doing. And you can also understand my point of view, our point of view. What I’m trying to say is it’s quite impartial. It’s not saying this is right, this is wrong. It’s, this is what’s happening and what do we do about it.
D-DoG: One thing I’ve noticed in your career is you’ve got this fantastic Hollywood career but you find the time for the smaller British films.
SB: I mean I find something like this very interesting, very rewarding, fulfilling, because it’s a small crew, it’s not a massive budget so there’s a certain amount of intimacy which is always conducive to doing good work, and you don’t get lost in the machine. You can do big Hollywood blockbusters, and they’re great fund to do, and they give you great exposure, but sometimes the characters are not as deep, as profound as the one in Cleanskin.
M-OWF: Like you say, it’s not equivalent budget-wise to ‘Hollywood’ films but do you think films like this, the thriller concept, should be made more here as opposed to the usual kitchen-sink or costume dramas?
SB: Well there’s plenty of stories to be told but I think the unfortunate thing is once something works now it becomes a franchise, it’s repeated over and over again, you’re not really seeing anything new or learning anything new. Much of them are fantasies, much of them are for entertainment, which is fine in it’s own way, but there are so many stories to be told by so many good writers. But it’s a matter of funding to get a British film off the ground and to get its exposure and distribution. That’s why I’m interested in doing work like this, mix it up a bit, do a bit of work in America, but then get back more to my roots as it were by doing something more intense and more character-based.
D-DoG: Speaking of that I saw Black Death earlier in the year; how was that to film, was it quite intense?
SB: Yeah on occasions when we were all in the water at the end, and they took us prisoners. Ulric was a very intense character, very devout, very religious, unshakeable. He meant well, but he used tactics that were often brutal; as does this Ewan character in Cleanskin. Fortunately with British crews, and cast, you can have a laugh.
M-OWF: What’s Hadi been like as a director?
SB: he’s great, he’s very relaxed. I mean it’s all based on research, but it’s all come from his head. He’s very competent, very confident about what he’s doing.
M-OWF: He wrote the screenplay as well…
SB: Yeah; he’s been a real joy to work with actually.
M-OWF: And what’s it been like filming in London? London’s not always film-friendly compared to North America.
SB: No, but we’ve been quite lucky really, we’ve been filming in nice hotels etc. I think it’s very difficult when you get out on the streets, in cars and stuff like that, but we’ve not got a lot of footage of that kind of thing. You go out of London and you shoot a scene, but it doesn’t look, hasn’t got that kind of flair, that edge that London has. That danger. But it’s great filming in London; it is difficult, but it looks good. It’s got it’s own identity.
M-OWF: Have you had problems with the snow?
SB: Not really no, we’ve been quite lucky. We were outside yesterday and we just got inside before it started snowing. It’s looks great but not when you’re filming.
M-OWF: I have to ask, now that it’s 99.9% a go down in New Zealand, is there any chance of you getting involved in the Hobbit films? I’m not sure as what…
SB: I’m not sure at all about that, what’s happening with it. But having played Boromir, I don’t think he was around at that time…
M-OWF: Yeah, maybe have you in a cameo…
SB: Boromir as a young lad. (Laughter)
D-DoG: Is Boromir a character that stands out for you?
SB: For all of us it opened doors, Viggo, and the young guys, the Hobbits. It was something we didn’t expect. I knew about the book, but I didn’t realise the scale of it. How big and epic it would be. You went round workshops, and you saw the drawings and the studios, and you thought wow, this looks like it’s gonna be a big film. But we still didn’t realise even when we were filming. I don’t think it was until it was released that we realised what we’d done. We were totally committed to it, we lived there for almost a year in New Zealand so we became very close. Peter had been studying it and visualising it for years and years so he knew exactly what he wanted. It’s done just good things for us all.
M-OWF: Are you still in touch with the Fellowship?
SB: Yeah, we did a photo shoot a few weeks ago, with Orlando, and Bernard Hill, and Andy Serkis and a few others. I can’t remember what is was for, some kind of magazine celebrating 100 years of film, or 100 best films. We do bump into each other now and again. I bump into Viggo occasionally; we got on quite well because of similar age.
D-DoG: And you had the photoshoot for Empire; you gave him an award.
SB: Yeah I went on stage, and he made that speech holding a bottle of whisky in his hand (laughter). In that speech he referred to Russell Crowe. He’d just been on before and he made a few remarks about that, because he’s a complete flip side of the coin, Viggo. Russell Crowe went in and out, did his speech, went off to his entourage, whereas Viggo is much more personable and he’s much more funny and quite bizarre. I just stood there watching what he was doing. He’s a good guy, a very talented guy; he’s an artist, very off the wall.
M-OWF: Well, thanks for talking to us, it’s been fantastic.
SB: No, thank you, it’s a pleasure.
We managed to take a couple of snaps, grab an autograph or two and then left Sean to his snow-covered trailer.