In 1996, he combined his love of football with his career to finally achieve his childhood dream of playing for Sheffield United, as Jimmy Muir in the film When Saturday Comes.
Bean's critical successes in Caravaggio and Lady Chatterley contributed to his emerging image as a sex symbol, but he became most closely associated with the character of Richard Sharpe, the maverick Napoleonic Wars rifleman in the ITV television series Sharpe.
The series ran continuously from 1993 to 1997, with three episodes produced each year.
It was filmed under challenging conditions, first in Ukraine and later in Portugal.
He appears briefly in flashbacks in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, as well as in a scene from the extended edition of The Two Towers.
Before casting finished, rumours circulated that Jackson had considered Bean for the role of Aragorn, but neither Bean nor Jackson confirmed this in subsequent interviews.
After graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Bean made his professional debut in a theatre production of Romeo and Juliet in 1983.
Retaining his Yorkshire accent, he first found mainstream success for his portrayal of Richard Sharpe in the ITV series Sharpe.
He was also widely recognised as villainous treasure hunter Ian Howe in National Treasure, and played a villainous scientist in The Island (2005).
In the independent film Far North, he plays a Russian mercenary who gets lost in the tundra and is rescued by an Inuit woman and her daughter, whom he later pits against one another.
Bean's fear of flying in helicopters caused him difficulties in mountainous New Zealand, where the trilogy was filmed.
After a particularly rough ride, he vowed not to fly to a location again; in one instance, he chose to take a ski lift into the mountains while wearing his full costume (complete with shield, armour, and sword) and then hike the final few miles.
After attending courses at two other colleges, one for half a day and the other for less than a week, he returned to Rotherham College, where he enrolled in a drama course.