Rowan Atkinson is one of the most successful British actors, writers and comedians of all time, but he rarely gives interviews. He hates talking about himself and only wants to talk about the work, and even then, finds it quite painful. He has recently given a rare interview with GQ, however, and reflected on his best known characters – Johnny English, Blackadder, and Mr. Bean.
Because Mr. Bean is a virtually silent comedy that relies on physicality and slapstick, in the great tradition of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton – it has global appeal, which “was a deliberate aim. The international market,” says Atkinson. Mr. Bean was pretty revolutionary when it came along; “There was absolutely zero tradition of purely visual comedy on television. Television comedy was about words.”
Speaking of Bean, Atkinson describes him as “very strange, extremely selfish and self-centred.” He based him on “myself as a child. I feel as though it’s me as a nine-year-old – or me as an 11-year-old – because he’s essentially a child trapped in a man’s body. That’s how I’ve always seen him.”
Atkinson continues; “He’s got the innocence but also the anarchic instinct and the unpleasantness, the uncompromisingness of children. They don’t take a particularly sophisticated view of the world and that is both Mr. Bean’s strength and his problem. Bean is such a weird man and – I like to think, at least – far removed from my own personality, the distance I have to move in order to play him is actually very reassuring. It’s like entering a completely different world and I’m very happy in his world.”
The reason for Atkinson reluctantly agreeing to an interview is that he has a new comedy series Man vs Bee on Netflix. After that, he will next be seen in Paul King’s Wonka starring Timothee Chalamet.
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