My Celebrity Life

Rowan Atkinson happy to finally play a nice guy in Man Vs Bee after ‘cynic’ Blackadder and ‘narcissistic anarchist’ Mr Bean

From Bean to Bee (Picture: Netflix)

They say you should never work with children or animals. But acting opposite a bee for his new series proved to be Rowan Atkinson’s lockdown skill.

‘It’s undoubtedly been my Covid project,’ he says, looking relaxed and happy as he promotes his new Netflix series, Man Vs Bee.

‘The first group meeting was three years ago and we shot it during Covid. The bee wasn’t there, which was probably the hardest thing. It was sometimes on the end of a rod, as we had the puppeteers who came in, so I was able to follow something. But a lot of the time you had to imagine it and we put the bee in afterwards. So it’s a slightly lonely experience but I’ve been there before.

‘It also meant when Tom Basden, who plays the policeman, turned up, it was fantastic because finally you could have another human being to act with. There was quite a lot of improvisation, which 
I invented on the day when normally 
I rehearse things to within an inch of their lives.’

It’s this meticulous attention to detail that has made Atkinson a comedy great. But this time his alter ego, Trevor Bingley, is simply one of the nicest characters he’s played.

‘Inevitably, if I’m going to be acting a character without words, you’re going to see something, like facial expressions, which occasionally are redolent of Mr Bean. But Trevor is quite different,’ he says.

‘We felt Mr Bean wouldn’t have been the right character for Man Vs Bee because he’s too much of a two-dimensional character, too much of a self-serving, narcissistic anarchist. And we wanted a slightly more rounded person.

‘And actually, to play a genuinely sweet character is quite rare for me. Because Mr Bean certainly isn’t, Johnny English isn’t – he’s another self-consumed weirdo! And Blackadder was a pretty inward-looking, natural-born cynic, which Trevor Bingley is not. His obsessiveness takes him into quite a dark and difficult place where he behaves extremely badly but, ultimately, Trevor’s an ordinary, good-natured guy.’

Trevor, separated from his wife Jess (Claudie Blakley) and trying to maintain a relationship with his teenage daughter Maddy (India Fowler), is clearly having issues when he rings the doorbell of the Kolstad-Bergenbattens (Julian Rhind-Tutt and Jing Lusi).

He has finally got a job as a house-sitter but his first appointment is for an exceptionally wealthy, house-proud pair, plus a dog with a nut allergy. Enter the bee, which he believes has got it in for him – and things start to go desperately wrong.

Man Vs Bee gives Rowan ample opportunity to show off his physical comedy skills (Picture: Elliot Berry / Netflix)

‘We liked the idea of 
a house-sitter who was clearly underqualified for the task of looking after 
a very wealthy couple’s house full of extremely valuable objects,’ says Atkinson. ‘And then the bee really became the catalyst to generate the story, to enable us to see him mistreating the house in different ways.’

The script was by Will Davies of Johnny English fame, with Atkinson in mind. But how did Atkinson find acting alongside a main cast of a dog and a bee? ‘The dog was occasionally tricky, as dogs often are,’ he says. ‘Very well trained, very sweet, but they’re easily put off.’

But Atkinson, of course, is an expert at physical comedy. ‘When we did Mr Bean for the first time, that was odd because no one had done purely visual comedy for 75 years,’ he says.

‘Blackadder was a pretty inward-looking, natural-born cynic, which Trevor Bingley is not’ (Picture: BBC)

‘But it was something that seemed to land with people, so I’m glad we did it, and Man Vs Bee is in that tradition. It’s something I find I can do and it’s physically demanding but physiotherapy is a marvellous thing to keep me vaguely able to do it.

‘Generally speaking, the mental and occasionally physical stress of playing Mr Bean, which is very real for me, is sort of similar for Trevor Bingley. It’s because I always think I can do it better and the job of making it funny is down to you.

‘Shooting is horrible, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s the bit I’m supposed to be good at. But I tend to need a lot of decompression time after a project, and with the passage of time maybe I’ll become more sympathetic to the idea.’

Man vs Bee is on Netflix from Friday.


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