11:22am Thursday 30th October 2008
Still heading over the hills and far away, Sean Bean is back in a two-part action thriller as Richard Sharpe. Viv Hardwick reports.
AFTER starring in 15 Sharpe films, Sean Bean is the first to admit that his seemingly indestructible soldier isn't a truly accurate historic character, but he is proud of creating a drama with seven million fans both male and female.
Of this latest two-parter, Sharpe's Peril, which follows up Sharpe's Challenge from 2006, he explains: "We've achieved something that is rarely done on television these days: a period drama filled with action, with everything from the fights to the drama and all the costumes. I think it was ambitious, and that's what people like to see. All these shows about the police and forensics, personally they bore me stiff, I think people want to see this kind of thing without having to go see a feature film.
"The great thing about this was taking a whole cast and crew to film in India, in 120 degree heat. We'd be filming a scene and people would say their lines and then throw up.
But what we were doing was so exciting, it got us through it.
Fortunately I was fine this time, but that's India for you at the end of the day."
Bean was keen to show a deeper side to heroic soldier Richard Sharpe and portray a man weary of battle but resolved to do his duty. "Sharpe is a man who has gone through 25 years of a military career. He has seen a lot; some good and some horrific things," says Bean. "My intention was that he was a man who wasn't as rash, bold or ambitious as he was before, rather, that he is a man who has found himself in these dangerous situations. I hope that it will be received as such.
"Remember Sharpe is a man who has seen so much injustice and bloodshed, and as it says in one scene, 'there's never been a good reason for war, it's just for money'. War is waged by governments and I think Sharpe has become disillusioned – he's done his bit and just wants to get home. There's a more thoughtful side to Sharpe, he thinks about his family and how he's going to live the rest of his life hopefully without the constant turmoil the life of a soldier brings."
The series returns to the dangers of life in India in 1818 and touches upon moments in history that did happen. This time around Bean was in agreement with the producton team that they didn't want to repeat anything.
He says: "Even though the essence of Sharpe is his daring and swashbuckling, we wanted to establish a growth of Sharpe and the other characters. Not only to keep the audience interested but also to allow the characters which surround Sharpe to tell their story.
"An actor can feed on the actors around him and everybody just threw themselves into this project, and with the extensive research that went into the writing I think that it has evolved into a very interesting piece of work that perhaps differs from what we've seen before with Sharpe.
No longer does he act rashly or with ambition, he just wants to get home alive.
"He thinks about how to tackle the situations that challenge him, his mortality comes to the forefront of his mindset, for the first time you really see a more vulnerable and sensitive side to Sharpe. He needs to live so he can find his daughter."
The actor is now a big fan of India having grown to love it while filming the last Sharpe in 2006.
"It's a different pace of life, you get there and it's such a change from the fast pace of, say, London or America. You've just got to accept that it's a slower way of life and once you do it is wonderful. There is a language barrier and it does have a different culture, but I could film there every year. I love the country and think it's an extraordinary place to visit.
"The people we met and worked with had such a positive energy. I've never been anywhere like it. I've travelled extensively but I've never experienced the sense of goodwill these people have in their lives. People have nothing, but they're genuine and happy. I'm not sure whether it's their religion or their culture, but they have real pride in themselves and their lives.
"I'm going back there in January for a friend's wedding and I can't wait."
But Sharpe wouldn't be Sharpe without the realistic explosive excitement of filming.
Bean always insists on doing his own stunts and this time is no different as the cast went from galloping along mountain tracks to being blown up.
He laughs: "Yeah, the director, Tom Clegg, says 'stand here', and I'm thinking 'hang on there's some bloody semtex about to go off' and he'll say 'you'll be all right'. It's not even tested, you don't rehearse it, and it just goes bang!
"We've always been like that on Sharpe, just chuck ourselves in. Daragh O'Malley (who plays Patrick Harper) will always say to me before we start filming a stunt 'God bless' and I'll say 'you too' and the next thing you know there's guns going off, carriages and horses flying everywhere and you finish the scene and think 'that wasn't really acting, that was real terror'."
* Sharpe's Peril, ITV1, Sunday, 9pm