BEAN THERE, DONE THAT
EXCLUSIVE Still Sharpe onscreen, but Sean says his days as an absentee father are over
By Jon Wise
WITH his steely pitiless eyes, jutting jaw and "100 per cent Blades" tattoo proclaiming his passion for Sheffield United, it's easy to see how Sean Bean became TV's No1 tough guy.
Wearing his trademark tan leather jacket, he exudes an air of menace that's as pungent as the corrosive French cigarette he's puffing on.
The slightest wrong word might make him explode, you tell yourself. So it's a bit of a surprise to find the actor has a rarely seen softer side, at least where his children are concerned.
Sean, who was born to play the gritty Napoleonic War hero Richard Sharpe, admits that a life on location away from his three daughters has been "heartbreaking".
So much so he now uses his clout as one of our biggest and most popular stars to insist his movie and TV contracts guarantee him time with Lorna, 18, Molly, 14, and seven-year-old Evie.
"I've been fortunate enough to travel the world because of my career, but the downside has been spending long spells apart from my daughters," says Sean, 46.
"I don't have many regrets in my life, but that has to be one of them - knowing my kids are growing up without their dad around.
"When I first filmed Sharpe I'd be apart from them for months on end and that was tough.
"You'd go away in late summer, knowing you wouldn't see them again until there was snow on the ground and that was f***ing heartbreaking. My kids mean the world to me and I hated being away from them.
"So that doesn't happen any more. Either they come to me or I go to them, if I'm working - I insist that happens."
And Sean, whose relationship with his kids has remained solid despite a torrid love life involving three broken marriages, adds: "My days of being an absentee dad are well and truly over.
"I've been there and done that and I don't ever want to do it again."
Sean came home to see his kids while filming Sharpe's Challenge, next week's £3million ITV film that was shot entirely in the baking heat of India.
And now that he's back in Britain for longer still he's determined to spend as much time as possible as a hands-on father.
"I took my youngest, Evie, to see her first Sheffield United football match the other day and I'm looking forward to taking her to games when we're in the Premiership next season," he grins with anticipation.
"And I got to take Molly on a junket to Italy to promote the movie North Country.
"We had these two fantastic days sightseeing in Rome. I may not have always have been there for my girls but I'm now showing them the world, bit by bit."
All this talk of Bean the caring dad might make you think the former welder's gone soft since 1998 - the last time he played Sharpe, the Rifleman who rises through the ranks of Wellington's army.
"I can still be tough when I want to be," says Sean, whose shaven head and goatie beard - legacies of a TV drama he's recently filmed in America called Faceless - certainly adds to his air of menace.
Sean, who picked up a £50 fine for causing actual bodily harm while in a fight in the 1980s, added: "I'd certainly do anything to protect my daughters from suffering - I'd do whatever I needed to do to stop that happening.
"But I don't go around thumping people - unless they happen to be Leeds United supporters," he jokes. Sean may have a broad grin on his face, but there's no doubting his passion for his home club Sheffield United, or the soccer rivalry he feels towards Yorkshire rivals Leeds.
"I've been accused of being a bit too keen on my football, not least by my three ex-wives," smiles the man who was married to childhood sweetheart Debra Anderson, before getting hitched to ex-Bread star Melanie Hill - mum to his two older daughters - and then to Sharpe co-star Abigail Crittenden, mum to Evie.
"I think the word fanatical' might have been mentioned by them - and not in a good way!"
Sean even bought 10 pairs of shoes in a remote Indian shop while filming Sharpe's Challenge, just so he could listen to commentary on a United game on an Internet connection in the store's backroom. "My commitment to United is total. If you're going to support a football team, do it 100 per cent.
"Hence the '100 per cent Blades' tattoo on my arm," says Sean, who is now a director of Sheffield United - nicknamed The Blades - and currently dating PR executive Amy Ellery
Sean is just as dedicated to his career. He's an international star thanks to his role as Boromir in Lord Of The Rings but still wants to film more Sharpe adventures, land a part in Coronation Street - and be the next James Bond.
"I reckon I'd make a really good Bond," he laughs. "But I shot myself in the foot by playing Bond baddie 006 in Goldeneye - that probably limits my chances of ever getting the lead role.
"But I'd still fancy it if the new man, Daniel Craig, decides to move on after a couple of movies.
As for Corrie, it was the show I was brought up on, that my aunties would sit round and watch.
"So of course I'd love a part. I could pop up as a milkman, or something like that. But it's Sharpe I'm most excited about. I kept the costume and the character's sword as souvenirs of my time on the show, so I was ready to go back to work when ITV gave this latest film the green light.
"When it was okayed I was like a kid in a sweet shop, so excited about going back to my favourite role. I got a real kick out of all that sword fighting and horse riding.
"The first few scenes were a bit of a shock to the system. I'm not getting any younger so to find myself doing all my own stunts again was tough on the body.
"But I've kept myself in trim at the gym and I also play football - I even kept goal for an England actors' side when I was filming the movie Troy in Mexico.
"It's the physical side of Sharpe that appeals to me. He is a genuine, swashbuckling hero who will fight his way out of any corner and you don't see too many of those on TV these days."
In Sharpe's Challenge our hero has to deal with a killer colonel, played by another ex-Bond bad-die Toby Stephens, who's in the pay of an Indian maharajah.
For the moment, though, Sean Bean is making up for lost time with his kids - and avoiding curries. "I like curry as much as the next man," he says "but perhaps not for breakfast, dinner and tea as we did in India!"
Sharpe's Challenge, ITV1, Apr 23 & 24.
Source: The People 16/4/06