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Culture

Mr. Bean: "I am not Funny"

The comedy "Mr. Bean" delighted audiences all over the world. Now British actor Rowan Atkinson is back -- this time in the role of a wanna-be James Bond. DW-WORLD spoke to the man who claims he "is not funny."

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The man with the rubber face

He is named in one breath with legendary comedians Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. His gawky figure and rubber-face has brought tears to the eyes of audiences all over the world. He is one of Britain's best-known comic creations, has become one of its most famous national institutions and has even made it to Hollywood. And the good news is: he's back.

Rowan Atkinson, alias the legendary Mr. Bean, is back on screen -- this time with a fresh, but no less funny figure. In the movie "Johnny English," Atkinson plays a British agent whose dream of becoming Britain's second James Bond comes horribly true. His attempts at saving the crown from the fangs of a French relative hungry for the throne see Atkinson and his trusty assistant Bough in all kinds of hilarious and haphazard situations -- in accordance with the motto of the film: "He knows no fear. He knows no danger. He knows nothing."

DW-WORLD had a word with the man who claims he is definitely " not funny":

Mr. Atkinson, a few weeks ago you were guest on the German entertainment show 'Wetten Dass' which included, among others, a pudgy, elderly German running across the stage dressed in not more than an apron. Does this sum up your impression of German humor?

Well, certain sectors of the British community would probably see it as typically German: sort of big, and silly….And in Britain there are a lot of people who don't know there is such a thing as a German comedian. To tell the truth I don't know any. But no….(Atkinson coughs)…. I didn't take it as the epitome of German humor.

What is it like promoting a funny film in times of war?

It feels very unfunny in the current situation. But I also think a lot about how and when it could become funny. When will the first joke over Basra be made? It takes a comedian to look at it from another angle. This may sound rather cynical. But a joke can not only make you laugh, it can reveal the truth, and can be inspiring. In particular, it can be a tremendous relief. Thinking about the comic in tragic situations is valuable, even after situations like the Sept. 11 attacks. Doing so helps deal with the situation.

So how important is humor at home for you, away from the stage?

Being able to laugh is very important. But the thought that I am funny is probably the biggest misconception around my person. A lot of people might think I'm really funny. But I'm not! And I hate to imagine that many people may think I am like Mr. Bean, who is a rather malicious character, self-centred and uncompromising. I hope that people think we are different….

Together with the scriptwriters, you developed the character British agent Johnny English for your new film. English is a man who gets everything horribly wrong, is clumsy, plagued by bad luck -- and is extremely funny due to his ability to mess everything up. Is he a follow-up of Mr. Bean?

Johnny English is a lot more demanding than Mr. Bean. Mr. Bean doesn't need an audience, but English does. And then there's the dialogue in Johnny English which is like a constant table-tennis game going on… Dialogue which is very pleasing actually. It was a lot less lonely than playing Mr. Bean!

The film addresses fundamental elements of the British political system, in particular one of its oldest institutions: the Queen, who, although no longer an executive monarch, is still formally the head of state, the commander-in-chief of all the crown's forces and must approve all legislation. Do you think the British monarchy has a future?

Oh, I am very much for the monarchy….it is so manifestly imperfect, and that is so intriguing. Many elements of the British monarchy work on an irrational level, but these are the sustaining things in life, things like art, music and love -- they are all irrational yet they lubricate life. For that reason, the crown is a fantastic source of comedy. For example, the fact that without the crown you cannot become king, that's fun, and simply fantastic. Whether it has a place in the modern world is another thing….

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