The actor talks about playing the good guy in North Country
Before I left California for the Toronto Film Festival, I was asked to cover Warner Brothers new film, North Country. I was told I was going to get one on one interviews with Sean Bean and Jeremy Renner. Not really knowing what the film was about or if I really even wanted to see it, I said ‘ok.' I figured seeing this movie was fine and it fit into my crazy schedule.
On Saturday morning, I saw a screening of Capote; I was scheduled to see the screening of North Country that afternoon, so needless to say I was a bit tired when I walked to the theater in downtown Toronto.
Still not really knowing what the film was truly about (I do not like to see many trailers because they sometimes give away the entire film), I sat down at the Deluxe Screening Room; the movie began. As I got towards the first 30 - 40 minutes, I could tell I was in for a fantastic film. Based on true story, Charlize Theron plays a mother of two, she left her husband, and has decided to start her life over again. She moves back to her parents house in Northern Minnesota; she gets a few odd jobs, like a hair dresser. She runs into her old friend, Francis McDormand, who tells her there are jobs open at the local mine. Hesitant, Charlize takes the job, but she along with the other women are quickly ridiculed for being female. Charlize finally has enough and decides to step up and complain. Her struggle to overcome the odds is the focus of the film.
At the end of the film, I could not wait to talk to the two actors. The film is fantastic and emotionally draining. There's almost no doubt in my mind Charlize will be nominated for another Academy Award for Best Actress.
Sean Bean plays Francis' husband in the film, and one of the good guys. He was first on my list to talk to. Sitting outside a room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto, I was waiting for my interview with Sean. I saw Charlize walking off the elevator as Sean was coming toward me. They hugged and talked for a few seconds about how great it was to see each other. I couldn't really pick up any more; also, I wasn't trying to seem like I was eaves dropping on their conversation.
A couple minutes past, Sean walked into the room where we were going to do the interview. After getting himself comfortable, I was invited into the room. He was dressed very respectively: a blue sport coat, nice button down shirt, and jeans; quickly, Sean took off his sport coat because it was a little hot in the room.
He also asked me if it would be ok if he smoked a cigarette while we did our interview. Normally, I would have said ‘no,' but I could see it was going to make him more relaxed and I obliged.
So, the start of the interview - I had to know what he talked about with Charlize in the hallway. It turns out, that's the first time they had seen each other since the end of shooting almost six months ago. It was obvious Sean had a great time on set as he explained ‘Just good times, it was a very enjoyable experience in terms of the people I was working with like [director] Niki Caro and the rest of the cast and crew; it was just great. Niki was brilliant, she was honest, very genuine, very balanced in making this film where the guys are just vicious animals and the women are the victims. I think she brings that out very well.'
Niki is most famous for writing and directing the surprise hit film in 2004, Whale Rider. Taking on the role of director in North Country was extremely noble. I wanted to know if Sean thought having a female director helped in the development of the story opposed to having a male director.
He seemed to lean either way, but was more inclined to agree. ‘I think the whole experience that she goes through is incredible. I suppose if I were a woman in her part, I would want a woman director; they seemed to become very close, they had a great relationship together.'
Unfortunately, Sean had not seen the final print of the film at the time of our talk, but he did say ‘From what I've seen, she's quite stunning. She's wonderful, she's an amazing looking woman, but she's a brilliant actress. To have that combination is quite unusual; she's got a hard job in this, and from what I saw, she's quite moving, very poignant performance.'
I had to jump in and express my evaluation of a possible Oscar nod; Sean definitely agreed. ‘That's the feeling I got when I was filming; it's really full-on and just very interesting exploring human complexities and relationships and how people relate to each other and their aggression. And also, the underlying beauty of the pieces is all apparent in this film.'
The story takes place in the 1980's, but since this isn't a very recognized case in American history, most of the cast did not know anything about it, including Sean. ‘I think Niki filled us in on a lot of information, she spent a lot of time up there and researched it a lot. I just spent a lot of time with the people of Minnesota; I went around to the mines and just got a feeling for the whole thing. It is a quite different place from the rest of America; it's got a different feel, it's got a very special quality about it. So that was kind of my research in a sense.'
Charlize takes on an entire mine full of men, including her father who has worked at the mine for 30 years. I'd say that's pretty hard. For actors, making struggles or sacrifices aren't as hard as what those people had to go through. But everyone makes sacrifices, and Sean is no exception. ‘I suppose missing my family, I miss my children, I've got three children; that's a hard thing, but I wouldn't say that's the hardest thing. I suppose the hardest thing was leaving school and going to work; I worked in a steel factory. In terms of physical hard, that was hard, but it was a great learning curve for me in terms of getting to know people of different age groups and different backgrounds.' After giving me that answer, he finally came clean about what's really hard for actors. ‘The hardest thing, I guess, was score a goal at Sheffield Football grounds. Now, that was hard, cause it's really scary. I had to score a few penalties; that was probably the most nerve wracking experience of my life. I was playing a footballer for the club I support now, Sheffield United, and I went on at half time; it was a match between Manchester United and Sheffield United. And at the end of the half, I went on in the colors of my team, and there were about 35,000 fans there, and I had to take penalties and make it look like I could do it, and that was hard (laughing).'
Actually, Sean does play soccer and is quite a good handler of the ball, but he mostly plays goalie. He also enjoys watching cricket, but funny enough, not ice hockey. The reason it's funny is because as a kid ‘I always fancied doing that; when I was at school, I always liked watching ice hockey. I don't know what it is; they're tough guys, but yet so graceful at the same time. I just found it such an interesting game.' If it doesn't fit this movie perfectly enough, Sean says if he wasn't an actor, he'd still be a welder or a landscape gardener. He's also an artist and still continues to paint with pastels. ‘I don't get much time to do that; it'd be good to get some time to set something like that up again. I've got a small studio in my home in Sheffield and it'd be good to set something like that up again.
Definitely, Sean was an enjoyable interview, and a really neat guy to talk to. It's been a wild couple years for him as well. Of course, he starred in The Lord of the Rings trilogy as Boromir; in 2004, he was in Troy playing Odysseus and opposite Nicolas Cage in National Treasure. In 2005, he played Dr. Merrick in The Island, the pilot of the plane in Flightplan with Jodie Foster, and of course North Country. 2006 is another Sean Bean year – he'll be starring in the thriller Silent Hill and as Macbeth in William Shakespeare's Dunsinane.
North Country debuted to rave reviews at the Toronto Film Festival; it opens in theaters nationwide on October 14th. It's rated R for sequences involving sexual harassment including violence and dialogue, and for language.