Bean, the movie derivation of the immensely popular Mr Bean
television show, may indeed have taken over $1 million in its
first weekend at the Australian box office, but for its director,
actor/writer Mel Smith, it was a case of the film that almost got
away. "I'd never been a huge fan of the TV series, nor had I
ever directed any of the TV shows. I also hadn't touched base
with Rowan for quite a while and besides, I kinda assumed that it
was underway and all the people appointed to work on it. It never
crossed my mind that it would come up."
But old pal Atkinson did contact Smith. "They'd been
working on ideas for a script for some years before they
contacted me, and I think they needed some sort of a sounding
board." Smith might not have been "the world's number
one Bean fan", but he was intrigued enough with the film to
stick with it. "It was important from the outset that all of
us concerned with the film would have to REALLY want to do it,
and therefore be very hard on ourselves in the way the character
would reach the big screen."
"We always knew that,
ultimately, if you try and make a movie that is movie-sized,
you're going to be interested in the American market."
Some conscious changes were made to Bean's character and
situation. "We knew we had to do little bits with the
character, such as give consequences to his actions." They
also had to broaden the film's appeal, so a cynic might argue
that setting it in Los Angeles was more to do with marketing than
art. "I think it's a mixture of both and to say anything
else would be a lie. But having said that, it's not as if we all
sat around and said: now we've GOT to appeal to Americans. We
always knew that, ultimately, if you try and make a movie that is
movie-sized, you're going to be interested in the American
In the movie, Bean, a lazy art gallery security guard, is sent
to Los Angeles by scheming colleagues wanting to be rid of him,
to be taken for a brilliant doctor and art expert, there to
lecture on an important American painting acquired and returned
‘home’. Bean stays with the gallery's curator, and
subsequently causes mayhem at every turn.
"I wanted the film to
be a little bit surprising, as well as rich and buffed
"Filmically, it was great to shoot in Los Angeles because
of the contrast it provided. If you look at the TV show, it is
fundamentally grey, suburban and lots of close-ups. I wanted the
film to be a little bit surprising, as well as rich and buffed
up." He also allowed the character to speak more than TV
audiences are used to.
"It would have been deadly boring otherwise." And
how did the American actors react to working with the inimitable
Mr Atkinson? "Well, surprisingly, they were all great fans
of his, so they took to it all like ducks to water."
After university, Smith went into professional theatre,
working as a straight theatre director for six years, an
experience, which left him bitter after a falling out with the
New Vic theatre company. "I had nothing to do so I'd written
this two-man show with this mate of mine who was an actor, and we
took it to the Edinburgh Festival. That's when my performance
juices finally started flowing."
"It really was
life-changing. If it hadn't been for that, I'd probably be
out running the Royal Shakespeare Company."
Smith gained some notoriety on the trend-setting comedy
"Not the Nine O'Clock News" (1979-82) with Griff
Rhys-Jones, Pamela Stevenson and Rowan Atkinson. The series was
an irreverent satirical revue that ran the gamut from purely
tasteless to memorably brilliant. "I took that job, as much
as anything else, because I was offered 100 pounds a program to
do it, and I was out of work at the time." Which was
fortunate, and it certainly was an experience that changed his
life. "It really was life-changing. If it hadn't been for
that, I'd probably be out running the Royal Shakespeare
Smith teamed with Rhys-Jones to write and star in the
top-rated sketch comedy program Alas Smith and Jones, now in its
11th season, "and I'm pleased to say that it's still at the
top of the ratings."
Smith played character parts in films before making the
transition to feature directing with "The Tall Guy"
(1989), a pleasantly quirky comedy starring Jeff Goldblum and
Emma Thompson: "I'm credited with being the first director
to get Emma to get her gear off."
(No such luck with Bean, eh? -