Exclusive Interview: Sean Bean Talks The Martian And Surviving Space

Sean Bean The Martian

Landing in theatres this Friday is Ridley Scott’s The Martian, a sci-fi survival epic that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month to rapturous applause and overwhelmingly positive reviews. Though mainly about Matt Damon’s Mark Watney, an astronaut scrambling to survive while stranded on the surface of Mars, no movie and no mission comes down to just one man.

Playing Mitch Henderson, one of the NASA scientists working on a rescue plan, Sean Bean is among the many familiar faces lending a supporting hand in Damon’s mission away from Mars. We sat down with Sean at TIFF to talk about The Martian’s math-heavy script, surviving on a diet of Bowie and Coronation Street, and whether there’s anything true to those Wonder Woman rumours.

Check out what he had to say below, and enjoy!

You’ve spent a lot of your career playing kings, and soldiers, and thieves, and villains. But in this movie, you’re pretty much playing a regular guy, a professional who works at NASA. Does that give you more room to find a character?

Sean Bean: I think it does. You obviously go off of what you have in the script and I think that gives you a part – his history, backstory, and who he is, and why he’s there. [Mitch] was an ex-astronaut and he’s very much in favor of bringing Mark Watney back down to Earth. And he faces opposition to that in the form of Jeff Daniels’ character, Teddy. That’s his personal battle. I think everyone in the cast has their own battles and conflicts, either with themselves or the people around them, and I think that’s what makes it interesting. It’s very technically oriented, but at the same time, you can see the basic human feelings coming through, which is what it’s all about.

And it’s a role that requires a lot of math, a lot of numbers. When you were delivering dialogue was it always clear to you, or did it sometimes seem like techno babble?

SB: It was clear, without getting into specifics. I guess you could do a lot of research. But in some sense, that could be counterproductive, in that you’d get so engrossed in it – the knowledge and the details – that as an actor it doesn’t come across on screen. So while you do need to be aware and informed about what you’re talking about, I guess it’s kind of pretending, and acting is putting it out as though these words are the most natural thing in the world, you say it every day like “Can I have a cup of tea?” It’s being convincing, and [the lines] do take quite a long time to learn, because we’re actors and we’re not used to these words. You have to keep thrashing it out and out and out in your head until you can just run it off very particularly.

And it is convincing. People are talking about how this is the movie that’s going to make science sexy, and that kids might watch this and get interested in aerospace and physics. When you were doing your schooling, were you interested in sciences?

SB: I was more – I don’t know really. I wasn’t into dramatics very much, I was more into nature, I was very keen. I used to love wildlife as a kid and being outside in the garden and the woods and the field and that stuff. I guess I wasn’t really interested in science, wasn’t very at it. I was kind of interested in biology when it’s not cutting rats up and taking out their insides. I guess like a lot of kids I just didn’t really consider it at that age, 13,14, you’ve got other things on your mind. It was more a boy’s interest in space, that frontier and the undiscovered worlds. That kind of infinity, the unfathomable thing, and it goes on forever and ever and ever, and it blows your mind. And then you get a bit jaded, you get a bit older and you see everything everyday on TV. Then, everybody was glued to the television when they first landed on the moon, and I remember that in black and white.

You watched the moon landing?

SB: Yes, yes! I was only about 6 or 7 years old but I do kind of remember it. I guess we’re just not quite as focused as that these days, there are so many things around us, but then it was a big thing. And I guess a film like this, people may marvel at that kind of technology and the kind of power and size and scope of space.

But this is a space movie about overcoming everything that could go wrong. Are people going to be more encouraged to go out into space by watching it?

SB: I guess if you’re that way inclined than yes, it must be. If you’re already interested in science and space, I guess it’s like watching a film where you’re an actor and you see a great performance, and that gives you the impetus to move forward, and it’s exciting, and it gives you the courage and enthusiasm to pursue your career. And maybe that might do that for a young, budding scientist.