Swashbuckling Sean Bean has starred in some of the biggest film and TV franchises of modern times. There aren’t many actors who can say they’ve featured in Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, but as if that wasn’t impressive enough, he’s also appeared in countless other popular movies, including Patriot Games, GoldenEye and The Martian.
Here are 20 things you probably never knew about this much-loved English actor.
20. He’d never heard of the Song of Ice and Fire books before Game of Thrones
Younger generations probably know Bean best as Ned Stark, the northern patriarch in HBO series Game of Thrones. While some actors need convincing before taking on a role, when producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss approached Bean, he was instantly sold.
“We met in a little café in Soho in London, me and David Benioff and Dan Weiss,” Bean told Vulture in 2019, explaining, “I wasn’t aware of the books and they’d just sent me the treatment for the first pilot. They described what it was all about, the characters and the fact that I wouldn’t probably last for another [season]! So they were very candid and I appreciated that.”
19. He’s so afraid of flying he would walk to the top of ‘Mount Caradhras’ rather than go by helicopter with the rest of the Rings cast
Bean has faced up to a lot in his career. From being beheaded in Game of Thrones to coming up against orcs in Lord of the Rings, it’s fair to say he’s been in some tight spots. But despite getting into all sorts of scrapes on-screen, Bean is actually scared of flying. He hates flying so much that he goes out of his way to avoid flying wherever possible.
This was a particular issue on the Mount Caradhras scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. “We had to go up in helicopters and I had to walk the whole way, really,” Bean told UGO in 2007. “I was two hours behind everybody else on top of this mountain because I just didn’t want to get in any helicopters. I was terrified of them. But with planes, I’m used to them now. But I still get a bit dodgy with turbulence.”
18. His death scene in Lord of the Rings is his favourite
Bean has died on-screen a lot – so it’s fair to say he’s become something of a master of breathing his last. He’s died in (spoiler warning!) Game of Thrones, GoldenEye, Patriot Games, Equilibrium, and many other films and shows. But his favourite-ever on-screen death is his valiant death in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
Bean’s Boromir goes out heroically, after being shot in the chest with three arrows while defending “the little ones,” Merry and Pippin. “It’s my favourite death scene, and I’ve done a few,” he told Entertainment Weekly in 2017. “You couldn’t ask for a more heroic death.”
17. Harrison Ford scarred him for life (literally) on Patriot Games
1992’s Patriot Games saw Sean Bean take on the role of Irish terrorist Sean Miller. Throughout the film, Miller is at loggerheads with retired CIA analyst Jack Ryan, portrayed by Harrison Ford. The explosive climax sees their characters come to blows, and at one point Ford attacks Bean with a boat hook.
While, of course, this was meant to be achieved using stage fighting techniques, Ford accidentally caught Bean with the hook. The blow split Bean’s forehead just above the eyebrow and resulted in eight stitches and a scar. It wasn’t all bad, as the scar helped add to Bean’s rugged, swashbuckling persona, and apparently even helped land him a later role in Sharpe.
16. He didn’t expect Lord of the Rings to be as successful as it was
Today, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings is renowned as one of the best and most influential movie series of all time. Bean featured in the franchise as Boromir, heir of Denethor II and the elder brother of Faramir. But before the first film was released, he had no idea how big of a hit the trilogy would become.
“On Lord of the Rings, we were all on this island in New Zealand and we didn’t really know just how big that would become,” he confessed to Vulture in 2019. “It’s just as well you don’t know what’s going to happen. If you think you’re going to be part of something phenomenal, it usually turns into a bit of an anticlimax.”
15. He often receives fan mail intended for Mr. Bean
It’s unfortunate that Sean Bean’s name is, literally, Mr. Bean – the same name as the popular British comedy character portrayed by Rowan Atkinson. Naturally, this has led to a fair few mix-ups. Writing in a Reddit AMA session, Sean revealed that he “used to get [Atkinson’s] fan mail.”
“I think they had the wrong address. I have gotten a couple of letters meant for Mr. Bean aka Rowan Atkinson,” he wrote. “These letters would say things like ‘You’re so funny, you make me laugh, with your big rubbery face’ and I would say ‘you can’t mean me!’… he’s got a lot to answer for, that Rowan Atkinson.”
14. His favourite Game of Thrones character is Varys
This may come as a surprise, but Bean’s favourite Game of Thrones character isn’t Stark family patriarch Ned, nor is it his on-screen wife, Catelyn Tully, or any of the Stark children. It’s not even Jon Snow. Surprisingly, Bean’s favourite GoT character is Varys the eunuch. “I just think he’s interesting,” he said to Vulture in 2019.
“As a character, he’s very full-throttle, you know? [Conleth Hill] has made a lot out of that character, and he’s really gone for it. I think he’s quite unique in the show.”
13. He’s died on screen 23 times
It’s become a bit of a running gag that Bean dies in most of his on-screen roles. According to The Independent, as of 2020 Bean has died on-screen a staggering 23 times. Amazingly, this somehow doesn’t even put him in the top 10 actors with the most onscreen deaths.
Aliens and Terminator star Lance Henriksen came in third with 51 deaths while Christopher Lee was second with 60. The top spot was nabbed by Danny Trejo, who has perished a staggering 65 times on screen.
12. His drinking session with Nicolas Cage ended with Cage burying a prehistoric bear skull in a field
During a 2014 Reddit AMA session, one curious fan asked if Bean had any funny stories from his time shooting National Treasure. Bean did not disappoint, and shared a crazy anecdote about a time he spent hanging out with Nicolas Cage. “I went back to Nic Cage’s house, and we’d had a few drinks, we were playing pool,” he began.
Bean explains that Cage “accidentally knocked over his prehistoric cave bear skull and smashed it… he was really upset about it, and the next day went and buried it in a field.”
11. He auditioned to be James Bond
Bean starred as Bond’s best friend-turned-nemesis Alec Trevelyan in GoldenEye back in 1995. The film sees Bond – played by Pierce Brosnan – attempt to stop his former colleague causing a global financial meltdown. But did you know that before Bean landed the role of Alec Trevelyan he’d auditioned for the part of Bond himself?
Bean had tried out for the role of 007 in the 1987 film The Living Daylights, but ultimately lost out to Timothy Dalton. Still, Bean clearly made an impression on the Bond producers as they thought of him to play the anti-Bond eight years later.
10. The scene where he falls into a stream in Sharpe really happened
Sean Bean played the eponymous Richard Sharpe in the Sharpe TV series back in the 1990s. One episode sees Sharpe and La Marquesa Dorada (played by Alice Krige) gallop down a hill on horseback, when suddenly both of them fall from the horse and land squarely in the middle of a stream.
This funny moment wasn’t in the script – both Bean and Krige actually fell off the horse while filming the scene. The horse tripped while crossing the stream which sent Bean and Krige straight into the shallow water. Director Tom Clegg thought the incident was so funny that he decided to include it in the final cut.
9. He only took on the role of Boromir to stop being typecast as the villain
In an interview with The Herald in 2005, Bean revealed that he only took on some of his most iconic roles in order to avoid being typecast. Apparently Bean took on the role of Boromir in The Lord of the Rings because he was “tired of being known as a villainous actor” to American audiences.
This is also partly why he signed up in 2004’s Troy to play Odysseus, who tries to hold back the bloodthirsty impulses of Brian Cox’s Agamemnon. It’s fair to say that Bean has now played a large variety of roles and is no longer perceived as an actor who only plays villains.
8. His first job was as a welderCredit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Before Bean decided to try and make it as an actor, he worked as an apprentice welder with his father in Sheffield. Speaking to The Herald in 2005, Bean revealed that he quickly realised that he wanted to do something else with his life. “I did about three years of a four-year apprentice course as a welder, and I had a good time,” he said.
“There were some good guys working there – I learned to grow up around people and get on with people, and I enjoyed working. I was a fabricator, an apprentice plater. I did quite a bit of it and I had some good teachers, but I just wasn’t quite suited to that.”
7. His friends and family didn’t approve of his choice to pursue an acting career
Speaking to the Herald in 2005, Bean revealed that many of his friends and family weren’t keen on the idea of him pursuing an acting career. “It’s just not what happened at that time,” Bean explained. “Sheffield and the outlying areas were industrial. You went into one trade or another like mining or the steelworks or manufacturing.”
Despite the scepticism of his loved ones, Bean started out studying drama at college in Rotherham before landing a scholarship to the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He then made his professional debut as Tybalt in a 1983 stage production of Romeo and Juliet.
6. He launched his career alongside Gary Oldman at the Citizens’ Theatre in Glasgow
In an interview with the Herald in 2005, Bean looked back with fondness on the early days of his career. He explained how he spent a lot of time working at the Citizens’ Theatre in Glasgow alongside some other now-famous actors. “I worked with a lot of good actors – Ciaran Hinds, Gary Oldman, Lorcan Cranitch,” he recalled.
“It was about 1983 or 1984, and it was a hot summer in the Gorbals. They had a great green room with a pool table, a bar and a little telly. You’d go in even if you weren’t working – it was like a youth club with beer on tap… I haven’t been up there for a while, but I have great memories.”
5. A childhood accident changed the course of his life forever
Back when Bean was a young boy, he didn’t want to be an actor. He wanted to be a professional footballer instead. But an accident that happened when Bean was just a child put a stop to these dreams and changed the course of his life forever. One day, a young Bean was doing some arts and crafts when his cousin refused to hand over a pair of scissors.
It seems Bean had quite a temper when he was a child, and smashed a glass door during the resulting argument with his cousin. This left a piece of glass embedded in his leg which impacted his ability to walk and left a huge scar. The accident also put a stop to Bean’s desire to pursue a career in professional football.
4. He’s been married five times
Sean Bean is one of many celebrities who have ended up marrying their childhood sweethearts. Bean married his long-time girlfriend Debra James back in April 1981 when he was just 21 years old. Sadly the couple ended up getting divorced in 1988 after just seven years of marriage.
Bean went on to marry Melanie Hill, Abigail Cruttenden and Georgina Sutcliffe, but all these marriages ended in divorce. However, he is still married to fifth wife Ashley Moore, with whom he tied the knot in 2017. Bean also has three daughters and several grandchildren.
3. He and his Game of Thrones co-star Iain Glen used to compete for the same roles
Bean took part in a Wired autocomplete interview back in 2019 where he answered the most-Googled questions about himself. One of the top questions was “Who does Sean Bean look like?” – to which Bean responded “Iain Glen. I used to look like Iain Glen, who’s in Game of Thrones,” he said in the interview.
Bean went on to reveal that he used to compete with Glen for acting roles after they both left RADA. “We were always competing for parts when we were younger, when we just left drama school,” Bean said. Bean and Glen both starred in Game of Thrones together, with Bean starring as Ned Stark and Glen as Jorah Mormont.
2. He almost dropped out of RADA
Most British acting greats have either been to LAMDA or RADA – two of the finest drama schools in the country. Bean is no exception, having begun a seven-term course at RADA back in January 1981. But it wasn’t plain sailing, and Bean – who hails from Sheffield – initially found it difficult to settle into London life.
“My background was very industrial – steel factories and coal mines and heavy industry. Coming down to London was quite a shock,” he told Vulture in 2019. “It was so fast and kind of alien to me. I was going to RADA for drama school, and at one point I was thinking about going on the train back home,” he confessed.
1. He’s a big Sheffield United fan
Sean Bean may have travelled the world for his work, but he’s kept his distinctive Sheffield twang through it all. He’s also remained fiercely loyal to his favourite football club over the years: Sheffield United. Bean has been a Blades fan since he was just eight years old and even has a tattoo on his left shoulder which reads ‘100% Blade’.
The actor also had the honour of opening the team’s hall of fame in 2001, and was even on the club’s board of directors between 2002 and 2007. He only stepped down because he wanted to “go back to being an ordinary supporter.” Bean also wrote the foreword to a book of anecdotes called Sheffield United: The Biography.