Nina Terrero
August 01, 2014 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Sharpe, 1993-97
Bean credits his breakout role as Napoleonic War hero Richard Sharpe on the British military soap for helping build his reputation as a respected period actor. ”I learned how to ride a horse, learned fencing,” recalls Bean, who spent the early years of his career doing theater work as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Goldeneye, 1995
The Brit was in Russia filming Sharpe when his agent called with the news that the part of MI6 agent-turned-criminal mastermind Alec Trevelyan was his. ”I’d done a fair bit of work, but I didn’t expect to be offered such an iconic role,” he says. ”It’s a real honor to be involved in a Bond film.”

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, 2001-03
In Peter Jackson’s hallowed fantasy films, Bean portrays noble Boromir, a warrior unafraid of battle. Yet during shooting, he found it difficult to overcome one of his own fears. ”I’d do anything to get out of flying in helicopters,” he says of the numerous flights from set to set in panoramic New Zealand. ”I just found it a bit scary.”

North Country, 2005
Playing a working-class miner, Bean took on what he calls one of his biggest challenges to date: a Minnesota accent. ”It was pretty tough to get it really good,” confesses Bean, who studied with a vocal coach for weeks. But cramming with costars Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson, Sissy Spacek, and Frances McDormand proved to be a bonding experience.

Game of Thrones, 2011
Bean’s stoic character on the hit HBO series, Eddard Stark, has been the subject of numerous fan-fueled conspiracy theories, the latest of which questions whether Stark is really Jon Snow’s biological father. ”That would be quite something, wouldn’t it?” teases Bean. And should that be the case, the actor would gladly return. ”The only way I could be involved in it would be with flashbacks, as you would imagine.”

Accused, 2012
Bean swapped his sword and armor for lipstick and high heels as a transvestite English teacher on the BBC anthology series — and in the process earned a Royal Television Society award for best actor. ”It was such an unusual thing for me to do,” he says of the role. ”I look back on that and think, ‘That was the best thing I’ve done.”’

Legends, 2014
Bean plays FBI operative Martin Odum on the drama from Homeland co-creator Howard Gordon. While he’s at ease with his character’s ability to change identities, it’s Martin’s ”norm-core” attributes — his well-worn jeans, for instance — that the actor finds disconcerting. ”When you play kings or warriors, there are certain physical attributes and mannerisms that fall naturally into place. With Martin, I felt much more comfortable playing the characters that he played than I did actually playing him.”

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