Rachel Davis sits down with Rowan Atkinson and Will Davis to discuss the art of physical comedy and the making of their new Man vs. the Bee series.
Trevor Bingley lives in an incredibly luxurious tech home with a mischievous dog, several priceless pieces of art, extremely valuable items, and a strict owner’s manual. The last thing Trevor Bingley needs is a buzzing bee that bothers him.
Yet one such black and yellow insect seems to be taking revenge on Trevor, causing all sorts of misfortune and mischief. But is the bee really after him, or does it just seem to Trevor that she’s trying to ruin his life?
King of physical comedy Rowan Atkinson sees him play the role of Trevor, who has taken a job as a housekeeper in the new Netflix series Man vs. the Bee, after the breakup of his marriage. Trevor is infuriated by a bee that will not leave him alone – and the consequences are disastrous.
“We liked the idea of a housewife who is clearly not qualified enough for her job, which was to look after a very wealthy couple’s home full of extremely valuable items. It seemed like a fun idea,” explains Atkinson.
While fans of Mr. Bean may notice some similarities between him and Trevor, the 67-year-old actor says his new character is more gentle and sincere than other roles in his portfolio, such as Bean or Johnny English.
“It’s pretty rare for me to play a really good-natured, sweet character because Mr. Bean is certainly not like Johnny English – he’s another kind of self-absorbed weirdo,” he says.
The comedy in Man vs. the Bee is very physical and visual, as you would expect from a comic book dubbed The Rubber Faced Man. While many of Atkinson’s comedies are more language-driven, visual comedy is what he says has always inspired him.
“I guess it has to be a combination of some skills and abilities and an interest in the discipline of visual comedy,” Atkinson says when asked why the comedic style suits him so well.
“I have always been inspired by visual comedians, and especially by a French comedian named Jacques Tati. I remember watching his old films when I was very young and that was a big inspiration.”
Atkinson created Man vs. the Bee with Will Davis, who previously worked with the writer on Johnny English. Davis says the star was meticulous about making sure every joke was genuine, thoughtful, and most importantly, believable.
“Rowan will never sacrifice shared reality, wherever you present it on the show, for the sake of laughter,” explains Davis.
“He always says, ‘Well, is it real? Is that how microwaves work? What does a microwave power cord look like? Will it shut down if you yank it out like that?” he adds, referring to the scene in the show where Trevor tries to catch a bee in the microwave.
“It has to be justified and it has to be based on logic. Rowan tries every joke in rehearsal, building it up over days and days and days.
“Sometimes it’s hard to believe that it was based on logic and it’s based on reality when you see what happens at the end, but the process from the inside is that you start with what really works and then you build from that. every time.”
In Man vs. the Bee, some of Atkinson’s performances were made up that day—”Most of them I just acted stupid,” he says of the scene where the bee crawls up his pants leg—although his usual method is to that he “rehearses things to be an inch from their lives”.
“In Man Vs Bee, we have this idea: we want to put a bee in a microwave oven. How is he going to trap her in the microwave? What is the mechanics of this? And you’re sitting in a rehearsal room with props and little kitchen appliances. and you’re trying to work it out long before filming starts,” Atkinson explains.
“But the physicality process – unfortunately you usually have to go through it all over again as soon as you get on a real set and all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Oh wait, that won’t work because the bee is in the wrong place. end of the room.” And then the trouble starts again.”
Atkinson’s meticulous approach to physical comedy certainly pays off, but it can also be very stressful, he says.
“Whatever I do, I always think I can do it better,” he says.
“It’s stressful. Just the feeling, “It was okay, but there’s definitely something better.” I’ve always felt that, in every role I’ve played.”
Atkinson says that because he takes such an integrated approach to production, he finds “it’s not a pleasant experience at all” – instead, post-production is the part he really enjoys.
“The meat in the sandwich is the terrible part,” he explains. “Bread slices on both sides are fine, pre-production and post-production, but production is not fun at all.
“And of course, this is the part where I have to be good! But acting is never easy for me.”
It has been speculated that the concept of Man vs. the Bee is ripe for a sequel that could involve all sorts of creatures and objects, but Atkinson says he tends to take “a lot of decompression time post-project” and he “can’t have fun.” idea to do something, something like that for a long time.”
“But over time, maybe I will become more sympathetic to this idea,” he adds.
“I think since we’ve known Rowan, we’ve always been like, ‘Okay, that’s it, I’ll never do that again,'” Davis laughs.
“And one day, of course, it will be true. But Chris (Clark, Executive Producer) and I tend to be skeptical about it, so we really hope it doesn’t happen.
“We definitely feel like Trevor is a character with a lot more to do with, and ultimately, we hope Rowan gets bored enough with his cars…”
“I would say never say never,” adds Atkinson.
Man vs. the Bee hits Netflix on Friday, June 24th.