On the eve of the film’s release on DVD and Blu-ray, “Johnny English Reborn” director Oliver Parker ” talks about what appealed to him about manning the wheel on such a crazy ship.
How did you come on board Johnny English Reborn?
I was asked to consider it a couple of years ago. I wasn’t sure, to be honest, whether to do it, because I thought the first one was very successful in what it was trying to do, and where would the second one go? When I finally read Hamish McColl’s script, I was very impressed with its ambition, very excited with how they were trying to reinvent it. So I met with Rowan and the three of us discussed it quite a lot. I thought that a lot of our ideas tallied very much, in terms of trying to make it a slightly more international flavour, perhaps work on the storyline, so there was a genuine thriller as a backbone to the comedy, try and make that elusive genre comedy-thriller work for us. So all those things were discussed quite early on, and when I felt like we were all trying to do the same thing, it seemed irresistible.
How do you think it has been reinvented from the first film?
I think there are a few things. I do think that the world is made to be more authentically like the world of espionage. The characters are played pretty deadpan. The peril is, I think, more intense. We feel actually he may die, and the stunts he has to achieve, some of them are genuine thriller set pieces. There’s just a comic quirk in them. Rather than a classic car chase, you have a wheelchair, but in every other respect, it’s treated like a classic car chase. So there was a kind of seriousness to the comedy, but hopefully that unleashes more comedy. That’s the hope!
Talk us through that wheelchair Pal Mall sequence. What was it like to film down that very famous road in London (UK) and how much did Rowan actually do himself?
He did nearly all of it. It’s very difficult to double Rowan, because he’s got a very particular body, a very particular way of moving. So he would throw himself into almost any stunt we wanted to do. There were one or two stunts that for insurance purposes we couldn’t do. But on that wheelchair thing he did a lot. As you probably know, Rowan’s the master of the machine and was very involved too, even in the plotting of that wheelchair. It had a go-kart engine. And we’d have regular meetings and safety checks. Then he’d get in it, and he absolutely went for it. The last takes particularly…where it was like, ‘We’ve got five minutes left, go for it.’ And it’d be ‘Let me go’ and he’d go racing down the Mall, which was hugely exciting, at 40 miles per hour. So pretty good.
What’s Rowan like to work with on set? Is he the sort of actor who is always cracking the crew up with jokes?
Very rarely. He’s quite a private man. He’s very, very focused. There are times definitely when it’s funny, but he’s absolutely concentrated on delivering the character to the best of his ability. He doesn’t shirk at either any stunt or turning over every stone, just to find an extra little nuance for the comedy. He’s absolutely the most committed performer I’ve ever worked with. A terrific collaborator. Early stages, we all worked – Hamish McColl, the writer, Rowan and myself – very closely on just trying to keep pushing the scenes forward and getting the story to all fit together better. He was very, very involved every step of the way and would put his all into everything.
From the Goldfinger golf course scene to Gillian Anderson’s Judi Dench’s M-like character, there’s a few Bond references floating around. Have you ever had a hankering to direct a Bond movie?
I haven’t before. But this is the first time I’ve had a bigger train-set to play with, I would say. I really enjoyed it, I really enjoyed putting together some of the set pieces, so at some point I’d like to do a serious action piece.
The helicopter sequence is another amazing set piece – and very Bond-like. That must have been very time-consuming…
It was. A lot of these things are slightly less dramatic in the making because it’s many, many meetings, and many different studios in which you’re doing different elements to put the whole thing together. So, yes, the helicopter was particularly slow going. And you never know until you put the whole thing together whether it’s actually going to work. We had a lot of CGI and a lot of real stunts, so it’s the melding of all those that is the challenge.
How does it feel to be the director who reunited Rowan with his old Blackadder cohort Tim McInnerny? And how were they together on set?
They were great. Tim McInnerny is wonderful actor. He’s also got that ability to give something pretty damn straight, but with just a twinkle. He pushes it with a little extra energy, a little more commitment to the moment. He was only in for a few days but they obviously have a great rapport and I think he brings a lot to the film.
We were in Hong Kong and Macau for two-and-a-half weeks, and I loved it. Our intention to make it a wider canvas with a more international flavour was really helped by the landscape of Hong Kong. We were on the roof, we were on the pontoon in the harbour…all those elements felt very, very cinematic. It really automatically raised the production value of the whole thing.
Finally, has Rowan left lots of outtakes for you to add to the DVD?
There are quite a few scenes, quite a few little delights. It was hard to know, in trying to get the right balance of comedy and thriller, contained within the length of this film. There is a longer version of the film – twenty-minutes longer I would say – which would obviously have a different tone, play a bit more seriously.
“Johnny English Reborn” is now on DVD and Blu-ray