SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read if you haven’t watched the latest episode of “Man vs. Bee” yet.
Three years ago, director David Kerr received an unexpected call from a former fellow producer, Chris Clark, with whom he had worked on the 2018 “Johnny English” sequel “Johnny English Strikes Again.” Clark had been developing an idea with “Johnny English” and “Mr Bean” star Rowan Atkinson and wondered if Kerr would be interested in directing the project.
“It was a very simple premise,” says Kerr Variety. “You have this man in a fancy house full of priceless artwork, with a little antagonist. But I can immediately see that this was potentially a wonderful vehicle for Rowan and his unique talent.
The next step was to get together with Atkinson, one of Britain’s most famous and reclusive comedians, in his garden (thanks to COVID-19 restrictions) to discuss Atkinson’s character Trevor, the tone of the show and “what the bee really meant”.
“It was really important to all of us that Trevor wasn’t just Mr. Bean,” Kerr says. “I mean, it’s obviously the same face and body that Rowan brings to both characters. But I think Trevor was meant to be a lot more of a real guy, really. He’s kind of a regular guy.
There’s also no doubt some similarity between Trevor, who “has a decidedly obsessive streak,” according to Kerr, and Atkinson himself. During a virtual press conference on Thursday, the comedian admitted that he always strives for perfection in his work, sometimes to his own detriment. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist,” Atkinson said. “But I firmly believe that perfectionism is as much a disease as it is a quality. I mean, I think it can be quite corrosive, it’s a thing that can just stress you out, when in fact, very often, you don’t need to be as stressed as I am.
“He’s amazing,” Kerr said. Variety of Atkinson. “He has a master’s degree in engineering, and he brings that kind of attention to detail to his performance; he is incredibly rigorous. Yet surprisingly, given he’s built a whole career on being funny, in a recent interview with The Times of London, Atkinson said he almost never laughs. “I rarely laugh, physically, out loud at anything,” he told the newspaper. “I can just see when [a joke] works.”
“It’s fair to say he’s incredibly serious about his comedy; he’s really methodical,” Kerr says when asked about Atkinson’s comments. “And he thinks a lot about his character.” Kerr also describes himself as “pretty precise” when it comes to planning and designing shots, which is likely why he found himself working with Atkinson on several occasions, on commercials as well as the ‘Johnny English’ sequel. .
Working with the bee was equally challenging, even though it was actually all CGI, made by animators at Framestore. “It put enormous pressure on us because it’s called ‘Man vs. Bee,’ so you better deliver the bee,” Kerr says of the need to make the insect compelling. “She’s the co-star. [Otherwise] you call the show “Man”.
From the start, the consensus was that the bee wasn’t a cartoon character: she wouldn’t be wearing a top hat or breaking the fourth wall “Fleabag” style. But equally, the bee needed some sort of anthropomorphic filter in order to both give him a connection to the viewers and give viewers a glimpse into Trevor’s spiraling mental state as his obsession takes hold. .
“Bees don’t make facial expressions,” Kerr explains. “So you can’t have a bee raising an eyebrow or puckering her lips [in] a smile or anything. So you rely on things like how well he rubs his antennae and cleans them or whether he leans on his hindquarters, or how fast or quietly he moves his wings.
“It’s those really subtle physical details that you rely on to express your attitude or suggest an emotion.”
Has Kerr now exhausted every possible bee storyline or is there a chance that Atkinson and his nemesis will be back for Season 2? “Both the man and the bee survive,” Kerr says. “So yeah, the possibility is there…ultimately it comes down to Rowan, who will rarely be rushed into anything.”
Kerr is aware that the humor in Johnny English movies and even “Man vs. Bee” isn’t to everyone’s taste. “I know the show, ultimately, will be seen by a lot of people as being stupid and kind of ‘low art’, frankly,” he says. “So it’s really a paradox that there’s an enormous amount of intellectual consideration given to these action items.”
While the show is undoubtedly carried by Atkinson’s Chaplin-esque physical humor, the plot – about one man’s obsession – can be found in even the greatest works of literature. “I like to think of ‘Man vs Bee’ as Moby Dick in miniature,” admits Kerr. “Instead of, you know, a huge whale, we’ve got a tiny Apian antagonist. And instead of Captain Ahab, we’ve got poor old Trevor. But there’s the same kind of obsessive quest power in every one of these And hopefully something of the epic sweep came to fruition in “Man vs. Bee.”