Sean Bean: I found it nerve-wracking being a priest
Sean Bean is used to an audience of millions, but taking to the altar in Broken brought on a bout of nerves. He tells Gemma Dunn about perfecting his priestly part
EVEN Sean Bean can't deny that his characters are killed off more than most. There was the time James Bond villain Alec Trevelyan fell to his death after being dropped from a great height in GoldenEye; the time Boromir was plagued with deadly arrows in The Lord Of The Rings; his untimely end impaled on an anchor as Patriot Games' Sean Miller; and Tadgh McCabe's 'death by cow' in Irish film The Field.
That's not forgetting – spoiler alert – the shocking beheading of fan favourite Ned Stark in Game of Thrones.
"There's quite a lot of them," agrees Bean, chuckling at the furore that surrounds his catalogue of more than 20 fatalities. "Nearly all of them... they like to die!"
In fact, so frequent is his demise on screen that 'concerned' fans launched a viral campaign with the hashtag #DontKillSeanBean after crime drama Legends was shelved in 2015, leaving the fate of his character, FBI agent Martin Odum, unknown.
They'll be pleased, then, the actor's latest guise shows no signs of coming to a sticky end. Thus far.
Bean, born Shaun Mark Bean, stars as Fr Michael Kerrigan, a Catholic priest presiding over an urban parish in northern England, in Jimmy McGovern's new six-part BBC drama Broken.
Modern, maverick and reassuringly flawed, Kerrigan – plagued by his own secret struggles – is a man who must be confidante, counsellor and confessor to a community struggling to reconcile its beliefs with the realities of daily life in contemporary Britain.
Having worked with McGovern previously on TV hit The Accused, the 58-year-old Sheffield-born star was instantly sold.
"Jimmy has quite radical ideas. He's brave. He's a courageous storyteller, and what he wanted to represent I found very exciting," says Bean in his distinctive Yorkshire tones.
"We had a history together already and it sounded like a very interesting project. I guess from playing a transvestite [Bean won an Emmy for his portrayal of a teacher with a transvestite alter ego in the Tracie's Story episode of The Accused] and then being asked to play a Catholic priest is quite a range."
But having never portrayed a man of the cloth before, the religious role required preparation.
"I've been in church and seen priests in front of me, but when you're actually up there, looking the other way, and you've got the vestment on, it's quite a different story, let me tell you," Bean says. "I found it quite nerve-wracking the first time. I wanted to get everything right."
To do that, he turned to Fr Denis, an experienced priest and consultant on the series.
"He's a very approachable man, very knowledgeable, and he helped me through that process and making the character look authentic," Bean explains.
"I wanted to ask, 'What do you do when you're on your own? Where do you go? Where do you buy your food? Who can you talk to? What can you discuss?' [But] it's more a story about a man trying to draw people in. As the title suggests, it's a community that's broken. It's the state of the nation, it's what's happening in many cities, especially up north.
"It's important to show this – the truth of joblessness, poverty, unemployment and gambling – on national TV, too. It's more representative of our country than Downton Abbey. This deals with the vast majority of people at this moment in time, and I do think that's important to get across. It's brave of people to put that together like Jimmy and the BBC."
Far from his typical action scenes, Bean – today swapping clerical garb for a casual blazer and jeans combo, matched with long hair – knew he'd have to keep to a certain pace.
"I was always dealing with someone with problems – and I wasn't causing problems, I was trying to help people," says Bean, who also served as an executive producer on Broken.
"In a lot of things, I'm always causing problems – until I get killed. This is the other way round, so it's coming to it from a different mindset. I've found that priests are very selfless people."
He co-produced the series, too.
"I wanted to have an input, so I could contribute towards certain things," the Rada graduate explains. "But I don't like to be too heavily involved; I don't want to know everything because I like the mystery of just being presented with something and then playing it.
"I don't want to analyse anything too much or it just fizzles away, disappears and there's nothing there. But it's knowing where the project is going and how it develops – that's the benefit of being a producer."
Next up, Bean – who lives in London with his fiancee Ashley Moore (he has been married and divorced four times and has three daughters, two from his second wife, one from his third) – will be reprising the role of John Marlott in season two of ITV's The Frankenstein Chronicles.
"It's set in 1824-25, so it fits in nicely, chronologically and historically, after Sharpe," he says, referring to the Napoleonic TV drama that brought him mainstream success.
"I like to do television and film," he says. "I did a film called Dark River with the director Clio Barnard, and I think that's probably coming out this year. I like an interesting balance."
Can we expect a run of characters who make it to the closing credits, then?
"I've stayed alive quite a bit in the last few years," he says with a grin, reluctant to give away too much. "It's great, it's quite refreshing."
:: Broken airs on BBC One on Tuesday May 23