He’s played a po­lice­man in BBC sit­com The Thin Blue Line, a hap­less spy in Johnny English and the inim­itable Mr Bean. Now Rowan Atkin­son is star­ring as the pipe-smok­ing Chief In­spec­tor Jules Maigret in ITV1’S fea­ture-length episodes of Maigret, based on t

Crime Scene - - CONTENTS - By NEIL SMITH

Rowan Atkin­son on his pipe-smok­ing role as French de­tec­tive Jules Maigret.

What at­tracted you to the role of Chief In­spec­tor Jules Maigret?

It wasn’t my idea to play the role or to re­drama­tise Maigret for the 21st cen­tury, and it took me a long time to de­cide to. I don’t think you can de­cide to play the lead­ing role in a main­stream ITV drama with­out be­ing rea­son­ably cer­tain you can play the part, at least as well as it can be played. If you think, well, I can have a half­hearted stab at it, let’s give it a go and see what hap­pens, I don’t think that’s a good way of ap­proach­ing some­thing of this im­por­tance. Rightly or wrongly, I thought I could do more than have a go at it, so I had a go at it.

Was there any­thing you found par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing about the part?

Jules Maigret is a very or­di­nary man, and gen­er­ally speak­ing I haven’t played

many or­di­nary men. I tend to play rather odd men, peo­ple with a slightly ec­cen­tric or more par­tic­u­lar at­ti­tude to life. Maigret hasn’t got a limp or a lisp, and he has no par­tic­u­lar love of opera or those other things peo­ple tend to at­tach to many fic­tional de­tec­tives. He’s just an or­di­nary guy, do­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary job in a very in­ter­est­ing time. Paris in the mid-’50s was a very in­ter­est­ing place: it was only 10 years af­ter the Third Re­ich had left, a city awash with guns and crime and rack­e­teer­ing and all sorts of in­ter­est­ing hang­overs from a very dif­fi­cult time in French his­tory. It’s an in­ter­est­ing time to be a po­lice­man.

What do you think are Maigret’s defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics?

Maigret’s hu­man­ity is im­por­tant and it’s ad­mirable. It’s en­joy­able to watch some­body hav­ing to deal with great in­hu­man­ity who is able to dis­play such com­pas­sion to those in­volved in th­ese ex­tremely messy and vi­o­lent sit­u­a­tions. He con­veys this calm at the cen­tre of some­times very stormy sto­ries.

The Maigret in Maigret Sets A Trap was quite a sober fel­low. Will he lighten up a bit in the sec­ond film, Maigret’s Dead Man?

Maigret is very in­ter­nal and self­con­tained at the mo­ment but I think if we made more films I might let him out a bit. In the sec­ond film you’ll see him be a lit­tle more ironic from time to time, but that’s just a work in progress. The char­ac­ter is likely to change and de­velop and I wouldn’t like to say he is per­fectly formed right out of the box. But I think it is what I would call an op­ti­mistic start.

Maigret and his pipe have al­ways been in­sep­a­ra­ble. Was there any sug­ges­tion of him smok­ing less, in line with mod­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties?

The pipe is def­i­nitely an im­por­tant part of Maigret and his world and his at­ti­tude and his time, so there was cer­tainly never any at­tempt to ex­cise it. He is a very thought­ful, ru­mi­na­tive


per­son, so hav­ing the pipe as a prop is quite good from an act­ing point of view. In the process of it, some­times I used real to­bacco and some­times I used her­bal. I used to smoke a pipe when I was 20, some­thing of which I am not proud, so I knew vaguely what to do and how to do it.

As a noted car en­thu­si­ast, how did you feel about Maigret not be­ing al­lowed to drive?

The great frus­tra­tion about this is that if there is one thing that Maigret never does, it is drive. He is al­ways driven, or he gets the train or he gets the bus. I was say­ing, maybe we might ring the changes for the 21st cen­tury and stick him in a car. They were like, ‘Well, you can if you want but there will be lots of Maigret devo­tees and fol­low­ers who won’t like it’. So he’s a non-driver.

The sto­ry­telling of Maigret Sets

A Trap was quite old-school and tra­di­tional. Is that how you in­tend to con­tinue?

It is very lin­ear sto­ry­telling and maybe that is not the fash­ion. But what I would say is that the Maigret sto­ries are all very dif­fer­ent and not at all for­mu­laic. I’ve read about 10 of the orig­i­nal nov­els, and one has Maigret in bed for the en­tirety of the story and his wife run­ning around solv­ing the case. Si­menon could be very brave like that; you never quite know what you’re go­ing to get. Cer­tainly in the sec­ond film, it is a more un­pleas­ant and dark story with a dif­fer­ent tone and feel­ing.

Maigret’s Dead Man will air on ITV1 later this year, fol­lowed by a DVD of both films.

Rowan Atkin­son puffs on the iconic pipe ofchief In­spec­tor Jules­mai­gret.

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