Rowan Atkinson is buzzing with excitement about playing a bumbling house-sitter who finds himself at war with an uninvited guest in the brand-new comedy Man Vs Bee.
Launching on Netflix, the almost-silent 10-parter follows down-on-his-luck dad Trevor Bingley who lands a job looking after a luxury mansion owned by pretentious couple Nina (Gangs of London star Jing Lusi) and Christian (Green Wing’s Julian Rhind-Tutt).
But as soon as they’re gone, a cunning bee lands on the scene and it’s up to Trevor to keep everything under control. Surrounded by priceless artwork, classic cars, the latest tech, and a cute dog called Cupcake, what could possibly go wrong?
Mr Bean and Johnny English star Rowan tells us more…
This premise sounds fun! How did the idea come about?
"We started with the basic idea of this man, Trevor, being stuck in a house for a week with a bee, but then you can think of endless mini-sketches of how Trevor would interact with it.
"We [Rowan created the show with Johnny English writer William Davies] carefully constructed the episodes, so that each one ended on a cliffhanger, which engages viewers to click through to the next episode.
"It’s a TV series but, at 100 minutes, I regard it more as a movie. People can either binge-watch it or watch in bite-sized 10 and 20 minute chunks."
Why choose a bee as Trevor’s nemesis?
"Bees are probably the only stinging insect that people really like. Bees are genuinely a positive contributor to society, even though you’ve got to be a little wary of them. They make honey and are very useful.
"It was also important to have a sympathetic and empathetic protagonist in our story."
What more do we discover about Trevor?
"We learn he’s a decent guy who clearly hasn’t always made a success of everything in his life. Trevor’s divorced from his wife Jess [Manhunt star Claudie Blakley], who has a certain view of him and his reliability, while his daughter Maddy [Safe’s India Fowler] thinks he’s a very sweet, good-natured man who’s got a few failings — one of which is his obsessive streak. Unfortunately, the bee becomes the target of his obsession, which leads to Trevor’s progressive downfall."
How important was it that Trevor was different from your legendary comedy character Mr Bean? And do you think people might make comparisons?
"I’d be surprised if people didn’t make comparisons because, ultimately, it’s me as a performer, in a largely non-verbal space just like Mr Bean. I’ve only got one face, and there’s a limited number of expressions it can pull.
"But I hope people see Trevor as a distinct character from Mr Bean. I think Trevor’s a more three-dimensional, believable, nicer man, whereas Mr Bean is a self-regarding, narcissistic, anarchist! Trevor isn’t like that.
"I can also confirm that at no point does Trevor end up with a turkey on his head!"
Do you share any similarities with Trevor?
"Oh yes, I’m terribly sweet-natured and kind. I hope I share some of Trevor’s nice qualities but not any of his odd traits. I certainly identify with Trevor more than I do Mr Bean."
As well as being targeted by a bee, Trevor also has to get to grips with a house full of modern technology. What are you like with tech?
"I’m pretty good. I have a degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, so I’m less intimidated by these gadgets than some people.
"Trevor’s got a mobile phone, so he’s not a complete technophobe, but I think he could easily get to grips with things if he wasn’t in such a pretentious and technically advanced household.
"I’d challenge anyone, let alone Trevor, to get their minds around the kitchen cupboards!"
What was it like working with the bee?
"We’d rely heavily on a computer-generated bee or, if it’s a scene where the bee is static, we’d have a little model bee on a table or something. But often I’d be given guidance from a puppeteer, a guy called Rob, from CGI company, Framestore.
"Rob would have this bee on the end of a rod and he had a very specific idea about how a bee flies. So my job was to follow the prop in response to how a bee would move. For example, your eyes cross more, the closer the bee is to your face. So I’d try and learn simple techniques like that."
And how did you find working alongside pooch Cupcake?
"Pixel, who plays Cupcake, was great but she could be very sensitive. In one scene, Cupcake eats something she shouldn’t and Trevor has to run towards the dog to stop her. But when I did that on set, the trainer would say, ‘She doesn’t like it when you run towards her. Could you come in from the side or something.’ And you think, ‘OK, I’ll try my best’.
"So Pixel wasn’t 100% reliable but always keen to please. She’s the star of the show."
Why do you think there aren’t more physical comedies like this on TV?
"Physical comedy tends to be more costly to produce than verbal comedy. Two people talking to each other is cheap, but as soon as you’ve got prop situations and computer-generated bees, it all gets very expensive, very quickly. Fortunately, we had a very generous budget. One of the most satisfying things about visual comedy is the family appeal; the fact it can be enjoyed across generations by parents and children."
Finally, you’ve enjoyed a long career in comedy. What’s the secret to being funny?
"Funny-ness is just exaggerated truth, isn’t it? So you’ve got to find the truth first, then exaggerate it. An audience has got to see truth in either the character you’re playing or the situation you’re in. That’s what people connect with."
Man Vs Bee lands on Friday, June 24 on Netflix.
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With over 20 years’ experience writing about TV and film, Vicky currently writes features for What’s on TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite Week magazines plus news and watching guides for WhatToWatch.com, a job which involves chatting to a whole host of famous faces. Our Vicky LOVES light entertainment, with Strictly Come Dancing, Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice UK among her fave shows. Basically, if it’s got a shiny floor, she’s all over it! When she’s not watching TV, you might find Vicky in therapy… retail therapy that is!