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I'M Still Sharpe



I'M Still Sharpe
Apr 20, 09:40 AM

By STEVE PRATT

Sean Bean actually gained the role of Richard Sharpe thanks to Paul McGann injuring his knee just before filming. Now, he claims not to remember pushing through a high pay demand to become the internationally famous all-action hero of TV. STEVE PRATT reports

IT was never meant to be. Paul McGann was supposed to be swashbuckling hero of the Napoleonic Wars, Richard Sharpe. When filming began on the TV series in August 1992, he'd been cast in the role. Then, two days into shooting, he fell over during a friendly game of football and tore a ligament in his knee.

Doctors said it would be six months before he was strong enough for all the riding, running and fighting that a hero did.

The film was abandoned and everyone returned home from the Ukraine. One week later, cast and crew were on their way back - with the addition of Sheffield-born actor Sean Bean, newlyrecruited to fill Sharpe's breeches. He hadn't even screen-tested originally with McGann, his brother Mark and Rufus Sewell. Now, fresh from fighting Hollywood star Harrison Ford in the movie Patriot Games, Bean was the star.

The story is recalled by writer Linda Blandford in Sharpe Cut, a behind-thescenes look at the making of the new ITV1 two-part drama Sharpe's Challenge.

This isn't the usual free plug for the show but a warts-and-all account of filming the latest adventure in India. If the TV series is as good as the book, we're in for a treat.

The story goes that Bean, perhaps sensing the producers were desperate to find a replacement for McGann, demanded twice as much as the original choice was getting. The actor himself can't remember anything about that.

No matter how much, or how little, he was paid the role made him an international star and helped him get decent movie roles on both sides of the Atlantic.

Fourteen Sharpe films were made over five years after Central Television prised the film options away from the BBC who'd been sitting on them for years. In those days, filming took place in the newly-independent Ukraine. Actors and crew were told to take their own toilet rolls, bath plugs and warned that the food wasn't great (or more importantly, there wasn't much of it as most Ukranians were starving). Some actors refused to return for a second year. Bean himself preferred to return home by train rather than fly Aeroflot. He got his own trailer by the third year.

Those who've appeared in Sharpe over the years include the new James Bond, Daniel Craig, and Liz Hurley, during her attempts to be taken seriously as an actress. Former Royal Shakespeare Company actor Toby Stephens plays the baddie in the latest adventure.

The Battle of Waterloo provided the finale for the series, back in 1997. , It is taken from Bernard Crowell's books and attracted 10- 12 million viewers an episode and sold half a million boxed DVD sets. But you can't keep a good - and potentially money-spinning - series down and accounts for Sharpe's Challenge, filmed in India rather than the Ukraine, with Tom Clegg in the director's chair. It finds Sharpe investigating stories that a local maharaja is threatening British interests in that country. "The fate of an Empire and the life of a general's daughter lie in one man's hands. . ." as the press blurb puts it.

The drama, reports Blandford, is "a big screen film for the small screen" which, translated, means not enough money, not enough time, not enough anything. "It's ambitious film-making on a locked and limited budget. , " she states.

During 41 shooting days, three major battles, seven skirmishes and five major fight sequences had to be staged along with all the human emotion and turmoil.

Other statistics reveal that Bean and fellow actor Peter Hugo- Daly polished off the hotel's entire month's supply of Guinness.

Bean is returning to the role of Richard Sharpe for the first time in eight years, joined once more by Daragh O'Malley as Sharpe's best friend Sgt Patrick Harper.

The actor admits - in the press pack, not Blandford's book - that it felt strange becoming Sharpe again after an eightyear break. "It's quite a bizarre feeling bringing him back to life. Picking up a sword again and putting on the green jacket, " he says.
"But I really enjoyed filming Sharpe's Challenge. I think it's probably the best we've done because of the nature of the film and because we were so unrestrained filming in India. You don't often see these kind of panoramas on TV."

"It's got great scale to it, a big budget and some fantastic characters."

"Sharpe has mellowed to some extent and become a lot calmer. He's a farmer now and that's how he wants to live his life. He's reluctant to go back to soldiering. "

"He's not lost any of his admirable qualities, his beliefs or values, or fighting ability. But he is a reluctant warrior when we find him at the beginning of the film. His loyalty gets the better of him though and he accepts his duty."

India worked its magic on him, causing him to call it "an extraordinary place, magical". He adds: "I've filmed all over the world but I've never experienced anything like this before - the people, the scenery, the animals and architecture.

"We've filmed at huge fortresses set into hillsides, amazing palaces in the midst of squalor and poverty, in the desert surrounded by mountains."

Sharpe's Challenge is on ITV1 on Sunday and Monday at 9pm.

Sharpe Cut by Linda Blandford is published by Harper Collins, 17.99.

(c) 2006 Northern Echo. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

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