Paddington 2 Special! Behind the scenes of the best family comedy of 2017 with cast & talents
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- Published on Wednesday, 08 November 2017 16:11
- Last Updated on 09 November 2017
- Monica Costa
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I have already mentioned in my review of Paddington 2 that I believe it is the best family comedy of 2017 and my series of interviews with the cast and talents only proves the point that some of the best talents have joined forces to make one of the most hilarious and feel good family movies in years.
Paddington 2 tells the continuing story of Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw), a young Peruvian bear who comes to London in search of a home and a family. Having found that home with the Brown family in Windsor Gardens, life is set fair for Paddington. While searching for the perfect present for his beloved Aunt Lucy’s (voiced by Imelda Staunton) forthcoming 100th birthday, Paddington spots a unique pop-up book in Mr. Gruber’s (Jim Broadbent) antiue shop, and embarks upon a series of odd jobs to buy it. But the book has also caught the eye of local celebrity, the actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), whose designs on the book are less than altruistic…
PADDINGTON 2 is the sequel to the hugely successful 2014 family comedy PADDINGTON, which was based on the best-selling and internationally adored books by British author, the late, great Michael Bond.
During my interview with his daughter Karen Jankel, she provided useful insights to fully appreciate the beauty of the character of Paddington bear.
A Heyday Films and STUDIOCANAL production, PADDINGTON 2 is directed by the BAFTA-nominated Paul King (PADDINGTON, BUNNY AND THE BULL) co- writing the screenplay with Simon Farnaby (‘YONDERLAND’, MINDHORN).
Watch my interview with Paul and Simon, possibly the funniest comedic writers in Britain at the moment.
Also returning to produce the film is the multiple award-winning David Heyman (GRAVITY, the HARRY POTTER series), and executive producers, Heyday’s Rosie Alison (TESTAMENT OF YOUTH, LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS), Alexandra Ferguson-Derbyshire (TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, ANNA KARENINA), and Heyday’s Jeffrey Clifford (LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS).
I have recently caught up with David Heyman at the top of the Shard who offered insights into producing Paddington 2 and the key ingredients of a great sequel.
The cast of PADDINGTON 2 is led by Ben Whishaw (SPECTRE, BRIGHT STAR) as the voice of Paddington, Hugh Bonneville (TV’s “Downtown Abbey”, “W1A”, THE MONUMENTS MEN) as Mr. Brown, Sally Hawkins (THE SHAPE OF WATER, HAPPY GO LUCKY) as Mrs. Brown, Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin as the Browns’ children, Judy and Jonathan.
Watch my interview with The Browns to find out what they love the most about Paddington 2.
Also returning are Jim Broadbent (the HARRY POTTER series, the BRIDGET JONES series, MOULIN ROUGE) as Mr. Gruber, owner of the antique shop where Paddington finds the pop-up book, Julie Walters (BILLY ELLIOT, the HARRY POTTER series) as the Browns’ eccentric housekeeper, Mrs. Bird, Peter Capaldi (“Doctor Who”, IN THE LOOP) as the Browns’ snooping, suspicious neighbour, Mr. Curry, and Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin as the Browns’ children, Judy and Jonathan. Returning with their voices alongside Ben are Imelda Staunton (PRIDE, HARRY POTTER) as Aunt Lucy and Michael Gambon (KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE, HARRY POTTER) as Uncle Pastuzo.
Joining the series for this second instalment are the likes of Hugh Grant (FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY and FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS) as the villainous actor Phoenix Buchanan, and Brendan Gleeson (IN BRUGES, the HARRY POTTER series and CALVARY) as imposing prison cook Knuckles McGinty.
The film was shot on location in and around central London, as well as on the iconic soundstages of Leavesden and Pinewood film studios.
Return of a bear called Paddington
Paddington Bear was first introduced to children in Michael Bond’s 1958 book, A Bear Called Paddington. Paddington’s Finest Hour, the last book written by Bond, who passed away in June of this year at the age of 91, was released in January 2017. In between those landmarks, Bond wrote over twenty books featuring the duffel coat-wearing, marmalade sandwich-loving bear, which have together sold over 35 million copies worldwide, and have been translated into 40 languages. The antics of the little bear from Darkest Peru, whose perfect manners and good intentions frequently lead to comical mishaps and moments of high chaos, have captured hearts the world over, and the stories are now internationally recognised as modern children’s classics.
Likewise, the character’s cinematic debut. It took quite a while for Paddington to make his bow on the big screen, following several incarnations on the small, including a hugely successful and beloved 56-episode British television series which began in 1975, designed and directed by Ivor Wood for FilmFair with the distinctive narration of Michael Hordern. But when he did, it was to universal praise. PADDINGTON was released in 2014 and has already been acclaimed as a perennial children’s classic, with its wonderful blend of warmth, whimsy and wit enchanting viewers of all ages. It was nominated for several BAFTAs, won Best Comedy at the 2015 Empire Awards, and grossed over $250 million worldwide. Success that surprised even those who worked on the first movie, becoming the highest grossing non-US studio family film ever.
“I thought the first movie had a lovely script and was terrific to work on,” says Hugh Bonneville. “But I was well aware that there was a lot of suspicion or nerves about taking this beloved bear and putting him on the big screen. Would it be in the right spirit? I was completely stunned when I saw the movie. I genuinely forgot the bear wasn’t real, and I’m in the damn thing! I’m very proud of having been part of the first one.”
Paul King fashioned a family comedy that was, by turns, hilarious and heart-warming, with frequent bursts of magical realism that combined to make a bear in London feel the most natural thing in the world.
A Sequel Called Paddington
At the end of PADDINGTON, the eponymous bear seemed pretty content with his lot in life, firmly ensconced in the attic room of the Browns’ house, and indulging in a snowball fight with his new family in Windsor Gardens. It’s a grand place to end. It’s not such a grand place to begin, as King discovered. “We accidentally wrote an ending, rather than saying, ‘see you in chapter 2!’” laughs the director.
However, he wasn’t quite starting from scratch. “We had a lot of ideas that never made their way into the first film because they always felt like they belonged in a sequel, rather than an origin story. It always felt like it would be fun to see Paddington at work,” says King, “and he’s such a decent character that it felt it could be emotionally satisfying to see him fall prey to an injustice.
“The great inspiration for this film is MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON,” says David Heyman, of the great Frank Capra/James Stewart movie about an idealistic young man in Washington. King also went back to the school of Pixar, in particular TOY STORY 2, to see how the American animation giant had approached a sequel. One thing King did not want to do was repeat the challenges and obstacles that faced Paddington in the first movie. “Pixar did very well in retaining the sincerity of the first film. They found a truthful situation for Woody and explored from there.”
To help him find the truth, and the story, of PADDINGTON 2, King enlisted the services of an old friend and collaborator. Simon Farnaby has worked with King for over a decade, on what Farnaby calls “Battersea Arts Centre one-man shows” as well as BUNNY AND THE BULL, in which Farnaby starred. A writer in his own, well, right, Farnaby had provided some assistance on the screenplay of PADDINGTON, and also popped up in a memorable cameo as Barry, a sleazy security guard who falls inexplicably in love with Mr. Brown… while Mr. Brown is disguised as a Welsh cleaning lady. So bringing Farnaby on board full- time was a natural progression for King. “I had a lot of help from a lot of brilliant people at various times while I wrote the first screenplay, and I thought it would be wise to have someone with me from the start this time,” says King. “Simon and I have a formidable track record of commercial disaster and the hope was that we could bring that expertise to bear on PADDINGTON 2.”
The collaboration was an instant success. “We got a lot of things quite quickly,” admits King. Indeed, by the end of the first week, they had the basic story in place. PADDINGTON 2 would see the enthusiastic young bear devote himself to buying a present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday and, in the ensuing chaos, wind up in prison, framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Yes, PADDINGTON 2 sees the beloved bear sent to the big house. But, as with all the plot developments across both movies, it was important to King that it emerged organically from the characters, and from the themes that King wanted to explore.
The first movie was about the importance of tolerance and acceptance, as a young immigrant bear came to London and found that, despite his obvious differences, he could blend right into a society that accepted him for who he was. While those themes also run through PADDINGTON 2, King also wanted to examine new facets of Paddington’s character. “It’s about recognising the value of kindness and compassion,” he says. “Paddington goes from thinking he’s just a small bear in a big world to realising that his many acts of kindness are tremendously worthwhile contributions to the community.”
Exploring this idea led to King and Farnaby introducing Paddington, and the audience, to a series of new characters in the wider community of Windsor Gardens. “It’s about seeing the good in places where others might not,” says David Heyman. “And sometimes, as in the case of Mrs. Bird and Mrs. Brown, seeing the bad where others have only been charmed. That’s a good message, in a world where we’re all a little too willing to judge a book by its cover.”
Ultimately, the story leads us and Paddington to prison, where he initially butts heads with the imposing cook, Knuckles McGinty, before winning him over with a typical example of Paddingtonian generosity. “One of the things I did both times was watch all of Chaplin films,” explains the ever-meticulous King. “There’s a such a pleasure in seeing your clown in what most people would find a really miserable situation. And prison felt like a good way of giving Paddington a challenge to get back home to Windsor Gardens, and he can meet other characters and change them along the way.”
While even the hard-bitten Knuckles McGinty succumbs to Paddington’s marmaladey charms, there’s one character in the film who remains inured to the ursine. Enter the villain of the piece, Phoenix Buchanan.
The Phoenix Rises
In the first movie, Nicole Kidman was superb as the ice-cold Millicent Clyde, who wanted to catch Paddington, kill him, stuff him and turn him into a permanent exhibit at the Natural History Museum in London. “Nicole was so wonderfully funny and menacing, and one frustration in the writing was that her story ran separately from Paddington’s for the first hour of the film – so it was only in the final act that she spent any screen time with the bear. This time around we decided it would be fun to play with a snake in the grass, a member of the community that Paddington encounters early on, and irritates intensely.”
King and Farnaby went through several ideas of who that villain could be, before they settled upon an idea that King had briefly explored for the first film: an actor. “Actors are, famously, the most evil people on the planet,” says King, wryly quoting one of Mrs Bird’s lines in the film. “It felt that you could do something quite funny with someone who’s very full of himself and quite good at projecting this image of himself as a good guy, but who’s deep down someone who only thinks of himself.”
And so Phoenix Buchanan, a former West End star who can now be found opening local fairs and starring in dog food commercials, was born. Phoenix after the legendary bird, rising from the ashes – rather adroitly summing up the state of Buchanan’s career when we meet him in PADDINGTON 2. The Buchanan part comes from the notion that “he claims to be Scottish,” says Farnaby. “We have a portrait of him in the film standing in a glen, one foot on a rock, wearing a kilt.”
He wasn’t always Phoenix Buchanan, though. At one point he was Phoenix Barr, named after the famous London actors’ hangout where Farnaby actually met his wife. Before that, he was given a rather fancy name that, sadly, turned out to be already owned by an actual actor. And before that, he was simply known as Hugh. Because King knew exactly who he wanted to be Paddington’s new nemesis. “I wrote Hugh a letter saying, ‘we’ve written this part of a vain, washed up old has-been with you in mind’ and luckily he took it with great humour,” says King. “He’s such a great comic actor, with such a splendid sense of the absurdity of his profession, and it’s very pleasing to see him sending the whole thing up.”
Grant had not seen PADDINGTON when he was offered the role, but quickly downloaded it, and “admired it immensely. It’s quite a difficult thing to make children’s films without going sentimental or yucky, and it was a very clever trick that Paul King brought off.”
Intrigued by the notion of playing Phoenix, whom King describes as “a rotter”, Grant signed on and threw himself into the role. “I spent a lot of the early part of my career in the 1980s doing plays with memorable theatrical types,” he explains. “I pillaged them all for this character, for the almost unendurable, overweening vanity of the man. He can’t see beyond his own beauty and talent, and that makes him do things that I’m sure he’s ashamed of.”
Paddington and Phoenix clash because of an item of mutual interest: the pop-up book that Paddington wants to buy Aunt Lucy for her one hundredth birthday. For Paddington, it’s simply a pop-up book, something he wants to pay for with his own hard-earned cash by doing a series of odd jobs around the community, and that will bring Aunt Lucy the joy of the city she loves – but has never been able to visit.
For Phoenix, it’s the key to his ultimate ambition: a one-man show, An Evening Of Monologue And Song with Phoenix Buchanan. “It seems like the worst possible evening,” laughs King. Grant concurs. “I’m not sure that would be my favourite evening out,” he deadpans.
The book is crucial to Phoenix’s plans because only he knows that it contains the key – literally and metaphorically – to a great fortune, hidden by Madame Kozlova, the great- grandmother of a Russian circus owner whose huge travelling fair comes to London at the beginning of the story, and provides the platform for Paddington and Phoenix to meet. Determined to get his hands on the book, Phoenix steals it from Mr. Gruber’s shop and pins the blame on Paddington, sending him to prison. “His logic would be that the world would be so grateful for his one-man show,” explains Grant, “that almost anything would be worth it to raise the finance for it.”
And so PADDINGTON 2’s villain is a preening, vainglorious nightmare of a man, but one who’s not necessarily “hellbent on killing Paddington,” according to King. “We thought a good antagonist for Paddington, who is so selfless and kind and well-mannered, would be someone who is completely self-centred.”
Phoenix’s house in Windsor Gardens also plays a prominent role in the film, particularly in a scene where Mr. and Mrs. Brown, the latter of whom is particularly suspicious about Phoenix’s role in Paddington’s imprisonment, break in and have a good old snoop around. What they find is initially discomforting: a house liberally festooned with pictures of Phoenix throughout his career. “We needed a hundred pictures of Hugh,” recalls King. “He said, ‘I’ve got a few’, and he came in the next day with various portraits and charcoal sketches of himself that had been given to him by fans. Nobody has ever sent me a charcoal sketch of myself reclining on a couch semi-naked. But then I’m not an international sex symbol!”
And then they make a discovery that borders on the terrifying, and prompts the ever- gracious Mr. Brown to exclaim, “the man’s a weirdo!”: Phoenix’s secret attic room, where he keeps all of his previous costumes. For Phoenix is a master of disguise, able to change his appearance, manner, and accent almost at will; all the better to assist him in first the theft of the pop-up book from Mr. Gruber’s shop, and then his search for Madame Kozlova’s treasure. Which means that PADDINGTON 2 sees Hugh Grant assume a number of different guises, including a knight in armour, a nun, and a balding man with giant mutton chops. “When I heard the villain was a master of disguise, I thought, ‘this is going to be fun’,” says Christine Blundell, the film’s Academy Award® winning head of make-up and hair. “And Hugh was such a good sport.”
Working closely with another Academy Award® winner — the returning costume designer, Lindy Hemming — Blundell came up with a number of different looks for Phoenix, casting Grant’s head in plaster in order to showcase them to the actor, who wholeheartedly threw himself into the process. “At the initial meeting with Hugh, he said, ‘I don’t want anything stuck on,’” laughs Blundell. “After a while, he was like, ‘come on, guys, bring it on!’” In fact, it was Grant who suggested wearing a bald cap for the sequence where the dastardly Buchanan attempts to make a quick getaway. “He said, ‘can I maybe do something with longer hair and mutton chops?’ And as I put that together on the cast of his face, so he could look at it objectively, he said, ‘it looks quite good bald, doesn’t it?’”
This improvisational approach to Phoenix’s wardrobe certainly kept Hemming on her toes. “I think it’s the most amount of different and varied costumes I’ve ever had to do for anybody,” she says. Quite a statement from someone who has worked on various James Bond and Batman movies. “I’ve been doing this for forty-something years and I’ve never had to have so many costume fittings. Phoenix has something like eleven or twelve utterly different looks, which bear no relation to one another. But Hugh’s been a total collaborator, really brilliant.”
The Bear Comes to Life – Animating Paddington
For many months after the physical shoot was over, the animation director Pablo Grillo and his team of animators at Framestore have been painstakingly bringing the bear to life.
The creation of the film’s lead character evolves through many iterations, with Ben Whishaw recording the voice of the bear, and Grillo working daily with King to review minute calibrations of every expression and gesture. “When it came to Paddington’s facial animation a lot was taken from Ben Whishaw himself. There’s so much that can be conveyed by the face, every expression or small eyeline adjustment can give such a change to how a character feels,” says Liam Russell, Lead Animator on the film and part of Grillo’s team of experts at Framestore. “We used Ben ‘s reference a lot for this very thing. There’s so much more to animating dialogue than just the voice, and being able to include Ben ‘s specific expressions into our animation really helped to bring Paddington to life.”
However with ambitions of building scale and new adventures for Paddington in this sequel, the team of course faced new challenges, not least with more physically demanding sequences. The action set piece at the end of the film was one such hurdle the team had to overcome. “This brought a lot of animation challenges to the table” says Russell, “we had to keep Paddington in character whilst he interacted with a moving train and the physics that came with it.”
Grillo and his team at Framestore pour a lot of themselves into each scene in the film, with a lot of the physical performance coming from the animators themselves. “Many of the team would shoot reference for their shots to help understand the performance or specific actions required,” says Russell. “Paddington being much smaller than a human meant we had to consider how he sees the world and the people around him from a different perspective from our own.”
The physical movements of Paddington and his interaction with real-world objects certainly provide one of the bigger obstacles to overcome when animating the bear.
Please Look After this Bear – Michael Bond CBE
There is one other area of inspiration for King and Farnaby to draw from: Michael Bond and his books. Although PADDINGTON 2 is not a direct adaptation of any of Bond’s stories, they were always on hand. “We looked at the books,” says King. “The scene in the barbers is very Michael Bond, and while he’s window cleaning here and painting in the books, it’s more or less the same. It’s always a joy to read them again.”
Bond’s passing, in July 2017 at the age of 91, was met with a widespread outpouring of love and grief on social media. Much of it circled around a gif of Bond’s cameo in the first movie, where he raises a glass of wine to Paddington as the wide-eyed bear swoops through London in the back of a taxi. At the time, it was a lovely touch, a nod from creator to his creation. Now, it seems even more incredibly poignant. “It’s very sad,” says King, who got to know Bond during the making of the first movie. “I think he got a lot of pleasure out of the first film, and it gave me a lot of pleasure that he liked it. He had more to give, which is an extraordinary thing to say of someone his age.” In many ways, though, Bond and his legacy will continue to thrive, in the shape of his extraordinary creation: a big-hearted bear called Paddington.
PADDINGTON 2 is released in UK cinemas on 10 November 2017.
Paddington 2 Movie tie-in Books
Because we cannot get enough of Paddington 2, we have now also reviewed a few movie tie-in books which are brilliant to prolong the fun of this feel-good family comedy.
Paddington: Sticker Scene Book: Movie tie-in
After watching the film, kids (and parents too) can explore the wonderful world of Paddington using this gorgeous sticker activity book! It is great fun. With all the characters and movie scenes to complete, this 24 pages long sticker book is packed full of fun. It is suitable for children aged 3 to 8 but it is fun beyond that for real movie lovers. It’s published by Harper Collins Children’s Books.
Marmalade sandwiches ready? It’s time to get sticking!
Paddington 2: The Story of the Movie
Kids and parents can read the 176 pages long Paddington 2 movie tie-in novel before and after watching the film, a fun-filled instalment of marmalade and mishaps.
With the book you can join the irresistible Brown family and their adopted bear, plus a whole new cast of heroes and villains. Bigger and better than ever, the story of the new Paddington movie is both hilarious and heart-warming. Guaranteed to capture the hearts of fans, old and new! It’s also published by Harper Collins Children’s Books.
Monica Costa founded London Mums in September 2006 after her son Diego’s birth together with a group of mothers who felt the need of meeting up regularly to share the challenges and joys of motherhood in metropolitan and multicultural London. London Mums is the FREE and independent peer support group for mums and mumpreneurs based in London https://londonmumsmagazine.com and you can connect on Twitter @londonmums