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Man vs Bee: 12 fun facts and trivia about Rowan Atkinson’s new sitcom for Netflix
From Mr Bean comparisons and the show’s original name, to working alongside model bees and a very professional dog on camera, we reveal 12 things you didn’t know about Man vs Bee.
Rowan Atkinson’s riotous new sitcom Man vs Bee has landed on Netflix, and with just nine episodes at a bitesize 10 minutes each, you can binge-watch them all in no time.
The renowned British comedy actor plays a new character called Trevor Bingley, a lovable but bumbling dad who lands a new job as a housesitter, which he’s very ill-equipped for.
When a bee arrives in the luxury mansion that he’s housesitting, Trevor is tested to his limits - can he keep everything under control, or will the pair’s raucous rivalry just lead to increasingly disastrous consequences?
The slapstick sitcom was co-created by Atkinson - known for roles in Blackadder and Mr Bean - and producer Will Davies, who he worked with on the Johnny English franchise.
Man vs Bee has been described by critics as “better than Bean”, with Atkinson’s performance as the “completely unhinged” housesitter Trevor Bingley “his comic best”.
From Mr Bean comparisons and the original name of the show, to working alongside model bees and a very professional dog ‘actor’, we reveal 12 things you didn’t know about Man vs Bee on Netflix.
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1. Rowan Atkinson had complete creative control over Man vs Bee
“You always enter into a sort of dance to get Rowan to want to work again,” says series writer and co-creator, Will Davies.
“He’s such a perfectionist and operates as effective showrunner on all his projects, so he’s thinking not just about his performance and the script, but about lighting, angles, props, wardrobe…
"Work is an exhausting experience, and he always needs a long rest afterwards.”
2. The inspiration for the bee causing havoc came from Rowan Atkinson’s life growing up
“Rowan was educated at a school called St Bees in Cumbria, and there’s a lovely scene in Mr Bean where he’s bothered by a bee during a picnic,” says Will.
“But above all it was me remembering a story he used to tell about his grandfather driving while a bee was in the car with him, trying to get it out and having a crash. Fortunately, he was okay and so was the bee, but the story always made me laugh.
"Over the years, I had pitched scenes with a bee so many times for the Johnny English films, and every time Rowan would say no. But it made sense this time and we started to put it together.”
3. Cupcake the dog is actually called Pixel - and she was a dream to work with
Six-year-old collie-poodle cross Pixel delivered an astoundingly precise performance as Cupcake, having spent the 12 weeks of pre-production being trained to perfection.
Rosie Ison and Gerry Cott from A-Z Animals trained the dog ‘actor’, working from storyboards to practice each comic set-piece to ensure she was ready to go from the moment cameras rolled. In fact, one memorable scene of destruction in the library took four weeks to rehearse.
Rowan intentionally avoided bonding with Pixel as the pair are rather at odds in the show. “He obviously made a decision that ‘no bonding’ was the way to go,” says Gerry.
“We were in total agreement with that - the point was that man vs canine alienation fitted his screen character.”
4. Rowan Atkinson is very methodical about the comedy in the script
Director David Kerr says: “[Rowan] has a master’s degree in engineering that really informs his approach to comedy. He is incredibly rigorous, and the rehearsal process was a case of talking through the action in real detail: what is Trevor doing at that point in the story, what implements he has access to, trying at all times to keep some plausibility to that action, however extreme or silly.”
5. The show wasn't always called Man vs Bee
“It was still called Housesitter when we started shooting, but Netflix preferred something a little less oblique,” laughs Rowan. The structure of the series also changed over the course of filming - the first two episodes were merged to allow for a more substantial introduction to the show - and to set up the havoc that was to follow.
6. Rowan Atkinson acted alongside a puppeteer and a model bee for his scenes
Puppeteer Sarah Mardel - who previously worked on Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore - dangled model bees from a two-metre wire at the end of a pole, so Rowan Atkinson had something to play off.
“What’s always hard is the business of making things funny when it’s just you,” says Rowan.
“I’m used to it to some extent with Mr Bean, but when there’s no one to bounce off and no one else in the scene, it’s even harder, so Sarah was a very essential support.”
7. Rowan Atkinson was keen to differentiate Trevor Bingley from Mr Bean
"We didn't really want to do it as a Mr Bean project," says Rowan.
"Mr Bean is fun, but he is quite a weirdo, a childish figure and very self-centered. I wanted a new character, and I liked the idea of playing a nicer, milder man with a broader outlook and a more identifiable life and situation."
In terms of comparisons to the character of Mr Bean, he says: “Trevor’s got an obsessive quality. That is something you might say he has in common with Mr Bean, and occasionally my facial expression may remind people of him.”
8. The show’s famous bee is not your ordinary honeybee
“It was decided early on that the bee in question would be a whitetailed bumblebee. Honeybees are more common, but they look too much like wasps,” says VFX supervisor Rob Duncan. “Bumblebees are big and fat, fluffy and cuddly. Once we had decided that, we built it from the inside out, starting with the skeleton then adding all the detail. That was the easy part!
“[The bee] was never going to be a character with a top hat and cane: the audience has to buy into the idea that this is a real insect, otherwise there’s no jeopardy.”
9. Filming for Man vs Bee was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown
Man vs Bee executive producer Christopher Clark explains: “After the scripts were carded, we met up to look at the first shape of the show. We laid the cards out for all 10 episodes and took photos, then the next week we were put into lockdown. Fortunately, we could talk about it over Zoom and, with Netflix already on board, Will could get started on the script proper while we approached people about VFX and production design.”
10. Some of the cast were a little starstruck about working with Rowan Atkinson
Jing Lusi (Crazy Rich Asians, Gangs of London) plays Nina Kolstad-Bergenbatten, whose luxury home Trevor Bingley house-sits while she's on holiday. For her, working with Rowan Atkinson was a profound experience.
“It felt both very normal and very surreal to be working with someone who has been so ubiquitous and meaningful in my life. I came to England in 1991 when I was five and didn’t speak a word of English.
"I remember watching Mr Bean and feeling for the first time like I belonged here because there was no language and the humour was universal. That was so powerful for me."
11. Working with Rowan Atkinson is the 'complete opposite' of Ricky Gervais
Tom Basden (After Life, Plebs) plays a police officer who's baffled by Trevor when he comes to the door he's housesitting. Tom’s policeman is also the only person who has face-to-face interaction with Atkinson’s character, which he describes as an education - and a totally different approach to acting compared to Ricky Gervais, who he worked with on After Life.
“A lot of people within comedy are big comic personalities, but Rowan channels his comic energy on screen, and then he’s quite serious and considered off screen," says Basden.
"He’s the complete opposite to Ricky Gervais, who is much more in the moment and follows his instincts. Rowan likes to plan and really think it through, especially when it comes to the physicality of performance. It was a really different experience for me, but I’ve learned a lot from working with him.”
12. Rowan Atkinson is up for a return to playing Trevor Bingley
“I like him and liked playing him,” says Rowan. “He is certainly one of the nicer people that I’ve played, so he could reappear one day. Never say never.”
Stream Man vs Bee on Netflix.