Rowan Atkin­son talks about trans­form­ing into the de­tec­tive Mai­gret and the emo­tions that can be con­veyed sim­ply through si­lence.

The TV Guide - - CONTENTS -

Rowan Atkin­son is fa­mous for

Mr Bean, a com­edy that is likely to be play­ing some­where on Earth at ev­ery mo­ment of the day. Mr Bean is cel­e­brated for his badly co-or­di­nated move­ments and gurn­ing faces. He is con­stantly on the move.

So it is in­trigu­ing that the chief qual­ity which the 62-year-old ac­tor brings to his lat­est role is the po­lar op­po­site of Mr Bean.

As Jules Mai­gret, Atkin­son’s prin­ci­pal as­set is still­ness. Play­ing the 1950s French de­tec­tive in this Bri­tish TV adap­ta­tion of the best-sell­ing crime nov­els by Georges Si­menon, the ac­tor suc­ceeds in con­vey­ing as many emo­tions when he is si­lent as lesser per­form­ers man­age in an en­tire speech.

On set in Bu­dapest, which dou­bles as Paris in the 50s, the ac­tor says, “The thing I thought I could do was

Mai­gret’s thought­ful­ness. It’s his ru­mi­na­tive and quite com­pas­sion­ate side, I sup­pose, which is in­ter­est­ing. Be­cause he is def­i­nitely not an ego­tist, he is not a per­former, he is not an ec­cen­tric, he is not a weirdo.”

The ac­tor, who has also starred in such glob­ally pop­u­lar come­dies as Black­ad­der, Johnny English and Four Wed­dings And A Fu­neral,

con­tin­ues that, “I’m not claim­ing any of those things for my­self, but I felt I could prob­a­bly por­tray a lot of the as­pects of him that did ex­ist, par­tic­u­larly that quiet­ness. I think I’m quite good at not do­ing very much on screen.”

He cer­tainly is. As Mai­gret, Atkin­son sup­presses his nat­u­ral in­stinct for broad comic ges­tures.

Rather than pulling funny faces, he adopts a for­lorn, fur­rowed de­meanour. His Jules Mai­gret is world-weary, not witty.

“When I told my friend Richard Cur­tis that I was go­ing to do Mai­gret, he said to me, ‘You do re­alise you’re go­ing to play a char­ac­ter closer to your­self than you ever played be­fore’.” – Rowan Atkin­son

Atkin­son is chat­ting to us in a break be­tween scenes. Wear­ing Mai­gret’s dark three-piece suit, Atkin­son is a friendly, pen­sive man who ac­cords each ques­tion re­spect.

He says that when ap­proach­ing the role his main chal­lenge lay in the fact that, in some ways, he is quite sim­i­lar to his al­ter ego.

“When I told my friend Richard Cur­tis that I was go­ing to do Mai­gret, he said to me, ‘You do re­alise you’re go­ing to play a char­ac­ter closer to your­self than you ever played be­fore’ – and he’s right.

“I’ve never wanted to play my­self. I’ve pre­ferred to play peo­ple far re­moved from me be­cause it feels eas­ier.”

Nev­er­the­less, the ac­tor is cer­tainly con­vinc­ing in Mai­gret:

Night At The Cross­roads. The sleuth is suit­ably re­flec­tive as he in­ves­ti­gates the mur­der of a di­a­mond dealer in a com­mu­nity that clearly has some­thing to hide.

Mai­gret is the sub­ject of 75 nov­els which have sold a stag­ger­ing 853 mil­lion copies across the globe.

Atkin­son re­flects on why, nearly a cen­tury af­ter he first ap­peared in print, the sleuth is still so pop­u­lar.

“He’s a TV de­tec­tive, so to an ex­tent it’s a well-ploughed fur­row. There are a lot of them about.

“But Mai­gret is very dif­fer­ent. He doesn’t have any odd­i­ties about him. He is a very or­di­nary guy. It’s an in­ter­est­ing way to ap­pre­ci­ate his job, to see the or­di­nar­i­ness of the guy set against the ex­traor­di­nar­i­ness of the chal­lenges he faces. It’s like when some­one is elected prime min­is­ter. You know that, with cer­tain ex­cep­tions, they’re or­di­nary guys who have been am­bi­tious and are sud­denly in a po­si­tion of ex­tra­or­di­nary power.

“If they’re sym­pa­thetic char­ac­ters, then I think the peo­ple they rep­re­sent have sym­pa­thy to­wards them. But if they’re less sym­pa­thetic char­ac­ters, peo­ple are more ready to crit­i­cise. It’s that feel­ing of ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’.

“With Mai­gret, a mur­der has to be solved and this is the guy who has got to do it. So you’re au­to­mat­i­cally root­ing for him. You do want him to suc­ceed, so that helps. He’s a goodie, not a bad­die.”

The one pos­si­ble bone of con­tention when pre­par­ing the drama was whether it was ap­pro­pri­ate to de­pict the de­tec­tive smok­ing his trade­mark pipe.

But Atkin­son as­serts that he would have found the role dif­fi­cult with­out it.

“The pipe and pipe-smok­ing is def­i­nitely a very im­por­tant part of Mai­gret and his world and his at­ti­tude and his time,” he muses. “Cer­tainly there was never any at­tempt to ex­cise it. He is a ru­mi­na­tive per­son and the pipe is a vi­tal prop to em­pha­sise that.

“Mai­gret might not have a limp or a lisp, but at least he’s got a pipe.”

Rowan Atkin­son tells James Ramp­ton why he couldn’t say ‘non’ to play­ing the fa­mous French sleuth Mai­gret, who re­turns to TVNZ 1 this Sun­day in Mai­gret: Night At The Cross­roads.

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