Without a smile. As you know, the most talented comedians usually live like this. Rowan Atkinson is a classic example. An English gentleman in a buttoned all-button suit with his own 18th-century castle and a collection of rare cars – it’s hard to imagine that his middle name is “Mr. Bean” and the third is “Johnny English”.
Mr. Bean rarely smiles, and Johnny English doesn’t do that at all. This cannot be said to be Rowan Atkinson’s personal invention – in the end, Buster Keaton made himself the name “comedian with a stone face.” But in the case of Rowan, it was not a calculated move, but a mask under which he hid most of his life.
Rowan became a comedian for exactly the same reason school jesters were born. His childhood and youth were rather bleak: classmates teased a stuttering child of strange appearance. Atkinson had several nicknames, of which Cabbage Head is the most innocent. To survive, the guy chose a special tactic – he stopped responding to his offenders, and suffered all the bullying with a serious impenetrable face.
So from the two popular versions, where did Mr. Bean come from – whether he was a copy of Rowan’s older brother or Rowan himself in childhood – we choose the second. “This guy is all 9 years old in me,” says Atkinson. “He thinks only of himself, he has no manners, he is not socially adapted, but at the same time he is cute, naive and does not hold any evil”.
Rowan “keep evil” was very difficult. Unlike classmates, he was not “born with a silver spoon in his mouth”: he could not boast that he was rich from birth, had connections and a good pedigree. His parents were representatives of the middle class, the “working bone”, they saved up a small fortune with their labor, at the fruit and brick trade.
Atkinson and his two older brothers (he was a third, but he died a baby) received the best education of those that dad and mom could afford (in one of his schools, only a class above, the future Prime Minister Tony Blair studied). But, alas, the boys with whom the comedian studied did not really appreciate such “upstarts”: he was not like them, which means he was an outcast.
To part with this mask, Rowan was just as hard as Mr. Bean with his beloved bear, and therefore Atkinson continued to “give Bean” after school, while studying at the university. He studied not as an actor, but as an electrical engineer – a normal serious profession, not like some. But as his close friend (and, by the way, best man at his wedding) said Stephen Fry: “Once the Almighty discovered that he had not used up a 10-year supply of comic talents and decided to joke to give all this stuff to the most inappropriate carrier for him. The Lord looked from heaven to the north-east of England, saw a shy, zealous young man meditating on tractors and transistors, and filled him with this supply of talent to the top. ”
At the age of 17, Rowan, on trial, performed at the Edinburgh Festival. And a few years later, receiving a master’s degree in electrical engineering in Oxford, I met the future director and screenwriter Richard Curtis.
By the way, Curtis also had nothing to do with show business – at the university he studied classical English literature. And the future composer Howard Goodall is a world religion. But sometimes a story is born in the student dormitories of Oxford – it was there, for example, that the first members of the comedy group Monty Python met a decade earlier.
Atkinson, Curtis and Goodall also became the “gang” and regulars of the Edinburgh “Fringe” (the world’s largest art festival, held since 1947 in August, – THR). Curtis usually wrote scripts for performances, Goodall came up with musical arrangements, and Atkinson went out in public. There they were seen by television producer John Lloyd, who decided that Rowan, with his talent and the image of the infantile freak “could become more popular than Chaplin.” He invited the whole team to participate in the comedy show “Not nine-hour news” – and this was the beginning of great success.
Atkinson will do a lot more with his former dormitory companions (Curtis will call him in the movie Four Weddings and One Funeral, write scripts for the Black Viper series, and Goodall will become his permanent composer, from Mr. Bean to the last Johnny English ) But still, Atkinson, continuing to play the role of a single marginal both in real life and on stage, chose not to share his fame. His films, his series, his performances are always solo.
The success of Mr. Bean and later Johnny English is easy to explain: Rowan Atkinson played on the national characteristics of the English character. Bean and English – this, of course, is a cartoon, a caricature, but only in part: it is worth recognizing that we imagine the inhabitants of Misty Albion as such. Bean is selfish, arrogant, infantile, with an impossible character. English is the same, but in the public service. The first looks down on the neighbors on the street, the second on the whole world.