Born on April 17, 1959 in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, Bean was raised in Handsworth by his father, Brian, a welder and steel factory owner, and his mother, Rita, a secretary. Having dropped out of school at age 16, Bean worked a variety of odd jobs before deciding to enroll in at the Rotterham College of Arts and Technology. But he left to briefly attend the Granville College of Education in 1979, only to return to Rotterham where he eventually discovered acting, performing in such shows as "Cabaret" and "The Owl and the Pussycat." Deciding to pursue acting as a career, he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art on scholarship and further honed his craft, while meeting future second wife, Melanie Hill, after divorcing high school sweetheart, Debra James, in 1981. After graduating RADA in 1983 with a Silver Medal for his performance in "Waiting for Godot," Bean made his professional stage debut - then billed as Shaun Behan - as Tybalt in a production of "Romeo and Juliet" at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury. Following his British television debut in "Winter Flight" (1984), he spent a season on stage with the Young Writers Festival before joining the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company in 1986, where he acted in repertory, including playing Romeo to Niamh Cusack's Juliet.
Bean made his feature debut in Derek Jarman's film Caravaggio (1986), playing a man involved in a love triangle with the famed Baroque painter (Nigel Terry) and his other lover (Tilda Swinton). He reunited with the director on War Requiem (1989), a docudrama detailing the experiences of a solider (Nathaniel Parker) fighting in World War I. Bean had his first notable film role as an Irishman who becomes involved with shady characters in the moody, jazz-influenced Stormy Monday (1988), directed by Mike Figgis. He shined as Richard Harris' repressed son in The Field (1990), while proving himself to be an effective villain in the Thames Television production Lorna Doone (), one of numerous adaptations of the popular 19th century romance novel by Richard Doddridge Blackmore. Turning to romantic leads, Bean delivered a fine portrayal of the vile Robert Lovelace in the adaptation of Samuel Richardson's "Clarissa" (BBC, 1991) before managing to bed Joely Richardson in a steamy adaptation of D.H. Lawrence renamed "Lady Chatterly" (BBC, 1992). Because of his penchant for villainy, Bean was tapped for his American debut as the chief bad guy in Patriot Games (1992), playing an IRA terrorist who seeks revenge against CIA agent Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) for killing his brother during a foiled assassination attempt on members of the Royal Family.
In 1993, Bean began a long-running stint playing fictional 19th century British officer, Richard Sharpe, in a series of made-for-television movies and miniseries that he went back to with regular frequency over the next few decades. He first appeared as the hardened Yorkshire soldier in "Sharpe's Rifles" (ITV, 1993), in which he is tasked with teaching a ceremonial battalion how to fight in a real battle. Bean immediately followed up with 12 more installments from 1993-97, which amounted to about three per year. All the while, he continued to appear in major U.S. and U.K. productions, playing a veritable rogues' gallery of villains like the despicable Earl of Fenton in the miniseries sequel, "Scarlett" (CBS, 1994). His natural affinity for playing bad guys led to a James Bond film, Goldeneye (1995), in which he was Alec Trevelyan, Agent 006, who turns traitor against Her Majesty's Secret Service while on a mission with Bond (Pierce Brosnan), only to turn up years later after being presumed dead. After portraying Count Vronsky in the big screen adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (1997), Bean portrayed the weak-stomached weapons expert, Spence, whose place in a for-hire ops mission is called into question by a rogue agent (Robert De Niro) in John Frankenheimer's thrilling Ronin (1998).
Back on British television, Bean starred in the four-part series, "Extremely Dangerous" (ITV, 1999), playing a former MI5 agent who goes on the run to clear his name after being accused of brutally killing his wife and child. He next garnered praise for his portrayal of real-life British soldier Andy McNab who led a secret mission during the Persian Gulf War in the British television drama "Bravo Two Zero" (BBC, 1999). Following a return to villainy as a wife-beating ex-con in Essex Boys () and a malevolent kidnapper/jewel thief in Don't Say A Word (2001), Bean reached his widest audience playing the proud human warrior Boromir in Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein's novel, "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" (2001), who aids hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) on a quest to destroy the One Ring in Mount Doom, only to fall prey to the Ring's temptations. Though credited with the next two installments, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), Bean's contributions in those two film were limited to a series of flashbacks.
After roles in the futuristic thriller Equilibrium (2002) and the off-kilter comedy The Big Empty (2003), Bean returned to epic-style filmmaking when he played the legendary Greek hero Odysseus in Troy (2004), the big screen adaptation of Homer's tale of the Trojan War starring Brad Pitt as the hero Achilles. He followed with a turn as Nicolas Cage's villainous rival in the popular, if unambitious adventure film National Treasure (2004). Next was playing yet another villain in the sci-fi thriller The Island (2005), Michael Bay's ham-handed rip-off of the 1970s television movie, "Parts: The Clonus Horror" (1979). In Bay's version, Bean played a smart, but evil doctor who runs a futuristic medical facility that harvests cloned human beings (Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson) for organ transplants. He next had a supporting role as the captain of an airline flight who refuses to believe the missing daughter of a passenger (Jodie Foster) was ever aboard in the thriller Flightplan (2005). Shifting gears, Bean showed a rarely seen warmer side and a potent dose of charm in the drama North Country (2005), playing the protective and sympathetic husband of a female miner (Frances McDormand) whose friend (Charlize Theron) launched the first-ever sexual harassment lawsuit against a corporation.
In Silent Hill (2006), a supernatural horror feature based on the popular video game, Bean played the husband of a desperate mother (Radha Mitchell) trying to find an answer for her daughter's mysterious recurring dream that pulls her out of bed to sleepwalk. Against her husband's objections, she takes her to a fog-shrouded ghost town inhabited by a variety of strange beings - including demons - and overcome by a living darkness that transforms everything it touches. Despite negative reviews, "Silent Hill" opened No. 1 at the box office with over $20 million in box office dollars. That same year, he returned to playing Richard Sharpe in "Sharpe's Challenge" (ITV, 2006), which he followed up with strong performances in thrillers like Outlaw () and The Hitcher (2007). After another go-round with "Sharpe's Peril" (ITV1, 2008), Bean had a role on the heavily-promoted, but ultimately failed series "Crusoe" (NBC, 2008-09) before appearing in the three-part British series "Red Riding" (Channel 4, 2009). Back in the high-end feature world, he played Zeus in "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" (2010), who accuses the titular Percy (Logan Lerman) of stealing his lightning bolt. He returned to American television for the epic medieval series, "Game of Thrones" (HBO, 2011- ), to play the honorable Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark, who remains so doggedly loyal to the King of the Seven Kingdoms (Mark Addy) he is willing to leave his family.
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