updated 12/11/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 12/11/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST
AS ALEC TREVELYAN, THE DASTARDLY double-crossing 006 in Golden-Eye, and as Sean Miller, the crazed Irish assassin who stalked Harrison Ford in 1992's Patriot Games, Sean Bean has moved American audiences with his smoldering evil. But across the Atlantic, fans—especially women—have long been impressed by Bean's other attributes. For instance, those on display in his role as the gamekeeper in a 1993 BBC production of Lady Chatterley. "I had to show my bum in that one," says Bean with a laugh. "It seems I've had to show my bum a number of times."
Fortunately, that's only one of Bean's talents. The swashbuckling heroism he shows fighting the French as a Napoleonic-era soldier in the British TV series Sharpe has made the 36-year-old actor a major sex symbol in England, triggering a publicity onslaught. "For some reason," he says, "they think I'm a chauvinist pig." Sure, he has gone on the record saying he believes mothers should stay home with the kids ("In the formative years it is important"). And, yes, he did say he keeps a manly distance from diapers ("I got fed up with changing nappies—and who doesn't?"). Still, he claims he's only being sensible: "Men are men and women are women. Why even try to make war there?"
The last thing Bean thought about growing up in recession-torn Sheffield, in northern England, was political correctness. His father, Brian, owned a small steel factory, and his mother, Rita, worked as a secretary. At 16, Sean, the older of two children, quit school to work for his father but found that "I wanted to be somebody else." He tried art school for two years, then turned to acting. His parents were shocked. "You just didn't do that," he recalls. "People thought acting was for fairies."
And, it turned out, for a certain ex-steelworker. At 19 he was accepted by London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. There he met Melanie Hill, whom he first considered just a friend. "She was easygoing, with a sense of humor," Bean says. But something clicked when they costarred in a school production of The Country Wife. "She played a barmaid in a low-cut dress," remembers Bean with a laugh. They married in 1991 after struggling for years to earn a living. "On one theater tour we stayed in a backwater boardinghouse where you had to put money in a meter for the lights to go on," Bean says. "It was a bit miserable, really."
His break came in 1988, when Bean was cast as a janitor in Stormy Monday with Melanie Griffith. In 1992 he won the lead in Sharpe (which airs occasionally on PBS in the States), and now the jobs just keep coming—including a stint as the Earl of Fenton in the GWTW sequel, Scarlett. Next up, in February, is When Saturday Comes, a small movie about a young factory worker in Sheffield who grows up to be a big soccer star. Sound familiar?
Bean's success has brought with it benefits: for starters, the seven-bedroom manor he and Hill, 32, just bought in Totteridge, outside London. But his heavy schedule leaves little time for his top priorities, his wife and daughters Molly, 8, and Lorna, 4. "Being away so much, you miss out on a lot of stuff you never get back." Stuff like, say, changing the nappies? Oh, give a sex symbol a break. "Hey," says Bean with a shrug. "What was I supposed to say? It's not the most pleasant thing to do."
KAREN S. SCHNEIDER
NANCY JO SALES