Wire Radio Interviews.......Rowan Atkinson

Rowan Atkinson is Chief Inspector Jules Maigret


What kind of world does Maigret investigate in Maigret In Montmartre?

“It’s Georges Simenon’s favourite arena, which is the seedy side of Paris. The clubs, the girls, the

prostitution and the low life. Montmartre was the centre of that sort of thing in the mid-1950s.

“Also, it’s indicative of the author’s infatuation with young women. And particularly young women

of the streets or young women who were forced to work in a certain way.

“The character of showgirl Arlette reflects Georges Simenon’s interest in a woman who is so

completely alluring. Extremely libidinous as a teenager and then, inevitably really, ending up in a

club and being used by a string of men in different ways.

“But at the same time, she has clearly got charisma and magic and she leaves her stamp. Men find

her completely irresistible. That’s what the story is about. Someone who, unsurprisingly given that

power she has over men, gets into a lot of trouble.

“The owner of the nightclub Fred is pretty villainous but also surprising. It’s a very interesting story.

I think this is the best Maigret film yet. With some very good performances.”

 

What impression does Arlette make on Maigret?

“There is a sense that Maigret is drawn in to her and her vulnerability. Someone who is very

attractive and alluring but also very vulnerable. Maigret feels that and feels the need to care for

her.”

 

How does Maigret handle the situation he finds himself in and what does he think of Club Le Picratt

and that shady part of Paris?

“We portray him, as Georges Simenon did, as a very decent married man. Not someone - as I’m sure

was probably common in his line of work then - who has affairs or gets seduced in that way. He’s a

surprisingly upright and decent man. And yet he is constantly dealing in the murk of Parisian low life.

It’s the effect it has on him.

“He is drawn to it because he seeks justice and truth. But at the same time, it’s not a world in which

you would expect him to feel comfortable. It’s a constant dichotomy. He’s drawn in and yet he doesn’t

feel comfortable there.

“You sense his uncertainty. He certainly doesn’t relish that world. He doesn’t embrace it. But at the

same time he knows you have to, to a certain extent, in order to find out what’s going on.”

 

Do we get to see more of a personal side of Maigret in this film?

“Yes, I think we see Maigret and his wife at their most intimate yet. It’s all very subtle. But certainly, it’s

indicative of the success of their relationship. He’s definitely a happily married man. Maigret and his

wife get on very well.

“And that’s important in relation to his work. Because it’s so odd for such a decent man to have to deal

with such indecent people and worlds. It is that contrast between the decency and the success in

relationship terms of Maigret’s own life compared to the complete and utter failure of the people he’s

dealing with in this story.”

 

What was the biggest challenge whilst filming Maigret in Montmartre?

“The weather was absolutely terrible. When I stepped off the plane to film in Budapest in January, it

was minus 15. It was bitterly cold. The Danube froze over. I remember looking out of my hotel room

when it was, effectively, completely solid. And then for a few weeks after there were just these massive

ice flows on the river.

“There was one scene I wasn’t in where someone is almost killed by another character. They were

down by a lake where, in the script, it was supposed to be an attempt at murder by drowning. But

because it was minus 12 that night the lake was frozen solid and we had to devise a new method to

almost do away with the character.”

 

As you’ve developed the character of Maigret have you become slightly more expansive in the way

you play him?

“Yes. I feel as though I started to relax with the character a bit more and have a bit more fun with

Maigret and make him a little more human. Rather than just someone who is rather stern, which is

how I think he was in the first couple of films. I was a bit braver with him, I suppose.”

 

The showgirls at the club put on a performance in their own way. When did you first realise that you

wanted to perform?

“It was at school. I seem to remember when I was 11 or 12 standing up in front of my fellow pupils in

the school changing room and doing some kind of performance. I can’t remember what it was but it

was undoubtedly supposed to be at least comic and aimed at amusing them.

“I started doing school plays and then carried on through my adolescence in secondary school and on

to university. The age of 10, 11, 12 was when I remember doing, let’s say, spontaneous performances

for my peers.”

 

TV drama is now on a global stage and can be seen to rival the film world. How do you feel about

that?

“It certainly isn’t the poor relation compared to the film and movie world. There’s no doubt that when

you look at the quality of drama on TV there are some very high production values with lots of money

spent.

“You can see it draws the talent in. Directors from film are seeing the value of television drama. That

actually it doesn’t have to be too obvious, it doesn’t have to be overtly commercial. It just has to be

good. And you can have scenes that go on for much longer than scenes would normally go on for, in

movies even. Because you don’t have to tell the whole story in an hour and a half. You can tell it over

nine hours. That’s a huge freedom and a huge difference.”

 

Do people recognise you when you travel on public transport?

“What I’ve had once or twice is people saying, ‘Oh, hello. I know you. Oh…what’s your name again?’

And I say, ‘Rowan Atkinson.’ And they say, ‘No, no, no.’ A most peculiar idea where you tell people your

name and they don’t believe you. Or they assume you’re joking. That you’ve made something up.

“For your identity to be denied to your face is potentially quite disturbing. It does happen. In many

ways, you prefer people to be sure about recognising you rather than unsure. It’s the unsure people

who take longer to deal with, I’d say.”

 

Maigret In Montmartre will be screened over the festive period. How do you feel about Christmas as

a festival today? Has it become too commercialised?

“It is difficult. It’s the shortness of it, actually. I like the idea of a long Christmas. I like the idea of a

Christmas that starts on Christmas Day and ends, in fact by chance, on my birthday on the 6th of

January. They are the 12 days of Christmas.

“Whereas what tends to happen is there is such a huge build up. But once Christmas Day is over,

people think Christmas is over. For the majority of people that’s it. And then it’s into the sales the next

day. Or this huge online business that starts later on Christmas Day and merges into the following day.

“And that’s fine. But it’s a very good idea for Christmas to be a time of rest and consider it a time when

you are quiet and family-oriented.

“Of course, not everybody has the facility to rest and some people are back to work the day after

Boxing Day. But if you have the mental space and the physical capability of switching off and relaxing

then that is a good idea.

“Seeing as the build up to Christmas is always so hectic. Once it’s there, just enjoy it and relax. Rather

than thinking, ‘Now what I should be doing?’”

Maigret in Montmartre will air on Sunday 24th December at 8:30pm on ITV. It will last just under two hours.

The full schedule for the radio station is available Here. The Wire Radio is owned and operated by Southsound Media.