How long have you been writing Johnny?
On and off, it’s impossible to say really. I suppose for the last year I’ve been working on it a lot, and I did some stuff before than but it went away and came back. It’s been around for a bit, the idea of a Johnny English sequel, and I’ve done some work early on it, but coming back into this script proper – it’s been about a year of doing not much else than hammering out the story, hammering out the character lines, hammering out the comedy. It’s been full on.
You’re always writing with Rowan in mind, aren’t you?
Completely, yeah - and I hear his voice very clearly. Or Johnny English’s voice, I should say. For me, that’s essential, you know... you’ve got to be able to hear… it’s that classic thing that if you took away the character slug, you would still know who was speaking by the way that they were speaking. And I think that’s very important with Johnny particularly - with all characters, they should be very particular, but him most of all, he’s been in my mind not only with what he says, what he does, what he won’t do, what he does but tries to pretend he hasn’t done – those are the full range of things, so certainly I feel I know Johnny well and that’s been part of the pleasure really.
How has he matured, what has he been doing in his 8 year hiatus?
When we left the first movie, I think everything went very well for a bit for Sir Johnny English as he was then. I think he was the fated and lauded and applauded as the greatest agent of MI7. But when we meet him at the beginning of this movie, things have gone very badly wrong for him because we meet him after he has spent the last five years in a deep, dark, claustrophobic cave full of beetles somewhere in Tibet, where he is hiding full of shame and regret and recrimination about a mission that went terribly wrong for him in Mozambique. So we start with Johnny away and broken, and a line is brought back to him – MI7 need him for one very particular reason and they get him back for that. So we move from Johnny being a broken man, back into the MI7 and find him proving himself against the odds during the course of the movie. So he’s a character who moves from very dark, to once again triumphing in an evil world.
What’s the appeal, why do people like Johnny English?
I think he’s unrelentingly brave, he is not sharpest knife in the box but he would never ever admit that to you. In that sense, he has a high opinion of himself, he’s a bit of a snob in some ways but the qualities that ultimately make him absolutely winning are courage, and bravery, and somewhere he has a good heart. And he may get things terribly wrong, he’ll never admit them, he’ll try to blame them on other people but I think those are the qualities we love in him, he’ll keep on going, and he has a great sense of right and wrong, duty, patriotism, these things beat hard in the heart of Johnny. I think that’s why we love him, and also of course, we laugh at him, he does make dreadful mistakes but I think those are his redeeming qualities.
Next month's Q&A will be with Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy director Tomas Alfredson. You can submit your questions to Tomas here.