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April 14, 2011

‘Sharpe’: George R.R. Martin on U.K. series that made him a Sean Bean fan

Posted in: Books,TV

Sean Bean in "Sharpes Challenge" (BBC America)

George R.R. Martin and Sean Bean have more in common than sword-epic success — they both have a deep admiration for author Bernard Cornwell.

During my recent interview with Bean, Martin happened to pass by our table at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills and paused to chat a bit. The author wrote the sprawling fantasy series  “A Song of Ice and Fire,” which reaches a new audience on Sunday night with the premiere of “Game of Thrones” on HBO; the actor stars in that HBO series and is known for his film work in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy as well as “Ronin,” “National Treasure” and “Patriot Games.” But an early defining success for Bean back in his native England was in the role of Richard Sharpe, the 19th century British solider created by Cornwell.

Between 1993 and 1997, Bean played Sharpe in 14 television adventures and then he made national news when he returned to the role for a 15th adventure after an eight-year break in production. There was no bigger fan of “Sharpe’s Rifles,” “Sharpe’s Gold,” “Sharpe’s Revenge” and the other installments than Martin. “It was a terrific series,” Martin told Bean. “That’s when I became a fan of yours. I always wanted to meet Bernard Cornwell.” Bean said he is quite proud of the made-for-television films and spoke of interacting with Cornwell in London during the production years. “He’s a very interesting guy and he created this whole world for people. I’m really grateful for that role.”

Martin explained the allure of the novels and the television adaptations in a way that made me want to add these DVDs to my collection right away: ” There’s never been anyone that writes better battle stuff than him; his war is amazing. He really captures the drama of combat. He writes military novels. The Sharpe novels were about the Napoleonic wars but he’s also written about the Saxons with the shield-wool and Alfred the Great. His latest is American Revolutionary war; he’s written American Civil War stuff. And no matter what the era or what the armament, he’s somehow captured the psychology of men at war. He describes the battle in a vivid and visceral way.”

What does Martin see as the building blocks of writing a battle scene?

“There’s two ways to go with a battle scene.  You can put the character in the middle of the battle in which case it’s all confusion. ‘I was standing there. A big redhead came at me with a sword and I killed him. Then a short guy came at me with a spear and I killed him.’ You can do it that way or you can do the general’s view. ‘The left wing advanced and I could see the fortress crumbling. I sent the calvary in from rear.’ But it’s tremendously hard to do both, to give that aerial sense of the strategy yet also put you in the heat of the battle. Cornwall has that talent for detail.”

– Geoff Boucher

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