Why Rowan Atkinson doesn't read reviews

Why Rowan Atkinson doesnt read reviews

The celebrated actor takes on his most interesting role yet as Inspector Maigret and talks to City Times about character development



By Maan Jalal
 maan@khaleejtimes.com

Published: Sat 3 Jun 2017, 3:24 PM

Last updated: Mon 5 Jun 2017, 6:49 PM

Crime is seductive. The underbelly of society, the psychopathic tendencies of people, transgressions of passion, corruption, cover-ups, conspiracy theories - we can never get enough. We want to understand how it happens, why it happens and, most importantly, if we can figure it all out.

Often or not in literature, movies and TV shows, we put ourselves in the place of the detective, trying to gather clues and solve the murder before they do. With that thought in mind, throughout the long and rich history of television, detectives have come and gone, we've become jaded and much more shrewd in our observations of what makes a realistic alibi, a viable murder, the perfect crime and a real detective.

It's rather surprising when a fictional detective character who came to existence in the early 1930s should still fascinate and entice us. A lot of that has to do with the brilliant pieces of writing he exists in, how his stories have been translated from the book to the screen and finally, thanks to a flawless performance of the detective himself.
When we think of Rowan Atkinson, we can't help but remember his most iconic roles to date. From Blackadder, Zazu in The Lion King, Father Gerald in Four Weddings and a Funeral and Johnny English - all very strong comedic roles. To picture him in the role of a detective solving murders might have been a stretch to start with. But watch once scene and you forget its Rowan Atkinson who is acting. In fact, you don't see acting at all, you see a believable and engaging performance.
So what makes Jules Maigret different from all the other detectives we've come across? What's made him last the test of time?

"He is a very ordinary guy doing an extraordinary job," Rowan Atkinson told City Times in a recent interview.

The tales of detective Jules Maigret were written by Belgian author Georges Simenon who wrote 75 novels and 28 short stories featuring the infamous detective. That's a lot of material for Rowan Atkinson to work with.

City Times had a chat with Rowan Atkinson about his most interesting role to date, the pressure of playing such a well known character in a much examined genre and why he doesn't read reviews.


So what makes Jules Maigret different from all the other detectives we've come across? What's made him last the test of time?
"He is a very ordinary guy doing an extraordinary job," Rowan Atkinson told City Times in a recent interview.
The tales of detective Jules Maigret were written by Belgian author Georges Simenon who wrote 75 novels and 28 short stories featuring the infamous detective. That's a lot of material for Rowan Atkinson to work with.
City Times had a chat with Rowan Atkinson about his most interesting role to date, the pressure of playing such a well known character in a much examined genre and why he doesn't read reviews.

What do you think makes Chief Inspector Maigret different from other inspectors?
He's a TV detective, so to an extent it's a well ploughed furrow. There are a lot of them about. But Maigret is very different. He doesn't have any oddities about him. He's quite a plain man with a relatively simple life. He doesn't have a French accent or a lisp or a limp or a terrible home life or a sordid past. He is a very ordinary guy doing an extraordinary job.

What attracted you to the role?
He has the qualities to deal with what confronts him. It's that feeling of 'cometh the hour, cometh the man'. With Maigret, a murder has to be solved, and this is the guy who has got to do it. So you're automatically rooting for him. You do want him to succeed, so that helps. He's a goodie, not a baddie.

Do you feel pressure bringing to life a character that people know so well?
No. I never read reviews. They are normally annoying in some way. Very occasionally you get some perceptive truth, but normally in this day and age reviews are there for entertainment, and if you want to write an entertaining review, you've got to write a bad review. Good reviews are not entertaining. I just don't think it's relevant. I'm not really interested, with all due respect to those journalists here present, in what the media thinks. I'm interested in what I think. And I'm interested in what the people at whom the programme is aimed think. So viewing figures are very important for me and the general vibe about a programme.

Can you please expand?
To be distracted by someone criticising aspects that 90% of the viewers wouldn't register or be interested in anyway is not productive as far as I'm concerned. All press comment is relevant and interesting, but it's not that interesting to me. Also, there are a lot of sheep among reviewers because no one wants to be the odd man out. Otherwise people will say, "Why did you hate it when everyone else loved it?" They tend to want to go with the flow.

Do you feel the character of Maigret is developing with every series?
Yes. In sitcom, you need two-dimensional characters, because you don't want them to change or to learn anything. You want them to be the same at the beginning of the next episode as they were at the end of the last one. But drama is different. I'm trying to find more dimensions to Maigret than we have seen previously. It's the process of trying to find a three-dimensional character rather than a two-dimensional one. He hasn't changed. You just try to find new aspects of the character.

Would you compare that to the development of other characters you have played?
Yes. It's like Mr Bean. When I see him at the beginning of the first ever episode, and then in Mr Bean's Holiday, the last movie we did, he is quite different. He has developed and he is more multi-dimensional. Mr Bean is a case in point. We did three episodes before we gave him a flat, and then it was another three episodes before we gave him a friend, someone who would voluntarily spend time with him. You constantly think, "What about if we took this character and put him in this situation?" Every time you do that, you find out something else about him.

Tell us more.
It's like if you took a prisoner who had been inside for 10 years into the outside world. The outside world would be different and he would be different, and he would react differently. He would act differently with his family that he would with the prison guard. It's the nature of humankind to be different in different situations, even though we're still the same person.
 
Is the pipe crucial to playing Maigret?
Yes. The pipe and pipe-smoking is definitely a very important part of Maigret and his world and his attitude and his time. Certainly there was never any attempt to excise it. He is a very ruminative person and the pipe is a vital prop to emphasise that. Maigret might not have a limp or a lisp, but at least he's got a pipe!


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