Bean there, done that
Northern star Sean tells Emma Pomfret why he decided it was time for the return of Richard Sharpe
Byline: Emma Pomfret
Nearly a decade after Sean Bean's big break as rugged swashbuckler Sharpe, the star says he was delighted to dust off his sword and get back in the saddle to reprise the role that kick- started his Hollywood career.
"Just doing the role and getting the opportunity to play that kind of leading character has always been something that has stayed with me because it made such a huge impact on my life and my career. Sharpe was something that never really went away," says the 47-year- old. "When we finished filming it was the end of that era, culminating in the Battle Of Waterloo, and I think we all felt that we had gone as far as we could at the time.
"But I think we always believed that there was a lot of potential still there and many more stories to be told - it was just a matter of when and how we were going to present that," he explains, absentmindedly stroking the crew-cut he's sporting for his role in new US horror film Silent Hill.
"When we started talking about Sharpe's Challenge I immediately felt thrilled and excited again. I had a gut feeling and I wanted to be back in the game as it were, especially with the same team. It was just like coming home," he beams.
Picking up where Richard Sharpe's story left off in the wake of Napoleon's crushing defeat at Waterloo, Sharpe's Challenge begins with frightening tales of of a blood-thirsty Maharaja who is threatening British interests in India.
There is only ever one man for the job of course, and as the life of a general's daughter and the fate of the British Empire hangs in the balance, a nervous Wellington dispatches Sharpe to investigate what turns out to be his most dangerous mission to date.
"It was strange on the first day. I think, if you've played a character for a few years, you always think that you'll just drop back into it but it took me a few days to acclimatise to the part," says the Sheffield-born actor.
"It's quite a bizarre feeling bringing him back to life, but I really enjoyed filming. I think it's probably the best we've done because we were so unrestrained in India," he explains, adding that making both feature-length episodes in majestic Rajasthan inspired the whole cast.
"The backdrop of India is really quite magical and it just gave it a whole new feel. Historically what happened with the East India Company in 1815 and the various rebellions at the time is true, so it all made sense.
"I think we captured the scale, light and grandeur of it all, and it's not very often that you see this kind of look on television these days. We had hundreds and hundreds of extras, camels, elephants and ox carts so it certainly had a film scale to it.
"We worked hard, but had such a great cast and crew that we really enjoyed ourselves when we finished work - as you can imagine," he laughs.
It wasn't all fun and games, though. Being a Northern lad at heart, Sean makes no bones about the fact that he sometimes really missed traditional British grub.
"We ate at least 15,000 curries during filming - I mean, I like curries but not for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then Fray Bentos sent me over a box of meat pies which was great," he says.
"But the local people looked after us really well and I'd love to go back again because everybody is so welcoming and so positive about their life and work. It was a real breath of fresh air."
Although he performed all of his own stunts in Sharpe's Challenge, the closest he'd been to horse-riding in recent years was jumping out of a wooden one in Troy. He admits that he had to brush up on his equestrian skills.
"We did quite a bit of sword work before we went out to India and I'd done some for Lord Of The Rings and Troy as well - it's something that I've kept in with - but the horse-riding I hadn't done for ages.
"In Lord Of The Rings I did a bit of riding, but mostly just plodding on to set. I hadn't cantered or galloped for about eight years.
"I went to a farm for some practise and thought I'd fall off, but it is just like riding a bike, as everyone says. I remembered where all the gears were - and the brakes," he grins.
Sean confesses he has a soft spot for Sharpe's famous green jacket, even going as far as to keep the original jacket in his wardrobe at home.
"It was a great feeling putting the uniform back on, and the one that I originally had I'd kept in my wardrobe, along with my sword. I wore it a few times, but had another one made as well. I don't usually go around dressed like that by the way," he insists.
Much as the thrice-divorced actor loves his work, he says he has always found it hard to be away from his three daughters, Lorna, 18, Molly, 15, and seven-year-old Evie.
"They've got quite used to it now because I've been doing it ever since they've been little," he says.
"Starting with the very first episodes of Sharpe, I used to go over to the Crimea in August and then I wouldn't see the girls again until Christmas Eve. It was 16 weeks on the trot for three years so that was pretty tough.
"But it sort of balances itself out now - I get back and I'm usually off for a few weeks and we spend a lot of time together.
"Now, I try to get them to fly over to LA or I get back and have breaks in between so they don't miss me and they can see me every so often."
And of course his beloved Sheffield United FC, which he has been devoted to since he was in short trousers, also guarantees he will never be away from the UK for too long.
"Everyone knows I love The Blades, but I don't just go up there for that - I do see my family as well!" he laughs.
Sharpe's Challenge is on ITV1 on Sunday and Monday.
we always believed that there was a lot of potential still there and many more stories to be told - it was just a matter of when and how
Caption: Sean Bean had his Waterloo as soldier Richard Sharpe, so he travelled to India for the rough and ready hero's latest adventure, to tackle a blood-thirsty Maharaja who is threatening British interests
(Copyright 2006 Birmingham Post and Mail Ltd.)