Rowan Atkinson, who was born on January 6, 1955, may have more than 50 acting credits on his resume, but to most of the world he’ll always be best known as the ridiculously rubber-faced Mr. Bean. We've uncovered 15 things you might not know about the character.
1. Mr. Bean began life on the stage.
Though it was on January 1, 1990 that Mr. Bean made its television debut on England’s ITV, Rowan Atkinson began developing the character more than a decade earlier, while he was pursuing his master’s degree in electrical engineering. “I was asked in my first term at Oxford to do a sketch in this one-night show at the Oxford Playhouse, and I’d never written anything,” Atkinson recalls in The Story of Mr. Bean, a feature on Shout! Factory's The Whole Bean DVD. “I’m not really naturally a writer, so I just had to invent sort of five minutes of something at 48 hours’ notice. I just stood in front of the mirror and started to mess about with my face. And this strange, surreal, sort of non-speaking character evolved.”
2. Only 14 episodes of Mr. Bean were ever produced.
Even the most dedicated fans have trouble reconciling the fact that only 14 episodes of the live-action series were ever produced. It did, of course, spawn two movies, an animated series (which returned to British television in 2015), a video game, and some books, including Mr. Bean’s Definitive and Extremely Marvelous Guide to France.
3. Mr. Bean was broadcast in nearly 200 countries around the world.
Because the bulk of the comedy is physical, not narrative, Mr. Bean has not gotten lost in translation. “There doesn’t seem to be a country in the world, or not that I have visited, or indeed none that I have heard of, who don't seem to get him, who don’t seem to understand and enjoy the character of Mr. Bean,” Atkinson told ABC. “I think, and I’ve always assumed, it’s because he’s basically a child trapped in a man’s body."
4. Rowan Atkinson has faith in his face.
While the beginning of Mr. Bean started by looking in the mirror, Atkinson decided to put faith in what he was doing with his face following that first successful performance at Oxford. “In the sketch the following Sunday, I just went through a whole lot of facial expressions,” Atkinson said in a BBC World Service radio interview. “I’m not sure whether there was a particular narrative, a logic to it, but I did my best and it certainly solicited laughter. But since then, I’ve hardly ever looked at my face … I hope it’s doing what I think it’s doing.”
5. Love Actually director Richard Curtis developed Mr. Bean with Rowan Atkinson.
Atkinson’s creative partner at the time, and the man who helped develop the character of Mr. Bean, was writer-director-producer Richard Curtis. The two collaborated on Not the Nine O’Clock News and Blackadder before Mr. Bean ever hit the airwaves. Curtis would later make the jump to the big screen as the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones’s Diary, and the writer-director of Love Actually, The Boat That Rocked, and About Time. (Which explains Atkinson’s cameo in Love Actually.)
6. Rowan Atkinson was inspired by Jacques Tati.
Over the years, Atkinson has repeatedly cited French comedian Jacques Tati as one of the great influences on Mr. Bean. “My interest in physical comedy was from discovering a film by Jacques Tati called Mr. Hulot’s Holiday,” Atkinson says in The Story of Bean. “It just struck a chord with me. I so admired it, because it was an uncompromising comic attitude and setting that I really admired.”
7. Mr. Bean doesn’t speak in French either.
Before he made his small-screen debut, Atkinson tried out the Mr. Bean character on the audience at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal, Quebec. In order to ensure that the character’s near-silent comedy would translate, he requested to perform for a French-speaking audience as opposed to the English-speaking attendees.
8. Mr. Bean could have been named after another vegetable.
It wasn’t until shortly before Mr. Bean hit the airwaves (and after production had already begun) that the character actually got his name. Originally, he was going to be called Mr. White. Then the show’s creators began throwing around some vegetable names, and considered Mr. Cauliflower before deciding on Mr. Bean.
9. Mr. Bean is the man who likes toilets.
Mr. Bean doesn’t speak often, but when he does the voice he uses is the same one Atkinson used to voice “The Man Who Likes Toilets” sketch on Not the Nine O’Clock News.
10. Rowan Atkinson thinks Mr. Bean is an anarchist.
Atkinson often refers to the character of Mr. Bean as “a child in a grown man’s body.” And in a 2003 interview with IGN, he called him “sort of such a natural anarchist. But at the same time, Mr. Bean is a very, very self-contained character because he's so sort-of introspective and so selfish and self-centered that there's no particular need to have another person in the scene to make him funny.”
11. Yes, Rowan Atkinson really can wiggle his ears.
Mr. Bean’s legendary ear wiggle is one trait Atkinson has in common with his on-screen alter ego. While promoting Mr. Bean’s Holiday, ABC’s David Stratton asked “perhaps the most crucial question of the entire interview: can you really wiggle your ears?” To which Atkinson simply replied, “Yes, I can.”
12. Mr. Bean performed at the Olympics.
When London hosted the Summer Olympics in 2012, Mr. Bean was on hand for the opening ceremony, where he ushered in the games with a rendition of “Chariots of Fire.”
13. Rowan Atkinson retired the role in late 2012.
In an interview with The Telegraph in November of 2012, Atkinson admitted that Mr. Bean’s time was coming to an end. “The stuff that has been most commercially successful for me—basically quite physical, quite childish—I increasingly feel I’m going to do a lot less of,” Atkinson said. “Apart from the fact that your physical ability starts to decline, I also think someone in their fifties being childlike becomes a little sad. You’ve got to be careful.”
14. In 2015, Mr. Bean rose again—for a funeral.
Never say never: On March 13, 2015 a brand-new Mr. Bean sketch, “The Funeral,” premiered to celebrate Comic Relief, and in honor of Bean’s 25th anniversary.
15. Mr. Bean’s creators could not have predicted its success.
When asked about Mr. Bean’s enduring appeal during a BBC World Service radio interview earlier this year, executive producer Peter Bennett-Jones said, “I don’t think anyone could have anticipated quite how successful and long-lived it would be. Coming up to 25 years is an extraordinary thought since we first went on air on January 1, 1990. Mr. Bean’s been very good to us all, so we love Mr. Bean.