Atkin­son on why at times com­edy isn’t fun

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - Live - - ENTERTAINMENT -

Com­edy can be a dread­ful busi­ness, even for a gifted fun­ny­man like Rowan Atkin­son. Con­sider Johnny English Strikes Again — star­ring this rub­bery-faced co­me­dian as a bum­bling wouldbe James Bond — which ar­rives seven years after the fran­chise’s se­cond in­stal­ment and 15 after the first.

In a phone in­ter­view from Lon­don, he speaks about the al­lure of the spy, the power of free speech and why be­ing hu­mor­ous is of­ten no fun at all.

In its open­ing week­end in Bri­tain, Johnny English came in se­cond to Venom in box­of­fice grosses, but beat out a A Star Is Born. It looks like (ac­tors) Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga have com­pe­ti­tion.

Yeah, fi­nally. (Laughs) It’s held up quite well just be­cause the weather is ter­ri­ble here, so that helps every­body try­ing to sell tick­ets to movies.

That thing about the process be­ing “re­ally, re­ally, re­ally hard”. Please ex­plain...

What­ever I do, I think I could do bet­ter. I’m fairly no­to­ri­ous for want­ing an­other take and an­other take and an­other take and an­other take — and an­other take.

And some­times that’s good, but very of­ten it be­comes coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.

The sit­ting around in an of­fice in Lon­don think­ing about wouldn’t it be funny if Johnny did this or did that — that’s fun. And then the edit­ing and the mu­sic and the sound dub — that I en­joy very much. But the meat in the sand­wich, where you ac­tu­ally have to make it work in front of the cam­eras, I re­ally dis­like.

You ac­tu­ally ap­peared in the Bond film Never Say Never Again. Is Johnny mod­elled on (Bond ac­tor) Sean Con­nery?

I’ve al­ways thought that (ac­tor) Roger Moore is more Johnny English’s in­spi­ra­tion. I think he’s slightly more the raised eye­brow, more ironic, more just hav­ing a lot of fun in the world in which he’s found him­self. And that is Johnny’s view. He’s quite a self-cen­tred, self-re­gard­ing in­di­vid­ual.

Johnny is not re­motely in­ter­ested in any­body else or their lives. He’s just think­ing about the ad­ven­ture that he’s on and in the end, he just wants to drive the fast cars and wear the sharp suits and go to the ex­otic lo­ca­tions. And, of course, garner plau­dits if he can.

Emma Thomp­son, who plays the prime min­is­ter in Johnny English, has called you a mod­ern­day Char­lie Chap­lin. How do you see your­self?

I don’t think about my­self very much in the pan­theon of com­edy his­tory. But Chap­lin was cer­tainly an in­spi­ra­tion. The French co­me­dian Jacques Tati was very im­por­tant for (the char­ac­ter) Mr Bean.

I saw Mon­sieur Hu­lot’s Hol­i­day when I was 17, and it just had a tone and an at­ti­tude and a slow­ness that I had never seen in a com­edy movie be­fore. That idea of ex­press­ing your­self en­tirely vis­ually rather than ver­bally was in­spired by him as much as any­thing else.

Mr Bean is stag­ger­ingly pop­u­lar. Any plans to bring him out of re­tire­ment?

No plans to bring him back. If you look at the 80 mil­lion Face­book friends that Mr Bean has, an aw­ful lot of that is in China and In­dia and Venezuela and Malaysia and Europe and the Far East — and far less general in­ter­est in the US.

We only ever made 13 halfhour TV shows, and 13 shows are not go­ing to get you onto any Amer­i­can ter­res­trial TV net­work.

But the good thing about the In­ter­net is that it’s just a mat­ter of peo­ple click­ing, and they can see any­thing and ev­ery­thing that I’ve ever done.

A re­viewer in The Guardian (daily in Eng­land) asked, “Can’t the Bri­tish film in­dus­try give Rowan Atkin­son a role that re­ally does jus­tice to his ta­lent?”

It’s an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion and I haven’t a clue. I mean, it’s the age-old dilemma of be­ing known for do­ing a cer­tain thing in a cer­tain way. And even if peo­ple think, “Well, we could cast him in this role”, then they say, “He just brings a lot of Mr Bean bag­gage with him and would peo­ple take it se­ri­ously?”

I can see my­self in some Dick­en­sian role... those sorts of char­ac­ters. But I think I might have burnt my bridges with the out­right silli­ness of so much of what I’ve done.


Com­edy star Rowan Atkin­son; and (in­set) as se­cret agent Johnny English. The fran­chise is a par­ody of the dash­ing spy movie genre char­ac­terised by the James Bond films

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