HE was beheaded in Game Of Thrones, peppered with arrows in The Lord Of The Rings and fell to his death in GoldenEye.
He’s been pushed off a cliff by a herd of marauding cattle and torn apart in a movie about the Black Death.
But after 35 years in the business, Sean Bean has had enough of being bumped off — and has taken the brave career move of rejecting roles that see him killed.
Sean, 60, said: “I’ve turned down stuff. I’ve said, ‘They know my character’s going to die because I’m in it!’
“I just had to cut that out and start surviving, otherwise it was all a bit predictable.
“I did do one job and they said, ‘We’re going to kill you’, and I was like, ‘Oh no!’ and then they said, ‘Well, can we injure you badly?’ and I was like, ‘OK, so long as I stay alive this time’.
“I’ve played a lot of baddies, they were great but they weren’t very fulfilling — and I always died.”
Sean used to be at ease with playing characters who end up six feet under, until he landed the plum part of heroic Ned Stark in Game Of Thrones.
Ned was executed in the penultimate episode of the first series, a ten-parter, in 2011.
The fantasy drama went on to become a global hit with a further seven seasons, transforming Sean’s little-known colleagues into megastars . . . as he watched from home.
Sean said: “I’d read the Game Of Thrones books and they said to me, ‘You do die in this, but it’s near the end of the series’. And I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, fair enough’.
“So they made it very clear at the time I was going to die, and I thought, ‘I don’t want to get stuck in one of these series that lasts seven years’.
“But I wish I’d have got stuck now! But it was very clear what (GoT author) George RR Martin wanted to happen to Ned — and it did.”
His characters’ tendency to get bumped off even sparked a social media campaign “Don’t kill Sean Benn” in 2014.
So it was a relief when he was offered the role of Douglas Bennett in upcoming BBC1 war drama World On Fire — as the character lives.
He said: “I survive in World On Fire, I’m at home in Manchester and I’m safe.”
Along with Oscar-winner Helen Hunt and Oscar-nominee Lesley Manville, the Sheffield lad turned Hollywood actor is top billing in the new Sunday night seven-parter.
Set in World War Two, it sees Sean tackle a character that couldn’t be more different to the swaggering hardmen he’s known for.
Bus conductor Douglas is the father of Lois Bennett, played by Julia Brown, one of two women in a love triangle with the central character, translator Harry, played by Jonah Hauer-King.
Even as the world descends into a battle against the Nazis in 1939, widower Douglas is still campaigning for peace as he has shell shock from World War One.
Sean said: “These men were seen as weaklings and shirkers and pushed aside. Thankfully now we understand about posttraumatic stress syndrome and it’s treated very seriously, which is just as it should be.
“I’ve spoken to people who’ve had shell shock before because I’ve played quite a few soldiers, and talked to them about their experiences. I read up on it and the symptoms.
“I found the research into war-damaged men quite fascinating — that coloured my character vastly.”
The role also hit home to him because Sean knows how his grandfather’s naval war service in Murmansk, Russia, left him a changed man.
Sean said: “I found it more interesting to play someone who was broken. Douglas is broken by his experiences and trying to put on a brave front to hold his family together.
“He’s just a man who is just afraid and hanging on — and I found it very fulfilling not to be playing someone who’s strong or some kind of hero.”
Which is perhaps why the notoriously prickly star — who was once stabbed in a bar fight in London — seems in good spirits currently.
Director Adam Smith said Sean even lifted the spirits of other cast on set with impersonations of 6ft 4in US acting legend John Wayne.
Sean joked: “I’ve had all the door frames made lower in my house.”
His happiness could also be down to him having wed fifth wife Ashley Moore just two years ago.
At a time when most men are winding down, the father of three is considering having more children with the former actress, who is 26 years his junior.
But he accepts action-man roles like 007 are probably not in his reach any more, particularly as he has already played a Bond villain in 1995’s GoldenEye.
Appearing opposite Pierce Brosnan, he knows what it takes to play the superspy. And that is why he’s backing Richard Madden — who played Ned’s son Rob in Game Of Thrones before his lead role in BBC1 hit Bodyguard — to take over the coveted part after Daniel Craig leaves.
Sean said: “He’s got everything that’s required of the role. He’s strong, he’s masculine and he’s also got a soft underbelly, he’s vulnerable, good looking — Scottish!
“I can’t see why he wouldn’t get the part. Everybody was great who came through Game Of Thrones. But I always sensed he was a very fine actor.
“He had gravity and that thing we talked about at drama school — presence. He had a lot of presence.”
Sean finds it hard to believe that most of his “children” in Game Of Thrones, who were then little known, are now huge stars.
His character’s daughter, Sansa, was played by Sophie Turner, who now stars in the X-Men movies and is married to pop hunk Joe Jonas. His long-presumed son Jon Snow, Kit Harington, is about to star in Marvel movie, Eternals.
Sean said: “They’re bigger stars than me. They were so much younger at the time as it was eight years ago, but now you see them in Vogue and all these magazines. It’s a fairytale come true.”
Sean knows what it takes to go from a TV actor to movie star. His breakthrough in the early Nineties was on another conflict drama, ITV’s Sharpe series, as Napoleonic Wars soldier Richard Sharpe.
He was snapped up to feature in Patriot Games with Harrison Ford, Ronin with Robert de Niro, GoldenEye, and the first of The Lord Of The Rings films. But Sean agrees it is a golden age of TV, where movie actors like him are racing back to make great drama series.
He said: “The stigma of actors not wanting to do TV has been turned upside down. You’ve got people like Meryl Streep and Matthew McConaughey doing great television.
“It’s the way it should be, because you get to bigger audiences. Drama series give you more time to tell stories and portray richer characters.”
- World On Fire is on BBC1 from Sunday, September 29 at 9pm.
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