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Rowan Atkinson: I was stressed, tired and nervous throughout the entire shoot of Man Vs Bee

There's a real buzz around Netflix's new comedy series Man Vs Bee, which features Rowan Atkinson's character locked in battle with a bee. Jenny Lee hears from the Blackadder star about his latest role, the stress of perfectionism, how he bagged a classic car from the set and why playing Mr Bean wasn't his favourite job

Netflix’s new comedy is about bumbling dad Trevor Bingley trying to get the better of a cunning bee while house-sitting in a posh mansion

THE job of house-sitting a posh mansion should be an enjoyable and simple enough task. That is until Trevor Bingham, who has recently had a marriage breakdown, becomes infuriated with a bee that just won't leave him alone.

Surrounded by classic cars, voice-activated security systems, priceless artwork and a cute dog called Cupcake, the consequences and mayhem that ensues in Rowan Atkinson's new comedy Man Vs Bee are disastrous and hilarious in equal measure.

How long did it take to make Man Vs Bee?

The first script meeting was just over three years ago. It was quite a long and laborious process trying to work out in rehearsals what the man and the bee were going to do in this house. The script was effectively written at the end of each day detailing all the successful actions and silliness we got up to in the rehearsal room.

You are renowned for being selective about your work. How were you persuaded to make Man Vs Bee?

I need to work on something in which I have total faith, belief and understanding. It has to be a character or a situation that inspires me. The idea of a man stuck in a house with a bee is undoubtedly redolent. It's got a hint of the Mr Bean world, but he is too self-centred. Trevor Bingley is just a pleasant ordinary bloke, who hasn't been very successful in life. He was a last minute, and clearly unqualified, replacement for this rather unfortunate couple.

Why a bee as opposed to any other kind of irritant and what is your relationship like with them?

I have been stung, but I don't remember it very well, so I don't have an abiding resentment that has made me want to make this show in order to try and get the better of a bee. I think us all dislike wasps in general; whereas yes, bees can hurt you, but they are also pretty and make honey. Of all the stinging insects the bee is undoubtedly the one that is liable to generate the most ambiguity in people's attitudes and that is why we chose the bee.

How was the challenge of filming with a virtual bee?

It was usually a little plastic bee on the end of a rod, operated by Sarah, our puppeteer on set, so I was able to watch the bee moving around. But sometimes there was absolutely nothing and I had to try and remember to follow the same eye line. It's a case of using basic mime techniques and I'm used to that type of thing. In fact I did a Mr Bean sketch where he takes a picnic basket to the park and is very bothered by a bee. To a certain extent I feel that some of this show is like an extension from that old sketch from the early 90s.

Trevor has difficulty learning how to operate the gadgets in the house. Is this anti-technology stance something you have in common?

It's a slightly satirical dig at modern designs which seems to wish to conceal the function. Why not fit a knob to a cupboard door? And why can't a hot tap just have a little red disc on the top up - is that really going to compromise the design ethic of the sanitary ware? And of course it just emphasised that Trevor was a stranger in a strange land and if he really does need water very urgently, which he does, he can't even operate the tap.

Did you find the filming stressful?

I was stressed, tired and nervous throughout the entire shoot. When shooting I tend to get to the point where I say I can't be bothered to do it again, rather than thinking that's the best take I've ever taken. Unfortunately I end up every shoot day thinking there was something better I didn't achieve. I'm a great believer that perfectionism is as much a disease as it is a quality.

You are a classic car enthusiast. Did you enjoy working with the Jaguar E-Type in Man Vs Bee?

I think it is the oldest E-Type Jaguar still in existence. It was the star of the Geneva motor show in 1961 and is worth £2 million. Someone very kindly loaned it to us and you see it revealed in the garage in the first episode. But almost every shot after that, including the one where I'm wielding an angle grinder, is a replica. I actually raced an E-Type Jaguar in the Le Mans Classic about 15 years ago. They are quite cramped and claustrophobic to race, but they are a beautiful car and the replica that we made and used in the programme, I bought. So it's now mine.

Why is slapstick comedy still so popular?

It's a very visual and simple comedy. It's easily enjoyed by an international audience and appeals very much to children. I never set out to make family friendly entertainment, but rather bizarrely that's what I've spent most of my career doing.

What achievement or show are you most proud of?

I was always told that pride is one of the seven deadly sins. I can't think of anything in particular, but the show I enjoyed the most was Blackadder in the 80s. I almost felt like a master of ceremonies saying "ladies and gentlemen, Hugh Laurie, Tony Robinson or Stephen Fry will now come on and be very funny for two-and-a-half minutes". It was a lovely feeling of shared responsibility, so when things went right we all took the credit, and when things went wrong nobody took the blame. It's like politics really.

:: Man Vs Bee is streaming now on Netflix.

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