“How Rowan Atkinson Changed From Mr. Bean”
In an interview with Lucy Cavendish of Living Scotsman, Atkinson says that Bean “fiddles and meddles like a child does” and “lacks social grace,” which is why audiences love him. He’s even called Bean “a self-centered, narcissistic anarchist,” so it makes sense that Atkinson decided to retire the character in 2011. In a discussion with BBC News, he revealed that he “always regarded Mr. Bean as ageless” and sincerely doesn’t want the character “to grow old.” In addition, Atkinson wants to be recognized for his body of work outside of Mr. Bean, like in the Johnny English franchise, his role in the great shows Blackadder and The Thin Blue Line, and now in his new Netflix series Man vs. Bee.
Rowan Atkinson Beyond Mr. Bean
The consistent theme between all of Atkinson’s roles is his physical comedy. In a discussion with Tanya Gold of GQ, Atkinson says that he was a “relatively introspective child who changed when he performed. [He] found a way of being extremely un-shy.” Within the same interview, Atkinson admits that he prefers to play people who are “useless” and who generally don’t know how to do anything. His characters in Blackadder, Johnny English, and Mr. Bean are all self-centered and think highly of themselves. In reality, Atkinson is the opposite. The actor is quite critical of himself, is a perfectionist, and must move a great distance to enter the headspace of these roles.
It can be difficult to picture him outside this realm, but Atkinson has flexibility. This is apparent in his part as the stalling jewelry clerk in Love Actually, a stoic perfectionist, or in his more recent role as iconic TV detective Chief Inspector Jules Maigret in Maigret. Both of these characters are what Atkinson calls “low-key” in comparison to his previous performances. But, speaking specifically about Maigret, Atkinson told The Guardian that he found the character challenging and thus eventually accepted the role. Atkinson has also played Mr. Mondavarious, the villain in the 2002 live-action Scooby-Doo, and the particularly nervous priest in Four Weddings and a Funeral.
It is refreshing to see Atkinson in these parts, since even in more “low-key” performances he maintains a comedic charm or, even without comic inflection, a kind of endearing warmth. More recently, he changed his mind about Mr. Bean and similar roles, deciding that he’s still open to the character. Atkinson told The Guardian that “you should not be too absolutist about what you do or don’t play,” therefore the actor has been making a return to slapstick, quiet comedy.
How Man Vs. Bee Came to Be
So, Atkinson has returned to his original mastery of physical comedy and the realm of helpless characters. In his new series, Man vs. Bee, Atkinson plays a clumsy father named Trevor. Trevor is a newly trained house-sitter who must care for an expensive smart mansion, which is controlled by various codes and voice activation. When Trevor encounters an aggressive bee in the home, he begins to damage the pricey decor in his wild chase after the insect. According to the GQ interview, Atkinson based Trevor on a character he played earlier in his career, a kidnap victim on the BBC show Not the Nine O’clock News. Trevor behaves similarly to the kidnap victim, gentle and not willing to speak poorly about his captors, but in the presence of an annoying bee, he lets loose.
In Man vs. Bee, Atkinson channels his passion for classic silent movies and wordless, slapstick comedy. Considering the aesthetic of Mr. Bean, it’s fair to say that Rowan Atkinson introduced silent comedy, through sketches with almost no dialogue, to modern audiences. He continues this mission in his role as Trevor. When asked about his own opinion of the show in his discussion with GQ, he says he takes the “glass half empty approach” and modestly admits that there are “some good moments.”
Nonetheless, Atkinson’s work in Man vs. Bee has brought his comedy to a new generation, and increased fan curiosity about his future projects and endeavors. In fact, people are already anticipating his appearance alongside Timothee Chalamet and Olivia Coleman in a new rendition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, called Wonka.
Atkinson will also return as Mr. Bean in a series in pre-production called Old Bean. While Man vs. Bee might not top Atkinson’s other performances, it does show that the actor has a lot more creativity and flexibility to offer. It looks like Rowan Atkinson fans will have a lot more to look forward to.
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