In 1990, Bean starred in Jim Sheridan's adaption of the John B. Also in 1990, his role as the journalist Anton in Windprints examined the difficult problems of apartheid in South Africa.
He appeared in his first film, Derek Jarman's Caravaggio (1986), opposite Tilda Swinton, playing Ranuccio Tomassoni, followed in the same director's War Requiem (1988).
He played the weak-stomached Spence in Ronin (1998), a wife-beating ex-con in Essex Boys (2000), and a malevolent kidnapper/jewel thief in Don't Say a Word (2001).
He was also widely recognised as villainous treasure hunter Ian Howe in National Treasure, and played a villainous scientist in The Island (2005).
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.