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Man Vs Bee: Rowan Atkinson on his new Netflix series

Housesitting an incredibly lavish, technological home with a mischievous dog, several pieces of priceless art, extremely valuable objects and a strict instruction manual from its owners, the last thing Trevor Bingley needs is a buzzing bee pestering him.

Rowan Atkinson as Trevor Bingley in Man vs Bee
Rowan Atkinson as Trevor Bingley in Man vs Bee

And yet one such black and yellow insect seems to have a vendetta against Trevor, causing all sorts of mishaps and mischief. But is the bee really after him, or is Trevor just imagining that it’s trying to ruin his life?

King of physical comedy Rowan Atkinson’s new Netflix series, Man Vs Bee, sees him play the role of Trevor who, in the wake of a marriage breakdown, has taken a job as a housesitter. Trevor becomes infuriated with a bee who just won’t leave him alone – and the consequences are disastrous.

“We liked the idea of a housesitter who was clearly under-qualified for the job he had, which was to look after a very wealthy couple’s house full of extremely valuable objects. That felt like a funny idea,” Atkinson explains.

Though fans of Mr Bean may notice some similarities between him and Trevor, the 67-year-old actor says that his new character is more gentle and sincere than other roles in his portfolio such as Bean or Johnny English.

“To play a genuinely good-natured, sweet character is quite rare for me, because Mr Bean certainly isn’t, Johnny English isn’t – he’s another sort of self-consumed weirdo,” he says.

The comedy in Man Vs Bee is very physical and visual, as one might expect from a comic dubbed “the man with the rubber face”. While plenty of Atkinson’s comedy is more reliant on language, visual comedy is something he says he’s always been inspired by.

“I guess it must be a combination of some skill and aptitude, and an interest in the discipline of visual comedy,” Atkinson says when asked why he’s so suited to the comedic style.

“I’ve always been inspired by visual comedians, and particularly by a French comedian called Jacques Tati. I remember watching his old movies when I was very young, and that was a great inspiration.”

Atkinson created Man Vs Bee with Will Davies, having worked with the writer previously on the Johnny English series. Davies says the star was meticulous about ensuring that every single gag was authentic, thought-out and, most importantly, plausible.

“Rowan will never sacrifice the overall reality, wherever you’ve pitched that in the show, for the sake of one laugh,” Davies explains.

“He’s always going: ‘Well, is that real? Is that how microwaves work? What does the power cord of a microwave look like? Would it come unplugged if you pulled it out like that?’,” he adds, referring to a scene in the show which sees Trevor try to trap the bee in a microwave.

“It has to be grounded and has to be based on logic. Rowan tries out each joke in the rehearsal space, building it up over days and days and days.

“Sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s been grounded in logic, and it’s based in reality, when you see what happens at the end, but the process from inside out is that you start with what would really work, and then you build up from that each time.”

On Man Vs Bee, some of Atkinson’s performance was invented on the day – “most of that was me just being silly”, he says of a scene where the bee gets into his trouser leg – though his usual method sees him “rehearse things to within an inch of their lives”.

“In Man Vs Bee we have this idea of: we want to put the bee in a microwave. How’s he going to trap him in the microwave? What’s the mechanics of that? And you sit in a rehearsal room with props and little kitchen units and you try and work it out long, long before shooting,” Atkinson explains.

“But the process of working out the physicality – unfortunately you tend to have to go through it all over again once you get on the real set and suddenly think: ‘Oh, hang on, this isn’t going to work because the bee’s at the wrong end of the room’. And then the difficulty starts again.”

Atkinson’s meticulous approach to physical comedy certainly pays off, but he says it can also be very stressful.

“Whatever I do, I always think I can do it better,” he says.

“That’s a stressful thing. Just feeling: ‘That was OK, but surely there’s something better out there’. I’ve always felt this, in every part I played.”

Because he takes such a comprehensive approach to production, Atkinson says he finds that “it’s not a pleasurable experience at all” – instead, post-production is the part that he really enjoys.

“The meat in the sandwich is the horrible bit,” he explains. “The bits of bread either side are fine, pre-production and post-production, but the production is no fun at all.

“And, of course, it’s the bit that I’m supposed to be good at! But the acting bit I never find easy at all.”

It’s been suggested that the concept of Man Vs Bee is ripe for a sequel which could involve all manner of creatures and objects, but Atkinson says he tends to need “a lot of decompression time after a project”, and “can’t entertain the idea of doing something, anything like it for a long time”.

“But with the passage of time, maybe I’ll become more sympathetic to the idea,” he adds.

“I think as long as we’ve known Rowan, it’s always been: ‘Right, that’s it, I’m never doing it again, ever’,” laughs Davies.

“And one day, of course, that will be true. But Chris (Clark, executive producer) and I tend to be sceptical, so we very much hope that it won’t be.

“We definitely feel like Trevor is a character that there’s a lot more stuff to do with, and ultimately, we hope that Rowan will get bored enough with his cars…”

“I’d say never say never,” adds Atkinson.

Man Vs Bee lands on Netflix on Friday, June 24.

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