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As the inimitable Mr Bean, Rowan Atkinson has stumbled and bumbled into the minds and hearts of millions of devotees, so inevitably, the selfish master of TV mayhem moves to the movies. PAUL FISCHER sat down for an audience with someone he regards as one of the world's few comic geniuses.

It's hard to know what to expect when one comes face-to-face with a man who has made a living doing strange things with face and body, a real clown. Rowan Atkinson, in Australia for the worldwide launch of his farcical Bean movie, is impeccably attired in dark blue suit, with an air of quiet pensiveness. There's no hint of the anarchic and sardonic comic performer that one associates with the 41-year old Atkinson.

Bean began life as a visual sketch on stage, and two decades later his creator, Atkinson, has given him a presence on the big screen, having been determined to be rid of him on the small screen.

"I was bored with what we were doing with the TV series,"

"I was bored with what we were doing with the TV series, and felt that there was nowhere for him to go, even though I think the character had developed slightly throughout the series. It therefore seemed like a natural extension to THINK about a film." It was by no means one of those instant sessions where a movie version of Bean was put into place with assured alacrity.

"It took us quite a number of years of throwing around ideas until we reached the point of the movie we ultimately made. We felt as though we needed to put him in a very different environment to that in the television show." The environment in question is Los Angeles, no less, where Bean is mistaken for a brilliant art expert. "Setting the movie in Los Angeles gave us all a whole new creative impetus, which was absolutely necessary, so that we could be BOTHERED to make the film."

"Oh, they were all mad keen to be in it and managed to tune in on our wavelength."

Though some cynics might argue that setting the Bean film in LA was as much to do clever marketing than creative aesthetics, Atkinson says; "It would be wrong to claim that it was a disadvantage from the marketing point of view, but it certainly wasn't the main motivation to set it there." And it wasn't hard persuading Atkinson's American co-stars, such as ex-Chicago Hope's Peter MacNicholl, to get into Bean's swing of things. "Oh, they were all mad keen to be in it and managed to tune in on our wavelength."

It was also essential for both the sake of Atkinson's own creative processes as well as audiences, to do something different with Bean, to make him more of an accessible big-screen character, apart from sending him to the City of Angels. With that comes more depth and growth. "In doing a movie with a narrative structure, you NEED to have a character who develops and sort of acknowledges what's going on around him." Which could be a danger if fans of the series expect the selfish and consistently self-obsessed Bean to materialise in the movie.

"We'll have to see if they accept or reject it. I think anyone who enjoys the character should enjoy his development and extension. I think if we'd LEFT him as relentlessly, uncompromisingly self-centred as he always has been and someone who completely ignores the effects that his actions have on others, I think he would have come over as a rather unreal and dull character after 90 minutes. That's why we felt he HAD to have his own curve, there had to be highs and lows and a degree of ACCEPTANCE on his part, of responsibility for his own actions."

"As for another Bean adventure, who knows? Never say never is what I say."

So is this finally the end of the self-destructive Mr Bean? Mr Atkinson? "I have no doubt that after he sets foot outside of Los Angeles, he'll revert to his same old ways. As for another Bean adventure, who knows? Never say never is what I say."

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Rowan Atkinson at work in Bean

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