Sean Bean on ‘Legends’ & ‘Game of Thrones’

Sean Bean Legends

At the Television Critics Association panel for “Legends,” TNT handed out T-shirts that read “#Don’tKillSeanBean.” They are embracing the actor’s tendency to be play characters who don’t make it to the end of the film or show.

Spoiler alert, but it’s true of Goldeneye, Lord of the Rings, National Treasure, and TV’s “Missing” and “Game of Thrones,” plus I’m sure I’m forgetting some.

I’d say that he’s safe as the lead of “Legends,” but look how that worked out for Ned Stark. “Legends” stars Bean as Martin Odum, an undercover agent who may have been under so long that he’s losing his grip on who he really is and who is just his legend, his cover story. Bean was alive and well at TCA as I approached him after the “Legends” panel for some further questions. “Legends” premieres Wednesday, August 13 at 9 on TNT.

CraveOnline: Did you ever regret taking the role of Ned Stark, only because you couldn’t stay with “Game of Thrones” for the long term?

Sean Bean: No, I knew before we started filming that Ned was going to get the chop. I was aware of the books. I wasn’t aware of the books originally, but I met with the director and producers in London and they told me, “One thing you should probably know is that you’re going to get your head chopped off.” I said, “Okay. So it’ll just be the first season. Sure, I’ll do it.” It was a great opportunity for me and he was a wonderful character to play. I thought one season’s good enough for me.

How quickly after “Game of Thrones” were you looking for another show to do?

Oh, I’m always looking. If something comes up, it’s original, unique, but I had a bit of a rest after that. I can’t remember what I did after “Game of Thrones.” I did a role where I played a transvestite in a series called “Accused.” My story was Tracie’s story. Tracie was my alter ego. I was a schoolteacher in the daytime and at night I went out as Tracie dressed up to the nines as a woman in high heels, blonde hair, blonde wig. I did that in Manchester, a writer called Jimmy McGovern. That was a hell of a challenge to play, but it was thoroughly enjoyable, a very thrilling part to do and I think I carried it off. I got a lot of plaudits for it.

How many legends do you know about so far?

Well, I’ve played one, two, three, I think four. I don’t know about them anymore. Ask the writer. He comes up with them. But I’ve read the book and we’ve played a couple of legends from the book. That’s pretty good.

When did you discover how much fun it was to try to be somebody else?

You think, am I going to be able to make that leap of faith? It’s sometimes a bit scary, especially in front of people. But you try something out that’s very new and you don’t know what it’s like. You don’t get a prototype of the character. You’re just there as the character on day one. I just feel myself into it and it was fascinating. I wouldn’t say it was hard work, but you have to put a lot of time in and you have to be on your own.

I think that’s the other thing. It’s a kind of solitary existence in many ways because in order to process and develop a real character, there’s a lot of preparation, a lot of time on your own, a lot of imagination and pretending, looking in the mirror sometimes, pulling faces. I think that’s how it comes together. I can’t explain it sometimes. I think we all sit on our own sometimes, imagine what we could be and if I’d done that and if I’d done that, what would I have done then, and actually take it a step further than that. Fortunately I can go home after this.

What’s the longest you ever stayed in character?

I guess not that long. When a shot ends, but he’s still underneath. There’s still that undercurrent so you kind of pick it up whenever you want. I can’t really go around in character.

Is it helpful that Martin’s base accent is close to your own?

I guess so, yes. It’s just finding the right notes to do an accent. I played a character called Len Barlow in one of the episodes. He’s from Texas and that was kind of a bit easier to learn than a regular American accent because it’s got so many extremities, so many words that you remember, very kind of idiosyncratic. I usually work with a voice coach for a few weeks before we start just to get that tonality, register of your voice.

Is there something about TV right now that speaks to your as an actor more than it would have before?

I think there is, yes. Yes, that’s a very good point. I think it’s intelligent. The characterization and stories are much more interesting. I think that’s possible now because actors, there used to be a kind of taboo about “Are you a TV actor? Are you a film actor?” Now, it’s great, those lines don’t exist anymore and you’re getting good people like Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, various others, going into good quality television. I think that’s attractive. They’re doing better quality television than they are features these days and I think that’s why people want to be involved.

And you can also tell a story over a period of 10 episodes. You don’t have to get it in there in two hours, two and a half hours. You have a chance to develop that character and his experience. I think it’s to do with the quality of the writing. Great writers that are around now in television, and then the producers. Howard Gordon is wonderful and you think, “Wow, this is good stuff.” And I think people appreciate it. I think audiences appreciate it. They go, “Wow, we’re not just watching the same old stuff now. We’ve got good actors coming in to play interesting parts with unpredictable endings.” Not everything’s tied up and wrapped up at the end. It’s not as predictable. “Game of Thrones,” I was a good guy and I got my head chopped off. Anybody can die at any time which is a good thing.

Wasn’t Britain ahead of the game this way? British actors didn’t seem to distinguish between film and TV?

No, they didn’t. Possibly. A lot of the stuff I did when I was younger in my career was on television, especially for the BBC. They were very good quality dramas. They were just one offs, hour longs, but that’s how you learn your craft, by doing that. This job, BBC, it seems like America is kind of adopting that challenging kind of thought provoking television that we were once involved with 20 years ago. We’re still making great productions but I think the Americans are really going through [a renaissance]. “Breaking Bad,” “Walking Dead,” there are so many wonderful productions and performances that everybody wants to be in it and that’s the way it should be, because it gets out to people who maybe don’t go to the cinema too much. It comes right through your living room.

You still go back and forth between indie movies and big studio movies too.

Yes, I do like to go back and forth because it’s very intense when you do a low budget, independent film but it’s also sometimes the most fun. You get to know everybody, you’re working fast, there’s a lot of energy. You’re hanging around for a period of time and it’s fantastic when you see the end product. So I like going backwards and forward to independent film and maybe a studio film if possible.

What do you think of these #DontKillSeanBean shirts and all the interest people have in your cinema and TV deaths?

Quite bizarre. I guess, well, I’ve died quite a few times, actually, and I’ve died a lot of different deaths. Maybe it’s the quality of my death they’re fascinated by. I’m still here anyway.

Do you have a favorite death so far?

I liked Lord of the Rings, that death. I was quite happy. Big death.