In HBO’s new epic fantasy series Game of Thrones, based on the best-selling books by George R.R. Martin and premiering on April 17th, actor Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings) plays Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark, a man from the north who is asked by King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) to come south and help run his kingdom after the questionable death of his right-hand man. The king is married to Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), of the wealthy and corrupt Lannisters, who has an agenda of her own, while the exiled teenage Princess Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and her brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd), whose family ruled the Kingdoms for many years, are looking to reclaim the throne.
While at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, Sean Bean talked about returning to the fantasy genre, playing a powerful warrior hero in a story that is greatly epic in scope and his desire to continue exploring new characters without playing any one role for too long. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Before reading, if you haven’t seen the trailer for Game of Thrones, click here.
Question: In this big, epic story, who is your character, Ned Stark?
SEAN BEAN: He’s a guy who’s from the north of the land. He has a family. He’s a quite happily married man. He’s a hard, strong man who’s very loyal and vulnerable, which is part of his downfall.
Would you call him the hero of the show?
Having been in The Lord of the Rings, and now doing this, was there any fear of being typecast as the powerful warrior, or is that a good thing to be typecast as?
BEAN: It’s a good thing to be typecast, isn’t it? I suppose it’s similar to The Lord of the Rings in its size, its quality, its magic and its danger. I happen to enjoy playing the kind of roles with riding horses, swinging swords, having fights, wearing wigs and growing beards, even though I don’t, first thing in the morning when it takes you about three hours to get ready. I do have affinity to that kind of role. I think the good thing about Game of Thrones is that there is such score for it. The Lord of the Rings was three films, and they thoroughly researched it, and it was very well-replicated on screen. But, with what (author) George [R.R. Martin] has created, it’s a very different world. It goes on much, much further and much longer, and there’s many more twists and turns, but I certainly enjoy this genre.
The Lord of the Rings was quite epic in its production scope, and this seem to have the same epicness, but with slightly less resources. Does that affect you as an actor?
BEAN: I didn’t find that it affected me at all. I think the amount of production value that was put into Game of Thrones was incredible, and it’s unlike anything I’ve seen on any other production, including The Lord of the Rings. It was a wonderful production, of course. I was very proud to be part of that. But, I was absolutely impressed by the detail, the sheer size of it, the craftsmanship in the studio and the sets for Game of Thrones. Everything was so detailed and so vast, and it was a lot of work. It was like working on a big feature film, every week. Each of the 10 episodes felt like a pretty hefty feature film. I think we really established a grand size. And, the fact it’s been done by HBO means you’re in good standing. You’ve got good people behind you. As I said, it’s an edgy, sexy, violent, dark, brutal piece where nobody’s safe, and there are so many twists and turns, and the characters are so well drawn. I think everybody who sees this is hopefully fascinated by what we’ve achieved.
You did 15 months on The Lord of the Rings and you have 10 episodes a season for Game of Thrones. Does that compare at all?
BEAN: There are comparisons. It was the other end of the world, where we were doing The Lord of the Rings, and we were filming in Northern Ireland for the majority of this. They’re very different stories. This is a very edgy story. Everybody is having to watch their backs. I think (author) George [R.R. Martin] has created his own world, as did Tolkien.
BEAN: Yeah, it is. It was for me, especially because, in The Lord of the Rings, I was playing Boromir and I was only in the first one, basically. But, for this, it was quite intensive and I started off quite intensively in the first six or seven weeks, getting into the part. And it was squashed into six months, so I was doing the same amount of work, in half the amount of time.
This is television, so are there still really physical battles for you to fight?
BEAN: Oh, yeah. We choreographed that for weeks in advance, so we know exactly what we’re doing on the day and we can adapt to it or improvise. That’s all real stuff, and that was hard because that was in Malta, where it was nearly 100 degrees and we were all covered in leather in fur, so we had ice packs on. It was good fun. It’s great. It’s exhilarating.
Because the book is told through point of view chapters, and all the major scenes dealing with Ned are through Ned’s point of view, did that help you find this character, as opposed to it being just a straight narrative?
BEAN: It did, yeah. You tend to glean much more information about your character from what other people say about you, rather than how it’s described in the books. It was an interesting story for Ned because he’s on a downward spiral and he’s in a snake pit, surrounded by back-stabbers and corrupt people. It was interesting to read the book thoroughly, rather than just Ned’s chapters.
BEAN: At this moment in time, yeah. His honor and his loyalty is such that it brings about his downfall. Because he is so rigidly honorable and so loyal, that’s all he knows. Even though that’s a virtue, in Ned’s case, it’s his downfall.
Do you feel any additional pressure, knowing that the fans of this book basically hung their hopes and dreams for this series on you doing this role?
BEAN: Yeah, that’s quite a responsibility. Obviously, I was delighted when I first met (executive producers) David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss]. I read the book and found it very exciting, very luxuriant, very dangerous, very edgy and very sexy. That’s very flattering. I’m very flattered that I was chosen to play this part.
Were you concerned about signing on to do a series for a longer period of time than a film takes?
BEAN: I always prefer to work intensively on something and then move on to something else. Even though they are marvelous books and marvelous pieces of work, I prefer not to get stuck in something that takes five or six years of my life.
Do you have any films coming out?
BEAN: There’s a historical film, called Age of Heroes, which is all about the Commandos in the Second World War. And, I’ve done Soldier’s of Fortune.
What’s going on with A Woman of No Importance?
BEAN: That’s been hanging around for years and years, so I’m not quite sure about that. But, it would be nice to do it.