Paddington is a character that is loved the world over by generations of people and came to the big screen for the first time last year. Paddington saw Paul King back in the director's chair for his first movie since Bunny and the Bull in what was his biggest and most adventurous project yet.
Paddington was met with critical acclaim, went on to be a box office smash, and went on to be nominated for a couple of Baftas. This week you can enjoy the magic of this movie once again as it is released on DVD & Blu-Ray.
We caught up with director Paul King to chat about the film, the challenges of mixing live action with CGI and if there is a sequel in the pipeline.
- Paddington enjoyed huge box office success last year and is about to be released on to DVD, so where did this project start for you? And what was the major draw of this iconic character?
I read a thing on the BBC website that David Heyman was hoping to make a Paddington film and had got the rights to make a Paddington film and I was just really excited. I knew of his work with the likes of Harry Potter, thought he was great, and just grew up loving Paddington; so it seemed like a really interesting idea.
I ran a small campaign to get a meeting with him and just pestered him and Rosie Alison - another of our producers - until they met me. Then they were kind enough to take a shot. That is what I like about David, he is prepared to take a chance on people who haven't done all of these things before.
I thought about the project and went back and read the books - which I haven't read since I was a child - and thought that there was a really great character here. I remember it being funny and charming but I thought that there was a proper movie sized story here of those outsider coming to a big city. While the books may be written as brilliantly funny short stories and set pieces, it also felt like there was a narrative there that could be turned into a film.
- That leads me into my next question really. You have got a wealth of books and TV series of this character, so how did you decide where to start when you began writing the script? How much did the script change from the initial idea that you had to the final film we saw on screen?
It was quite a long writing process and we did go through a few blind alleys. However, the shape came pretty quickly - the first four chapters of the book tell the story from the Browns meeting Paddington at the station, thought to the tearoom scene, they go back to the house, the bathroom moment, and Paddington going on the underground; it is one of the most famous set pieces and one of the longest chunks of story there is in the book.
At the beginning of the fifth chapter, which goes something like 'after a few weeks Paddington felt right at home' and I thought that there was a great window there to explore how he had gone from pesky outsider to part of the family. It really felt that you could write a story there that would not spoil any of the stories in the books for readers or contradict anything in that. It also told a really interesting part of the narrative that perhaps hadn't been told in the book. That wasn't necessarily set in stone, but we always knew that would be the story.
I was keen to start in Peru because I wanted to meet Paddington before the humans: the TV show did that great trick where all of the humans are 2D cardboard cutouts and the bear is the only real three-dimensional and real thing and that makes you relate to the bear as an audience member. I really wanted the audience on side with Paddington before we met any of the human characters properly. While we do meet some humans in the black and white prologue, Paddington is really the first proper 3D character that we meet. It was important that we loved him and so by the time that we meet him at the station, it wasn't just a family meeting a weird outsider but we were on the side of the outsider.
Then it was really about who our villain was going to be and that sort of plot, and what Paddington was going to do when he got to London.
- You have brought together a terrific cast with the likes of Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville and Julie Walters some of the great names on board. Can you talk about the casting process and what you were looking for your central characters?
What I was really looking for was people who could be funny and moving and that is quite a tough double act and a tough thing to do. Sally I knew from before and I knew that she was great and could be incredibly funny, improvise brilliantly, and could also make you cry. Hugh does all of those things as well.
He is obviously very stately as Lord Grantham and he has that English stiff upper lip - but he is also very funny. In the UK, we know him for shows like W1A and 2012 where he is properly hilarious, but the wider world may have forgotten just how funny he is or now known it. I thought that would be an exciting thing for him. Then Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent have those same characteristics and they can break your heart and make you laugh at the same time.
- Nicole Kidman also makes a fantastic villain. This is not the kind of role that we are use to seeing her in, so what made you think of her when casting Millicent?
I remember in this nineties film To Die For and she is properly funny and wicked in that. She is a massive star and she does these huge and brilliant films, but I thought it might be fun to offer her something that she doesn't normally do and is a bit different. She is so funny but she doesn't do a lot of comedy; I think she is absolutely brilliant. We wrote to her - it was such a long shot and we were like 'we will send her the script but I don't think we have a chance'. And her agent said 'I will send her the script but it is not her normal thing.' Her agent rang and was like 'there is this script that I have sent you for Paddington' and she was like 'the bear? I love Paddington; I have to be part of that film.'
She had grown up with it - Paddington is reasonably well known in Australia - and she was totally enthusiastic. We thought it would be like months of negotiations and it took about twenty-five minutes (laughs). I think because she has kids as well I think it was nice for her to make something that they could see.
- I was reading that you had quite a lengthy rehearsal process with your actors, so what were the main aims of that rehearsal time? Were there any relationships that you were keen to really work on and build during that time?
Yeah, I think Mr and Mrs Brown was the big one really. We were trying to do a thing where Paddington comes into this house and it is a nice house but there are some problems; that was a very delicate balance to get right as we didn't want them to be too cross with each other and yet they were a family that needed a bear and there was a Paddington shaped hole in the heart of it. I knew that Sally and Hugh were great improvisers and so I knew that they would really be able to help me.
The other big point of it was to get use the fact that Paddington wasn't there and that was quite a thing for the actors to get accustomed to. I was just anxious because you read these stories where people say 'I arrived on set and there were just these three tennis balls and I was supposed to imagine that it was this massive alien,' and I wanted to work out some strategies where that wouldn't feel strange. We had a life-sized Paddington teddy, we had a small person who was the size of Paddington, and we had another actor who was helping to read lines in - he was brilliant because he was able to improvise with the performers and keep it all fresh.
I suppose, the children because it is always… they were much more professional than anyone else involved, as they always are. I just wanted them to be relaxed, happy, and now overawed on the day; I don't think that was ever going to be a problem as they were super cool from the second they arrived. I was a quivering wreck and they were totally relaxed.
- The editing of this film is really tight and it keeps the story moving forward at a great pace. Can you talk a bit about the editing process and the challenges that you faced?
Mark Everson, who did the editing, comes from a comedy background basically. Again, it is one of those things where you want to make sure that anything that is trying to be funny has the best possible chance. He has done a lot of work on The Peep Show, the Alan Partridge movie, and he did some of the Mighty Boosh with me and is just so good and making sure that jokes float at the right speed.
The other thing that keeps you honest, is the cost of making a bear as each shot is such an expensive thing to go for; you don't start with a three hour version that you begrudgingly cut down, each shot has to earn its place, tell you something about the character or the story, make you laugh or tear up. That became a really good ethos for the film, to make sure that every shot was essential, which seems really obvious but isn't always. It just made every shot earn its keep and I thought hat was really good discipline.
- This movie mixes live action with computer animation, so how tricky was that for you as a filmmaker?
Pretty hard as it was all new to me really. I had done bits of animation in the past but nothing on this level. We had this company called Framestore, who were just amazing and just held my hand through the whole thing. David Heyman had also done loads of this for Harry Potter and Gravity - the whole thing was made with a computer apart from the actor's faces, I think - so I was surrounded by so many people who knew what they were doing and weren't frightened by it.
The weirdest thing is seeing the first cut of the scene, so you will have Hugh in the tearoom and you will cut from him doing some of his brilliant and funny acting to an empty chair. It is really hard to watch scenes like that because the funny bits are missing, the emotional bits are missing, and David is so use to having to make that leap of imagination that it just made everything much easier.
- There is also something otherworldly about London - while it is clearly London - but there is something more heightened and magical about it. How much was that deliberate?
It was definitely the aim. I think because Paddington is a CGI character, even though the CGI is amazing, there is still something heightened about a bear walking and talking down the street. I suppose the way the Paddington books are written, no one is pointing, screaming, and wanting to put him on TV as a freak - it is very unusual but it is not frightening or anything like that. We sort of thought 'Paddington exists in this space and for that to work, it would be good if the rest of the world felt as heightened as Paddington and this is London where you might see a bear walking down the street and it is not that odd that he says hello and raises his hat. It might be peculiar but it is not completely alien.'
With all that in mind, we wanted a London that was recognisable but slightly in that storybook landscape. It was a lot of work to try to make that work (laughs). You had to try and control the colours in all of the shots and be precise about what you see. Also, we tried to make it a little bit timeless - it is not all mobile phones and iPads and stuff - so it feels… it is set in the present day, but it is not completely unrecognisable as the Paddington you might have imagined if you had read it growing up in the sixties or the seventies.
- Paddington is a character that is loved by generations the world over, so what are you earliest memories of Paddington? What is it about this character that is so special and enduring?
One of my first memories of Paddington is lying on the living room floor watching him a lunchtime when it was on TV. When I watched it as a two or three year old, I probably thought that he was funny or sweet and nice, but when I was thinking about it as a grown up, there is something really lovely in his label 'Please look after this bear, Thanks you' as it is so polite and it is so asking for kindness. I think that this makes the character vulnerable but in a way that he would never know it. Somebody else knows that he needs kindness - Aunt Lucy, who has presumably written this label - but Paddington himself is quite self-reliant.
That felt really charming, as here is this character who needs help but would not ask for it. That feels like the great cry of the world; we know that there are people who need help and yet we don't always help them. There is something incredibly lovely about the world of Paddington that Michael Bond made, it's a world where people go out and are willing to help strangers - it is a wonderful thing.
- There has already been talk of a sequel. How much is that something that you would be interested in and is it something that has been discussed?
We have certainly talked about it. There are lots of Paddington books and we would certainly like to do more. However, we haven't gone any further than wanting to do more, yet. It is something that I have been talking about with David and we would love to find a way to make of making that work. So far, we haven't quite got going (laughs).
I think we are both so tried - it feels like we have had three months to get over it but we worked every second of every day for the last two years putting the first one together and we are still slightly red-eyed over the whole thing. I think we will try and sort something out soon.
- Finally, what's next for you going through 2015?
I don't know really. I have been reading lots of different scripts but I have got nothing at the moment (laughs). Basically, I am unemployed (laughs).
Paddington is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now.