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JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN

About The Production
His Second Act: English is Reborn

Between 1992 and 1997, comic actor Rowan Atkinson was featured in a series of popular British credit card commercials in which he played an accident-prone spy. It was at that time Atkinson had the idea to create a feature film based on the character from the advertisement. He took his concept to Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, producers at Working Title Films with whom he had collaborated over a number of years on such films as The Tall Guy, as well as the blockbusters Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bean. In 2003, the feature film Johnny English opened to enormous international success, grossing more than $160 million at the worldwide box office.

Directed by Peter Howitt and produced by Bevan, Fellner and Mark Huffam, the film starred Atkinson as Johnny English, Australian actress Natalie Imbruglia as Special Agent Lorna Campbell, comedian Ben Miller as English's sidekick, Bough, and multiple Academy Award® nominee John Malkovich as the very French and very evil business magnate Pascale Sauvage.

In the ensuing time, Atkinson developed another one of his characters into a sequel that was just as popular as the first. Mr. Bean's Holiday was released in 2007 to global success. But it wasn't time for Atkinson to retire English quite yet. A second movie was put in development, and it went into production in 2010.

"We did a second Bean movie with Rowan about four years ago,” explains Bevan. "He likes to make a movie every four to five years, and so we thought the time was right for a second film. There has not been a new Bond or Bourne film for a while, so when we come out in the latter part of 2011, we'll have a pretty clear field. We also felt that in these times, people want a bit of comedy.”

Aside from the commercial reasons for making a sequel to the comedy/spy thriller, the team saw an opportunity to make a film that was different in tone from the first. "Johnny English did extremely well,” sums producer Chris Clark. "We always thought English was a fascinating character, and we saw an opportunity to put Johnny in a more real world and more exciting situations. ”

British comedian, writer and actor Hamish McColl, who had previously collaborated with Atkinson and Working Title Films on Mr. Bean's Holiday, was enlisted to take on the screenplay based on executive producer William Davies' story. "Since Johnny English,” says McColl "we've had the Bourne and the new Bond movies that have changed the look of the genre. We wanted the second film to move on from the first and be more contemporary and exciting.” Comedy remained just as important to the writer. "My ambition is that the audience is caught up in the film in the fullest sense. If they're not on the edge of their seats in terms of the story, I want them rocking back in them because of the comedy.”

Atkinson believed the first Johnny English told a story that was more incredible than most spy films. His ambition for the second was to have a more realistic narrative upon which to hang the jokes. He shares: "We wanted it to be funny but, as importantly, make the audience interested to know what is going to happen to the character. We wanted to invest a little more emotion in the character and the predicament of Johnny English in the hopes that it keeps audiences engaged.”

For the performer, stepping back into English's shoes after eight years away was comfortable. He reflects: "I have always enjoyed playing him, with his smugness and capacity to overreach and to overestimate his skills. There is something inherently amusing about him. I feel very comfortable with all the characters I play, whether it's Mr. Bean or a character like Johnny English. I slip back into them with great ease.”

With the script in development, British comedic actor and director Oliver Parker was approached to direct the film. Shares Parker: "At first, I wasn't sure there would be enough for me to get my teeth into creatively, but when I read the script, I thought Hamish had done a fantastic job.”

After meeting with Atkinson, McColl and the producers, Parker realized their ambitions matched his, and all camps wanted to make the film a larger-scale project. "The world of espionage has changed since the first movie,” says Parker, "and so you don't necessarily have to play the same note. The style of filming could have a new injection of creativity and ideas. The script had an ambitious story to tell, and I knew it could work as a thriller in its own right. The challenge of combining the comedy and the thrills became a pointed one. If we got it right, the thriller would amplify the comedy.”

As well, Atkinson was quite pleased to be working with Parker and McColl. He commends: "It was clear that our chemistry was going to be a strong, formidable, three-legged footstool upon which the whole film could be creatively guided and constructed.”

The actor appreciated that his writer was a multihyphenate and that his director had much patience. Says Atkinson: "Apart from the fact that Hamish is a skilled comedy performer, he is also a skilled comedy writer. But the most important thing is that I get on with him extremely well. He comes up with ideas that amuse me, and hopefully I come up with ideas that amuse him. And Oliver is the most patient man. I easily lose confidence and question everything that is going on, and that is difficult and frustrating for a director. Amazingly, he never lost his temper, never a harsh word, and he ensured that the film was done on budget and on time. He is a wonderful person to work with, and more importantly, he knows a good joke when he sees it…and he knows an ill-judged moment when he sees it. What else do you need in a director?”

His producer returns the words. "It's been fascinating to watch Rowan, either behind the camera or in front,” compliments Clark. "He is incredibly talented, dedicated and thoughtful. On a personal level, it's been interesting to see the ambition and vision that we had for the film pay off. Plus, seeing Rowan working with the calibre of actors like Gillian, Rosamund and Dominic has made it a fascinating journey.”

Agents and Adversaries: Casting the Film

When it came to casting Johnny English Reborn, "authenticity” was a key word. Explains Parker: "I was keen to assemble the kind of team that if Daniel Craig had slipped into its ranks, they could all make a Bond movie together. The world I wanted Johnny to join was one in which the agents genuinely had a lot at stake, which puts all the more pressure on him to get things right and gives us all the more fun when he gets them wrong.”

Best known for her groundbreaking role as the intense Special Agent Scully in the global hit The X-Files, Gillian Anderson accepted the role of Pamela Thornton, the no-nonsense head of MI7, who has guided the organization to new heights. The American actress had received rave reviews for her work in Bleak House and mastered the accent requisite of one of the most powerful women in British government service.

Anderson was a fan of Atkinson's comedy, and to play the head of MI7 was an enticing prospect. Recalls the actress: "When I saw the first film, I started laughing from the title sequence. There is just something about Rowan's timing. I find him endlessly funny. The opportunity to do comedy on a big scale and the chance to work with and observe Rowan's process were just too good to miss out on.”

Her fellow performer returns that he enjoyed what the actress brought to the role of the tough-as-nails Pegasus. "Gillian brings hardness, credibility and a bite to Pamela,” enthuses Atkin

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