Rowan Atkinson talks Maigret and why he will never retire Mr Bean

ITV recently commissioned a new one hour programme of the notable detective “Maigret” starring Rowan Atkinson which true family classic and remarkable television drama played by memorable actors in the past, such as: Rupert Davis, Michael Gambon and many others.

The newly cast actor playing dectective “Maigret” is Rowan Atkinson, who is globally recognised by many as “Mr Bean” and as Edmund Blackadder from the sitcom “Blackadder”.

Rowan Atkinson

MarkMeets had the honour of being invited to hear what Rowan Atkinson and John Simenon (son of George Simenon, the original author) had to say about the commission of Maigret.

Rowan, I know you’ve been a big Simeneon fan for ages. What drew you to play the role of ‘Maigret’?
RA: Well, I don’t know. The idea just popped up. It wasn’t my idea to redramatise a maigret for the 21st century. It was an idea that came from ITV contacted and from the production company and they contacted me and asked me if I fancied playing the role.

It took me a long time to decide. In fact I decided not to. That’s my recollection. I thought about it for some time, weeks. Then it went away for a while and then they sort of came back and said ‘are you sure you don’t want to play him’. Then I thought about it for some time again and decided I would.

I mean the problem with this is, you can not decide to play the leading role in a mainstream ITV drama. Without being reasonably certain that you can play the part. At least, you know, possibly as well as it can be played.

Rightly or wrongly. I did thought I could do more than have a go at it.   

What was it about the character, that appealed though?
RA: Well, the very challenge I found difficult was the decision to do it. The character is a very ordinary man and generally speaking I haven’t played many ordinary men, or old men, or people with a sort of clearer, you know, more characterised people.

Maigret hasn’t got a limp, or a lisp and he hasnt got a french accent. And he doesnt have a particular love of opera or all those other things that people tend to attach to many fictional dectectives. He’s just an ordinary guy doing an ordinary job, in a very interesting time. In the mid 50’s. Paris in the mid 50’s was a very interesting place. Only 10 years after the third … had left, a city of wash and guns and guns and racketeering and all sorts of interesting hangovers from a difficult time in french history.

So it’s an interesting time to be a police man. So the job is interesting and the task is difficult, but the man is just a decent man who is doing a very ordinary job. But, it was the challenge of that I found daunting, but also engaging and interesting.

John, when you were approached by the subject what made you think Roman would be perfect for this role?
JS: Well, Maigret is not that ordinary in that in my mind. I think there are three words that characterise him well: humanity, empathy for the victims and to a large extent for the criminals, and a touch of vulnerability as well. When I met Roman the first time, it was obvious, that he had all these qualities. It was just up to him to decide whether he was going to go and do it. But, I never had any doubts about it. When, I see the picture again, I knows that I was right.

What made you think the time was right to make it again? It’s been a while, hasn’t it.
JS: In the UK? Well, yes. It was just a while I think. Maigret is coming back to this country thanks to the work of penguin. It was a good opportunity to put him back here where he’s been translated already since the 30’s. But it was good opportunity to give him a new public, and, to take away most importantly the dust and old varnish that accumilated on who Maigret is or about. I think this is an opportunity to bring Maigre back like when you paint that nice painting. This is what we are trying to do.

Question to Rowan. Have you seen any previous reincarnations of Maigret (like with Michael Gambit, Rupert Davis or Richard Harris), or, whether you decided not to use them at all?
RA: Yes. I did see most of those actors you mentioned. I saw a little bit of Michael Gambit doing it. It’s interesting. Everything is of its time. Which is why this is a new project even though the stories are old. Everything with the film is seen as new. You have write it, style it, direct it all, so it fits the 21st Century. It’s a period drama, it’s got to be true to it’s period. But all of these are a matter of gentle tweaking and redefinition. You redefine it for a new century.

I’m not sure I’ve learnt much from watching previous incarnations other than you do things very differently at different period’s of history.

So much of Maigret is about his smoking. Given how attitudes of smoking have changed over the years and transmission’s in certain parts around the world. Was there any conversation over toning down the smoking?  
JS: I’ve seen many actors play Miagret. But you’re one who really made him believable. You mostly smoked the pipe like my father used to. Let me make it clear here that the pipe is essential to Maigret. If some one thought of getting rid of the pipe altogether then the show would not have taken place.

Mr Bean
You mentioned that you are retiring characters like ‘Mr Bean’ and moving into more serious roles. Is this a symbol of your next step?
No, I don’t really have plans like that. You sort of go with the parts that are offered to a certain extent or the parts that inspire you. I wouldn’t want to say I finally waved goodbye to any character as if I could still play him. It’s just you tend to… the emphasis tends to shift. But I don’t think you should be to absolutist about what you play and what you don’t play.

What I never thought, prior to 2008, I always said I would never play a part that had been played before. Because no one had played Mr Bean before or Blackadder before or Johny English or any of these things. They are roles you create. Then, I got offered the role of Fagin in the revival of the musical Oliver, and I thought that’s a funny thing to do and it has been played before extremely successfully on film and on stage. But I shouldn’t let that stop me having a go. So, yet again I broke my own rule by having a go, playing Maigret.

The one thing I would never wish to be thought is that you play serious roles in order to achieve some kind of respectability which you can’t or it’s more difficult to get if you are playing comedy roles. I think it quite weird that the arts community still have a long lasting cynisim of the importance or the artist value of comedy. Comedy is just farting about for money. [Crowd laughs]. Whereas if you are playing a serious role now you’re an actor now you’re doing something of a meaning.

You know, art is something that nobody laughs and nobody makes any money out of. Which is an attitude I would dispute. Which is why I’m not looking for anything other than an interesting role to play. [Crowd laughs]. When you play a serious role, as far as I’m concerned I feel like I’m using exactly the same skills, whatever they are, to play the role as you do when playing something more comic. It’s slightly different, but the same skillset.

It was filmed in Budapest, but you wouldn’t know it was Paris. Any particular reason why it was not filmed in Paris?
Paris, wasn’t much like it was in the 1950’s. However, Budapest was much like Paris in the mid 1950’s, where you can actually find grass growing up between the cobbles. In the streets you would never find that in a parisien cobble street, even if the street is still cobble. So awful lot of street furniture and things which you find in Western Europe, but you don’t find in eastern Europe.

Budapest has european architcture so that is true and consistent with Paris. But at the same time it’s not quite parisien. Also what you see on wide shots has been put in using C.G.I. Also, you’ll be unsurprised to hear that it is cheaper.

How long did you spend in Budapest?
Each film takes 5 weeks. We made 2 films. There’s another film which you haven’t seen, that is in post production and may be shown later on in the year.

Rowan Atkinson and John Simenon mentioned the possibility of watching the follow up of Maigret will be this Autumn. If you’ve already seen the first programme. Tell us what you thought? Do you think the second programme will top it. Let us know on: @MarkMeets.

Article by: Ali Armian.

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