HomeThe Fine Art of Being Mr Bean


Q & A



: The Buffalo News
Author: Malcolm Ritter
Date: November 5, 1997

It's not easy being Bean. At least, not when the camera is rolling.

"I hate shooting," says Rowan Atkinson, a k a Mr. Bean, that bumbling, largely silent troublemaker who can start out stuffing a turkey and end up with the bird clamped on his head.

What could be wrong with acting silly on screen? It's the nagging feeling that he could be doing a better job of using his face and body to make Bean clear, focused and funny, Atkinson says.

After all, Bean is "a specific and complex creation" he wants to "present in a precise way."

Whoa. Few people would apply those words to a guy who blows peanuts out his nose.

But just spend a few minutes with Atkinson. At 42 and a shade under 6 feet tall, he speaks with the earnestness and quiet assurance of a gentleman. Where fans see things like an electric razor latching onto Bean's tongue while he shaves, Atkinson sees gags that sometimes have to be "subordinated to the thread of the narrative."

In fact, Bean himself is sometimes simply "the character."

Soon the reality settles in. Mr. Bean, that naughty 9-year-old boy trapped in the body of a grown-up, is portrayed by a man with a master's degree. In electrical engineering. From Oxford.

Atkinson wore a most un-Beanlike pinstripe suit the other day as he analyzed his character and his new movie, "Bean." Plugging the movie has taken him away from his beloved collection of fine automobiles back home in England, and he quickly dove into a full-color booklet of classic cars that was offered by a reporter. A red convertible reminded him of his own 1952 car that he hopes to race next year.

After a few pleasant moments among Ferraris, Jaguars and their pricey companions, he turned politely to the business at hand. In the movie, Atkinson plays Bean as a do-nothing employee of a British art museum who, believe it or not, is sent to a Los Angeles gallery to lecture as an art expert.

Before long, Bean has sneezed on the gallery's new crown jewel, the painting most people know as "Whistler's Mother." When he tries to clean up the mess he defaces the painting even further, and he launches an elaborate coverup to save himself and his new friend, a young curator. Of course, everything turns out fine, even the lecture.

Any fan of the Bean TV show, now seen on video, will notice two odd things about this plot. One is the idea of a lecture from Bean, who was virtually silent on television. The other is the notion that Bean would stick around in a jam, rather than just running away, and even make a friend.

But to go from a half-hour TV show to a full-length movie, Bean had to change.

Silence worked fine for the rapid-fire sketch humor of his TV show. But in a movie it would become distracting, especially for people new to the character. What's wrong with this guy? Doesn't anybody else in this movie notice?

"We didn't want the movie to be about the fact that Bean doesn't talk," Atkinson said.

So Bean speaks -- still not very much -- with a voice quality that falls somewhere between a benign growl and a creaking door. Where did that come from?

"I don't know, really. I've really just always enjoyed croaky tones," said Atkinson. "It seemed to fit the character. He has a slightly alien aspect to him."

As for Bean's sticking around after he's caused trouble, it was part of a plan to make him more of a fully rounded character who's believable on screen, if just barely.

"That's what you expect in movies, you need to believe more," Atkinson said. "We wanted to make a realistic movie with realistic characters."

So Bean had to actually develop relationships with some of those other people up there on the screen, rather than just use them as scenery and victims.

"For the first time he looks about and observes the pain and heartache he causes others," Atkinson said. And Bean sticks around to make things right. "He's never been that giving."

But let's not get carried away here.

"I would hate to think he moved from being basically a bad guy to a good guy," Atkinson said. "I have no desire for him to be a man with a warm heart."

The movie that emerged from all this needed one final fix. It had too many gags, hampering the flow of the narrative like boulders in a stream. "We kept cutting them out," Atkinson said. "The audiences didn't want them, they wanted to get on with the story."

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