“Mr Bean” pulls up a chair
Rowan Atkinson returns to his trademark role in “Mr Bean’s Holiday”, now available on DVD in Australia.
Q: What made you want to do a second “Mr. Bean” movie?
A: It just seemed like a good idea. Like Woody Allen says, films give him something to do. I was looking for something to do, so this is what we did. It just seemed like a good idea to do a Bean film because I always felt that there was a bit of unfinished business after the first movie. I felt that the first movie was successful and I think it was a good movie as far as it went but it wasn’t very challenging. It wasn’t a very interestingly conceived movie. It was a fairly simple American style family comedy that was clearly orientated around the American market and I felt that there was another film to be made, which was more European in flavour, and in particular one in which Mr Bean spoke far less. In reflection I didn’t like how much he talked in the first movie. I prefer him when he is not talking.
Q: Why? Is it easier to play him when he’s not talking?
A: No, I just think that is how the character was conceived. He was conceived to be a non-talker. Sometimes he has to talk in order to keep a reality. You can’t just have someone who doesn’t talk in given situations unless you say he is dumb which is fine, he could be. But that introduces a whole other raft of complications. If he is someone who can talk then occasionally he can talk but I just think that the less he talks the better. That is why we set the movie in France, so he wouldn’t be expected to talk.
Q: Why don’t we see you more often on the big screen, is it because there are very few good scripts out there?
A: I think I am very difficult to cast in things. I think I am very difficult to find parts for. I think I am quite choosy and I don’t live in Los Angeles, and I don’t want to live there. So it means that you are not really in the loop in terms of Hollywood movies. What is interesting, because Mr Bean has such an international audience, that when American producers are looking for a bit of casting that might have international appeal outside the US then I am sometimes quite a good port of call because Bean has international audiences. Very few parts of interest have come up.
Q: Is it true this is your last Bean film?
A: Not definitely but probably. There are a couple of reasons. I am feeling a bit old for it actually or I think I soon will be. I don’t like to work very much or very often so it means to wait ten years to make a sequel is in Hollywood terms ridiculous. We would be on Bean 4 or 5 now if it was a Hollywood franchise. But because it is just something that I do when I can be bothered it only happens every ten years.
Q: How easy can you snap in and out of being the character Mr Bean?
A: Very easy. It is completely instant. Instant in and instant out which is even more pleasing and important. (laughs)
Q: In “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” Mr Bean has become a little bit more grown up, he takes more responsibility. Do you agree?
A: Yeah, I think that was a result of the story. A lot of people said that there is a lot of music in the film and did you want a film that was very musical? And I said I don’t know we just had a few jokes that involved music so that was how it came about. It is nothing contrived about it. What I would say is that Mr Bean as a character is very much dependent on the situations that you put him in. He is only defined by the situations in which you put him so for example, as is the case in this movie, he forms a friendship with the Russian boy. It is interesting because suddenly he does feel like a nicer person because he has found a friend. He has never really had a friend before. It seems to me to be absolutely right and typical for Mr Bean to form a friendship with a child because he is a child so it is two children really. It is the level on which the friendship works. In addition to that because he is an adult it means that he also in this film takes on a slightly paternal role. He feels a responsibility and he is quite right. It is his fault that the father missed the train and it is his fault that the boy is stuck with him so I think it is absolutely right. The situation has dictated a certain development of the character of Mr Bean, which we haven’t seen before. But it wasn’t to make him more likeable. I hope that isn’t because he is not very likeable. He is more likeable in this film than previously. It just seemed like an interesting story to tell.
Q: Is the movie a homage to Jacques Tati?
A: Not deliberate, sort of subconsciously very gently there is a feeling but again that is not because we feel a need to make a homage it is simply because we believe that is the context where Mr Bean belongs. I prefer him in a European French context than I do in an American context. The good thing about Mr Bean is that no matter where he is, he could be in the Gaza Strip, anywhere, and he would treat it the same. He is not someone who is particularly culturally aware, he is not an educated man or at least you don’t get that impression. There was an Indian producer who contacted us about putting Mr Bean in a Bollywood musical and you think Mr Bean in India could be very interesting. You can see scenarios for Mr Bean anywhere because he is very versatile. Because his view of the world is so naïve it is very…
Q: Which actors or characters influenced you when you invented Mr Bean?
A: Jacques Tati was one of the first I saw when I was 17 but then we didn’t create Mr Bean until I was 25. Charlie Chaplin was someone I knew a bit about, not a lot. I knew more about Tati. Peter Sellers I always loved. All these people are inspirations but I think Mr Bean is his own man if only because he is a character that has grown out of me and my instincts and my sort of soul if you like. We created him for stage, as you probably know, in 1979. We did him on stage for ten years although he didn’t have a name. It was only when we put him on TV that we gave him a name, Mr Bean.
Q: Would you say he is a child in a grown man’s body?
A: Yeah, exactly and that is the level on which I think he appeals to an international audience. It is very curious to know why the Japanese and the Chinese and people in the Mississippi Delta and Italy and Scotland, why they all understand Mr Bean. It is not just because he doesn’t speak although that helps. It is because he is child, and that is the level on which any culture can appreciate him.
Q: How do children react to you when you are being Mr Bean?
A: Children identify with him very quickly, they identify with him at a very young age. Our producer, he showed the film to his 3 year old who completely connected with it. As soon as children see Mr Bean they see one of their own kind. (laughs)
Q: Is he not a little frightening?
A: In real life, if they would really meet him? Yes, I think he is.
Q: Emma just told us about her little daughter on set, that she was a little reserved when she met Mr Bean.
A: Yes, did she find him frightening? Yeah, I think he is frightening even for adults to meet because he is so self centred and so unpredictable. He is a child without adult supervision. Like a ten-year-old boy, letting him go on the street and suddenly it is like a ticking bomb.
Q: Is he unpredictable to you?
A: To a certain extent yes, he can be. When I become Mr Bean you are never quite sure what is going to happen. It is a bit strange. Because he has got this totally anarchic view of the world he will do what he wants to do. I think he is a very difficult character to act with. I feel sorry for people like Emma and Willem when they have to act with Mr Bean because you don’t know what is going to happen. It is like acting with a nine-year-old child and you don’t know what he is going to do. He may want to establish a relationship or he may not. He may establish a relationship and then suddenly he takes off and is out of the room. You don’t know and the job of acting with Mr Bean is very difficult. I think Emma did a very good job.
Q: When you shot on the street in Paris, how did people react to you with cameras around?
A: Most of the streets and scenes that you see were sealed off and most of the people there were extras, not real people. There isn’t a lot of contact. I was in Brussels the other day doing some publicity there and as Mr Bean I went on the street and posed by this statue. A famous statue of a boy urinating in the middle of Brussels. People do react very strangely when they see him, me, in the uniform as Mr Bean in the street. It becomes like a show because they are so aware that he is a fictional character but put into a non fictional context and it is difficult. People are shocked but also a bit scared. I think they should be.
Q: Have you ever been somewhere in the world where you don’t speak the language but been able to communicate just by gestures and talking to people?
A: I remember one very unsuccessful thing a long time ago when I couldn’t speak any French. I can’t speak much more now but I could speak less twenty years ago. I was in a pharmacy in France and I wanted some razor blades for a shaver and I didn’t know what the word for razor was and for some reason I went like this (gestures cutting his wrist) ‘can you give me a razor blade’? The shop assistant got very worried and called the manger because she assumed I was going to slash my wrists with the blade having bought it. (laughs) So, no, I have never succeeded in communicating on that level…
Q: What can you tell me about working with Simon McBurney, the scene writer?
A: He is a visual artist and he wrote the story of the film and he and I and the writers worked on the script in the rehearsal room. We wrote it all together but Mr Bean is not a mime artist, he doesn’t need to mime because he lives in the real world or in a version of the real world. But yes, Simon is very visually educated and he speaks fluent French and lived in France for a while and went to school in Paris, the Mime School it was called.
Q: You make the whole world laugh, what makes you laugh?
A: I like laughing at character comedy I suppose is how I would describe it. Rather than stand up comedy. I am not a great fan of stand up. I like it when an actor becomes somebody else and then generates a character with an amusing attitude. I like Sasha Baron Cohen, I love his Borat character. Sasha is a great comic creation. I like a British TV series called Little Britain. I like it when people become somebody different in order to play a character convincingly. Charlie Chaplin was like that. Comic character acting at its best.
Q: It would be interesting to see Mr Bean meet Borat!
A: Yes, Borat is a very difficult thing to do from now on because everybody knows what he looks like. The films were based on the fact that nobody knew who he was. More difficult to do now.
Q: What makes British humour so unique?
A: I don’t know. What is French humour? It is very interesting when you hear about humour in any other language. There are many, many German comedians. It comes as a surprise to some people because we don’t see them in Britain, we have no experience of German comedians. We don’t understand the concept. But of course there are lots of German comedians who are extremely good. But because of the language barrier we never witness it. British humour is unique in the sense that it travels well. People like British humour all over the world, Monty Python is very different to Mr Bean which is very different from Borat, there are lots of strands. But I suppose there is quite a healthy comedy world in Britain. We do seem to have an environment in which comedy is promoted and tolerated and whether it is something in the national psyche, something in the national character that makes one want to be funny. I don’t really know what it is.
Q: Any chance you are going to do more Blackadder?
A: No, no chance.
Q: Have you been to the south of France with your family as a tourist?
A: I have been to south of France when I was filming, I was certainly there. I have been there on holiday, I started going there twenty-five years ago. It is not such a nice place as it was, it was better when it wasn’t so crowded. That is my idea of holiday, to drive in France.
Q: Which of your many cars do you drive on a road trip?
A: Which ever falls easily to hand. (laughs)
Q: Do you think that the French will take offence of you making fun of their food or do you not care about being politically correct like that?
A: I don’t think so, it is just taking a rather British attitude towards the food. I suspect the French will find it amusing how naïve and how uneducated Mr Bean is about their fine cuisine. I think what is important about Mr Bean is that no experience will really change him. He will always come back and be the same.
Mr Bean’s Holiday is now on DVD