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Rowan Atkinson • Actor

Johnny English, 007 to make you laugh

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- Mr Bean is on His Majesty’s service: “I’m just a bit more clumsy and awkward in comparison with James Bond. But, in the end, the mission is accomplished”

Rowan Atkinson • Actor

His name is English, Johnny English: profession, Secret Agent. It’s impossible to compare him to his illustrious predecessors. He is unique: he doesn’t stop in the face of any danger and he takes every difficulty on the nose. Literally.
Of course, although the word “error” isn’t “part of his vocabulary”, even Britain’s most improbable Secret Agent makes mistakes: in fact it can happen when he parachutes off the wrong skyscraper and doesn’t know the right way to use the technology he has at his disposal. But, in the end, thanks to his enthusiasm, only matched by his inadequacy, and with the valuable collaboration from his faithful secretary Bough (played by Ben Miller) and Special Agent Lorna Campbell (Natalie Imbruglia), the clumsy English manages, for better or worse, to accomplish his mission, saving the precious crown jewels.
During a visit to Rome to promote the film (by Peter Howit), Rowan Atkinson, who plays the ‘versatile’ Johnny English, talks about his new cinematographic adventure, which is being released simultaneously in Italy, Germany, Spain and Britain, on April 11.

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Is there a big difference between the mute character of Mr Bean and the talking Johnny English?
“Not much. Underneath it all there’s still a very strong reliance on the comedy of the image. Also in this film, the humour comes from the situations in which the character finds himself, and in a certain way, the dialogue ends up by being only a support to the action”.
Was your 007 inspired more by Roger Moore or by the parodies in comic strips like ‘Mad Magazine’ for example?
“In reality, Johnny English isn’t really a parody. We didn’t make use of all the opportunities open to us to have fun or to stress the comedy. Obviously there’s a comic intention, but we didn’t want to make funny scenes all the time.
The James Bond’s that I admire certainly include those played by Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan. But I can say that I was more inspired by Roger Moore’s Bond: his imperturbable fascination, his calm and tranquil smile in every occasion. Then my character is also much more like the one from the pages of Fleming’s books, who isn’t a cinematographic super-hero. He’s much more clumsy and awkward, and he makes stupid mistakes, falling into traps because, instead of thinking, he’s beguiled by flattery”.

But is the film Johnny English really based on the adverts for Barclays Bank made at the end of the 1990s?
“Yes. They went down very well with the public and they were seen as mini-films. Though to go from the adverts to a feature length film wasn’t a piece of cake”.

At a time of obvious tension between France and Britain, isn’t the fact that the British Johnny English ridicules the French Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich), who wants to crown himself King, slightly provocative?
“To tell the truth the relationship between France and Britain hasn’t been good for at least 250 years. But I hope that the public will put aside the daily problems of war to enjoy the film. It’s not about the English taking revenge on the French. It’s just a comedy that wants to make people laugh and relax, playing on the stupidity and inadequacy of all the characters in the film”.

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