The first time I think I saw Sean Bean (siːn biːn) was in the movie Stormy Monday. It's a nice little '80s noir, with a great cast. Probably not many have seen it. I walked in for Sting, but walked out adding Bean to my list of interesting actors to watch. I know he played a hero in the Sharpe series of movies in the '90s, but they ran on public television when I didn't have a TV, or wasn't around most nights. I know he was in the Derek Jarman film, Caravaggio.
I started calling him Siːn Biːn sometime after Stormy Monday and before Caravaggio. It was a joke that I shared with my best movie buddy Mary, and we basically infected everyone else we came across with our special pronunciation. It was geeky and nerdy and an in-joke that was funny and understandable to probably no one but us, and we loved it. It cemented him as one of "our" actors. I know that other friends started referring to him with all long vowel sounds as well. It became such a habit that I frankly can't pronounce his name correctly anymore. I have to catch myself when taking to someone new about him — not that I do talk about him all that often, but Game of Thrones has caused his name to come up a bit more frequently of late.
Post-Caravaggio, the next time Sean Bean made an impression (although I know that I must have seen him in other things) was in the great thriller Ronin, where he played what has become his signature character — a weak man who aspires to be a big man but is hopelessly out of his league. Bean's character was pathetic and at times icky, but his portrayal was always downright wonderful.
More recently Bean was also wonderful as Boromir in Lord of the Rings. He was the absolutely perfect person to play that character, a conflicted, almost-hero who wants to do what's right, but just can't. His death at the end of The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is tragic, and also one of the best scenes in director Peter Jackson's trilogy. It's a much more emotional scene than Gandalf's fall into the abyss. Because even if you haven't read Tolkien, every literary and filmic trope tells the audience that Gandalf will be back. But Boromir's death, and Bean's portrayal, are achingly human. He ends up dying a hero's death — the moment his eyes clear from the spell cast by the Ring he gives his life to save his hobbit friends.
So I should have known, should have been prepared, for what was coming in Game of Thrones to Bean's Eddard "Ned" Stark. But like Ned, I was hoping that somehow, some way, he would get a last-minute reprieve before the sword blade came down. But Ned's death was the perfect book-end to his execution of a deserter in the first episode of the series, "The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword." Ned's philosophy of life was in direct opposition to just about everyone in King's Landing, especially Joffrey Lannister.
I absolutely love the HBO series, which is based on the books by George R. R. Martin. I haven't read the books. Apart from reading Dune way back when I haven't really read much fantasy. I haven't missed the genre for any particular reason. I just have so many books to read all the time. I do have Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea trilogy waiting in the wings. (Since the series ended I picked up the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, on sale at Target, but after I read it, I really don't want to read ahead. It's going to be a long wait for the second season, which doesn't begin until next spring. Maybe I'l get a chance to finally read Earthsea in the meantime.)
So I wasn't in the know about Ned's fate, although as the first season progressed, it seemed more and more likely that not just Ned, but no one might get out of Westeros alive. But for once Bean seemed to be the clear-cut hero of the piece. His character was stubborn and clueless, a Bean specialty, but he was also a leader — strong and brave, with a sense of honor. Unfortunately, he was also the only character who talked and walked that way. Poor Ned.
His stint is over in Game of Thrones, but he has a bunch of movies in the pipeline, and there are plenty of movies to watch from his catalogue in the meantime. Bean is a go-to guy for screen villains in action movies, too. Some of his better known bad guy parts have been in National Treasure, GoldenEye, and Patriot Games. Whether he's playing a terrorist, or a would-be hero, or an abject failure, or even a dramatic role as the stubborn son of Richard Harris in the magnificent film The Field, Sean Bean always fascinates. That's Siːn Biːn ...