The Version Interview... Rowan Atkinson on itv's Maigret.
Maigret Sets A Trap and Maigret’s Dead Men are two stand-alone dramatic films featuring the legendary French fictional detective Jules Maigret, played by the globally-renowned actor Rowan Atkinson. In the first film, Maigret Sets A Trap, set in 1955 during a sweltering summer in Paris, the city is gripped with fear as four women are murdered on the streets of Monmartre in a spree of seemingly unconnected attacks. Chief Inspector Maigret is under huge public and professional pressure to find the killer before he strikes again. Maigret sets a trap which ultimately leads to a thrilling climax.
Rowan Atkinson tells us more...
How did this role come about?
“ITV sent the script of the first film. I read it, thought about it for three months and then decided I didn’t want to do it. Which is the kind of thing I often do. Not because I didn’t want to do it but because I wasn’t sure I could do it.
“It was mainly because I didn’t really want to do it in the year in which they wanted to make it. Then, of course, a year later you don’t know whether they’ve already found someone to play the part or not. But it was still there when I woke up to it again and I was re-offered the part. “
Even then I had to think about it for some time because I had to believe I could play it. Because the odd thing about him as a character is he’s not much of a character. He’s fairly bland. He hasn’t got a French accent or a limp or a lisp and he doesn’t love opera. There isn’t a tremendous amount to get hold of in character terms. He’s just an ordinary guy doing a slightly extraordinary job in a quite unpleasant world. “The thing I thought I could do was his thoughtfulness. That it’s his ruminative, thoughtful and quite compassionate side, I suppose, which is interesting. Because he’s definitely not an egotist, he’s not a performer, he’s not an eccentric, he’s not a weirdo, he hasn’t really got a bad streak in him".
Do you think Maigret, although set in 1950s’ Paris, is relevant to a modern day audience?
“Yes, I think it is. Maigret’s humanity is important and it’s admirable. It’s enjoyable to watch somebody witness and having to deal with great inhumanity and at the same time they are able to display such compassion to all those involved in these extremely messy and violent situations. He conveys this calm at the centre of sometimes very stormy stories.”
Maigret takes a huge risk in the first film. Did you view taking this role as a risk?
“Everything is a risk to a certain extent. But like all risks you make a judgement in order to reduce the risk. So you don’t play any part that comes along, you play the parts that you think you’re going to do best. And then you’re in the lap of the gods to a certain extent. “But yet again you make judgements about producers, about directors, about casting. You make a judgement about everyone with whom you come into contact and you decide whether it feels like the kind of thing you want to do. And in the end in the creative world your instinct is the only real skill you have. It’s the only real quality that you can lean on. And my instinct historically has been okay, I think. So you’ve just got to carry on trusting your instinct. That’s all you’ve got.”
Maigret never drives himself. Is that frustrating for a car enthusiast?
“Yes, I do find it frustrating, actually. The first character I’ve ever played who is in close contact with a car, who doesn’t drive it. But no, he’s always chauffered. So be it. In a Citroen Traction Avant Light 15.”
All eyes are on Maigret as he leads an investigation. As a ‘globally renowned actor,’ are you able to go about your business without being bothered? Or are there places and situations you have to avoid?
“I’ve lived with recognisability for several decades now. You get used to it. And you get used to dealing with it. The modern era of the smartphone...10, 15 years ago things changed quite significantly. The fact that people very rarely ask you for an autograph now. It’s always a photograph. “But at the same time I’m certainly not a recluse. I lead a normal life in a normal way. But you learn. If you’re going to travel by tube - which, surprisingly I do quite a lot - you know where to stand, where to face and what time of day to go.”
Are there other career ambitions you currently have in mind?
“No. I haven’t got a bucket list, as they say. In terms of roles it’s just whatever comes along. I certainly don’t want to lose touch with comedy. I enjoy playing characters and I don’t notice the difference in terms of the job. Whether I’m playing a serious character or a comic character, the job is exactly the same as far as I’m concerned. And I enjoy them both.
“There is that slightly dull feeling sometimes that people think you should get serious when you get old. And, unfortunately, you do lose in the audience’s eyes a degree of comic authority as you get older.
“There’s something about over-45s in comedy. It’s great if you get something like Dad’s Army in which everyone was extremely old and that generally speaking their joke is about being old. You’re stupid or you’re short-sighted or you’re incontinent or whatever your little ageing characteristic is. But I don’t want to lose touch with comedy and I’m sure I won’t.”
How would you sum up the appeal of Maigret?
“I just hope we’ve done a decent job of telling some interesting stories. I think the world of Maigret is very interesting. Paris in 1955 and the characters and the crimes. I think it is different. Merely the fact they carry guns and don’t have lawyers present when they interview people. A very different world to our own. And yet humans and the human characteristics and characters are still there as much as they would be today. So I just hope people find the stories engaging. And I think they will.”
Maigret debuts tonight at 9pm on itv.