An actor who’s always likely to end a movie a lot less alive than he started it, Sean Bean is swiftly catching up with the likes of Dennis Hopper and Vincent Price as the master of the on-screen termination. The Yorkshireman has more than 20 death scenes to his name across film and television, enough to prompt his new crime show Legends to promote itself with the hashtag #DontKillSeanBean.
Bean has been shot, strangled, beheaded, shot some more, crushed by satellite dish and pulled apart by horses. If your death scene needs the ultimate bower-outer, he’s your man. “There a period when I was getting killed off all time,” he recalls when Empire guided him through a flipchart of his movie mishaps. “I’d look at the script to see what page I got killed on. It’d be ‘Page 83? Not bad...’”
With the LA riots in full swing outside, Bean was called back to Los Angeles three times to reshoot terrorist Sean Miller’s violent end at the hands of Jack Ryan. Eventually a combination death was settled on, involving a boat hook and a giant explosion.
“Big Hollywood studios don’t know how to kill off the villain at the end. The producers said: ‘We’ve got to make sure Sean’s really, really dead’. I just went, ‘Fucking hell, I’ve got an anchor through my chest! I’m not going to survive that.’”
LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001)
Boromir’s noble death, pin-cushioned with Uruk-hai arrows as he tries to save Merry and Pippin, gives Bean a moving coda. As he passes on, he has comrades-in-arms Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli by his side.
“This is my favourite death. Peter Jackson had a big idea for it and he gave it time to breathe. I was really pleased when I saw it, because it’s very sad and heroic. I even had some last words, although I can’t remember what they were."
THE FIELD (1990)
The only time Bean has been taken down by a cow, The Field is the strangest of the actor’s many terminations. As the inbred Tadhg McCabe, he struggles to break the shackles of his overbearing father, but ends up getting driven off a cliff by a stampeding herd of cattle and sheep. If David Lynch made ads for Anchor Butter, this is what they might look like.
“It was sickening and bizarre; a horrible, awkward death. We had to go back a week after shooting the scene because they’d missed a shot and there were the sheep, still drifting eerily in the water. That was pretty disturbing.”
As rogue MI6 agent 006 Alec Trevelyan, Bean’s bad-guy duties ended in another gritty, two-part death. First, he’s dropped several hundred feet from a Cuban satellite dish by a pitiless James Bond. Then – because this is Sean Bean – he’s smooshed by hundreds of tonnes of falling steel for good measure. If Pierce Brosnan was in the pay-off business, “crushing” would fit the bill.
“I’ve survived that big drop - that’s quite hard, isn’t it? I was upside-down in a harness at Leavesden with all the blood rushing to my head. It’s amazing how you forget the crap stuff, but then nobody wants to hear, ‘Oooh, it was really hard.’'”
This workmanlike thriller ends with Bean’s jewel thief being turned into worm hors d'oeuvres when he’s buried alive by an excavation machine. The man on the other end of the device is Michael Douglas, adding another illustrious Bean bagger to the list.
“I remember this, it was in a warehouse in LA. I got covered with ash. I enjoyed that day, it was really easy-going – just me, a couple of make-up girls, the director and the ash men." (Laughs)
GAME OF THRONES (2011)
Bean’s death in the HBO fantasy epic left a million jaws on the floor. In the murky world of Seven Kingdoms circa season 1 Eddard Stark was the closest there was to a heroic figure, so his execution at the hands of the feckless Joffrey was blistering and brutal. Even as a masked man prepares to get medieval on his head with a longsword, a reprieve must surely come? Except it doesn’t.
"It was just another day at the office (laughs). I underplayed it because I knew it was going to be dramatic and emotional. I heard that a lot of fans were upset about my death. I’m sorry!"
As baddie and disasterous potential anagram Pyke Kubic, Bean dies putting the squeeze on Chris Hemsworth and Victoria Profeta, a couple who came by a suitcase of his ill-gotten cash. There's a tussle in a car, a handgun goes off and it’s sayonara to Sheffield’s finest at the hands of future-Thor.
"It’s tough to shoot in a car: it looks messy, but it’s tightly choreographed and you’ve got to know exactly what you’re doing. This was a sweaty scene."
BLACK DEATH (2010)
They didn’t do peaceful deaths in ye olde England, as Bean’s medieval knight Ulric discovers when he’s pulled apart by horses. Pulled. Apart. By. Horses. While you chew that over, here's some context: he's drugged by pagan villagers who demand he makes the stark choice between Christianity and his limbs. Being Sean Bean, he takes the tough option, instantly ruling himself out of When Saturday Comes 2.
“This is a good death as well, isn’t it? It’s a dismemberment. It was pretty hard to film because I had to spend the whole day on my knees being pulled. It was good exercise. I also got to say, ‘I am Death!’ That was brilliant.”
As fascist-henchman-turned-liberal-softie Errol Partridge in Equilibrium, Bean meets his melon-splattered end with his nose in the poetry of W. B. Yeats. It’s one of the more telegraphed of Bean’s big-screen slayings but no less affecting, not least because it’s his old partner John Preston (Christian Bale) pulling the trigger.
“Maybe I should have a tattoo of that Yeats poem: ‘Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’ I could get all my last words tattooed on my arm."
THE HITCHER (2007)
Stepping into Rutger Hauer’s dusty boots to play murderous hitchhiker John Ryder, Bean gets his comeuppance when terrorised springbreaker Sophia Bush shots him in the head.
“You can see bits coming out of my head here. They put a charge on the back of your head to do that. You can feel it going off. Sometimes when you’re against the wall you can hear it going ‘psssht’ and splattering behind you."
THE ISLAND (2005)
Joining the good people of Paris, Chicago and other major cities on Michael Bay’s lengthy death list, Bean faces the eternal hanging from a chrome skyway after a tussle with Ewan McGregor. As a lab-coated baddie he was never likely to make it out of Bay’s film in one piece. Sure enough, his death scene is a spectacle to pop the eyes. Literally.
“This was a hard one to do because everything around us was steel, but it’s a good one. What am I thinking here? I’m thinking: ‘Sheffield United have got Arsenal on Saturday...’.”