Did you ever think about going for a medical career like your parents?
No, I pretty much faint at the sight of blood. Luckily dad didn’t bring work home too much, but his bedtime stories often smelled of hospital.
Do you recollect him reading Paddington to you?
Yeah, I do. They are self-contained short stories within each book, so they are perfect bedtime stories. When I came of age I was able read them for myself and that’s what made him very special to me because of the voice in your head and you create this world in your head. You become very connected and that’s why I was very cautious when the first incarnation came around as they were going to mess with my childhood friend.
Were you surprised at the success of the first movie around the world?
Yes and no. Yes, because Paddington wasn’t as popular elsewhere as he was in Britain. But no, I wasn’t that surprised as people embraced it because it made me laugh and feel emotional when I read it. Usually it’s the indication that if you get it right it will end up with so many levels. Paul King, the director, he sort of feels the character. You can see him thinking to himself and totally inhabiting the character. He also talked to each generation. That’s why I wasn’t surprised why it connected. I was also blown away by the animation, especially when I saw the first sequences of the head down the toilet bowl. The texture was so extraordinary. I think the team that have created the bear know him so much more now and know Ben [Whishaw, who voices Paddington] so well now. They seem to be even more alive and subtle. The nuances and the emotions seem to have deeper levels.
Were you more involved in the process of making this movie than the last one?
This is one of the great strengths of Paul as a director and a creator. Not only does he have an extraordinary odd sense of the world, which is enchanting and optimistic like Paddington but he was also very collaborative. In the first film when we were trying to get the tone and the nature of the family dynamic, we did a lot of improvisations to get it right. We spent some time just talking through Mr Brown’s new problems in the first film as he became an overly protective dad because of Paddington’s presence. The midlife crisis like that seems to be perfect for a man of my age. He’s completely open to ideas so long as what he is doing is helping characters’ narratives, enriching the story and hopefully being funny at the same time. And then you have his designers who have worked with him before the Paddington film. They are completely in synch in their views of the world, which is present but one step sideway of the reality. It makes London and the other worlds seem brighter and friendlier places. And then [producer] David Heyman. You read lots of horror stories about producers pressing down the creative elements to the point where directors can’t do what they do best, what they are hired to do, but David is the prime example of getting the best people around him in the creative department and letting them do their thing. So that’s why the collaborative element is present in the filmmaking process and I think that’s why it works.
What do you think about the film’s moral lesson about politeness?
I think in a world where people’s life is destroyed in 140 characters and our establishment seem to want to divide and rule and foster hatred and indifference and intolerance, it’s nice to have a world where diplomatic relations make up a better place. The mutual respect and courtesy to others is a great applicant of that and that’s why it becomes such a great talisman in Paddington for politeness and acceptance and looking for the good in people. It is utopian of course, it is a fantasy, but I think it’s no bad thing to have aspirations. Being courteous and tolerant isn’t a bad place to start rather than just having a default position.
Paddington 2 is in cinemas December 21, 2017