After an eight year gap, super-spy Johnny English returns to cinema screens this Friday in the action and gag packed Johnny English Reborn.
We caught up with star Rowan Atkinson at the film’s London press conference to discuss the long-awaited return of Britain’s funniest secret agent:
It’s been eight years since the first Johnny English film, when did you decide to revisit the character?
I think we always wanted to return to him, immediately after the first movie in 2003 there was a thought we could do a sequel, that there was another, possibly better film to be made in a different way.
The first script meeting I remember attending for this film was in 2004 and we worked on it for a year or so and then we decided to abandon it and make Mr Bean’s Holiday instead.
And then I played Fagin in the West End in 2009 and then eventually we got around to picking up the baton again with the intention of doing a sequel.
So I’m sorry it’s taken so long!
How involved were you in each stage of the film’s production and did this influence the gap between the two Johnny English films?
One of the problems I have is the need to be part of the process from the very beginning to the very end. I sometimes yearn for a world in which an actor just turns up for six weeks, does his bit and then goes away and makes another film.
Because I tend to be part of the script writing process and then there’s the shooting and then the post-production, which tends to dribble on for months and months, and I tend to want to be part of that and want to contribute to all those sections of the production and it means the project turns into years rather than months.
So even if I made films back to back I would probably only make them every three years, so if you want to do anything else – if you want to do a bit of theatre or take time off – then inevitably it is going to be every four or five years that the films appear.
But you can’t go on like that forever, that rate of production is quite slow so eventually I will just run out of time.
The tone of action films have changed since English’s last adventure, has this influenced the style of the new film ?
I guess we have been subconsciously influenced by the changes that have taken place in Bourne and Bond.
I think it’s probably easier creatively to plan a new Johnny English movie than planing a new James Bond because Bond is this constant creative challenge of a character that was created in the 1950’s, a glamourous figure of the cold war and you’re constantly having to adapt it for a new world.
I don’t envy the people in charge of James Bond their task.
The Royal Family feature in a lot of your work and the Queen appears in this film, can you tell us why that is?
The reason the Royal Family have appeared quite a lot in jokes I’ve been involved with over the past 30 years is because it’s a great and revered institution where certain conventions of behaviour are expected.
If you can put in the middle of those conventions a character who can behave unconventionally then you have the potential for a joke…
Has the film’s final scene scuppered your chances of a knighthood?
I don’t know!
It’s not something one should ever have an ambition for is it? One should discretely not talk about and then express surprise and joy when it arrives, so I think I’m not going to pass any comment!
Has the character of Johnny English changed between the two films?
I think the way we present him is more three dimensional, he’s more engaging and I think you root for the character more than you did in the first film.
I think you want him to succeed, you think he’s a good bloke who deserves it because he may not be as good as he thinks he is, which is his fatal flaw, but at the same you know he means well.
He wants to succeed for Queen and Country which is what he does to the Queen is so horrific, from his and our point of view!
Which of the film’s gadgets would you most like to own?
I think the one which changes your registration number from inside the car. I know it’s just a steal from Goldfinger but slightly more hi-tech…I think think I could find that useful!
How do you think the two Johnny English films compare?
I get the feeling that that this film is, by any objective measure, a better film than the previous one and because of its extra size and glamour and engagement I think it’s contemporary enough to have a greater impact in the film world than the first movie.
Johnny English Reborn is released across the UK on October 7th.