After a deadly earthquake destroys his home in Peruvian rainforest, a young bear (Ben Whishaw) makes his way to England in search of a new home. The bear, dubbed “Paddington” for the london train station, finds shelter with the family of Henry (Hugh Bonneville) and Mary Brown (Sally Hawkins). Although Paddington’s amazement at urban living soon endears him to the Browns, someone else has her eye on him: Taxidermist Millicent Clyde (Nicole Kidman) has designs on the rare bear and his hide.
We spoke to producer, David Heyman, regarding his experiences while working on Paddington.
HTF: Firstly, what went through your mind when you were first told about the possibility of a Paddington film?
DH: Paddington had always been a part of my childhood, so there was always a nostalgic element to it. What happened was that Rosie who works for me, suggested that I read the books, so I did and they made me laugh. The stories made me laugh and I found him as a character, incredibly appealing. The humour not only appealed to the six-year-old me, but to the mid-40s me; now much older of course. So I read on, and read more. I’m drawn to stories of outsiders and this is a classic outsider story of a young bear, looking for and finding a home and gaining acceptance.
HTF: What kind if difficulties did you face when adapting Paddington to the modern day viewer?
DH: Well there were several difficulties. First there was the fact that the Paddington stories themselves are quite short, they’re episodes and so just trying to construct a narrative that was an hour and a half long was the first challenge. But many of the attitudes and the issues [within Paddington] remain today. Paddington is an immigrant, coming to this country in search of a better tomorrow and the challenges he faces are as relevant today as they were in the 50s. That good hearted nature is maybe something that is not quite as current, but it’s something that we still aspire to and so it felt quite timeless.
HTF: What was the atmosphere like on set while filming?
DH: It was spirited. There was a lot to and there was enough time to do it in. Everybody was very focused. Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters are all incredibly generous spirits. We also had Jim Broadbent and Peter Capaldi, as well as two young children. I’ve had a little bit of experience working with young children, and what’s so great is that it demands and creates a very positive atmosphere. All of them, they’re all really good, decent people; real professionals, incredibly gifted and very generous. So it was a great atmosphere. We’ve all grown up with Paddington, so I think we were all there to make something that was special.
HTF: Did you ever think that the film would be as successful as it has been?
DH: Well I wouldn’t have begun it if I didn’t think that it had some possibility of reaching an audience, but I have been gratified by the extent of it. It’s been a little bit of a surprise and it’s just been fantastic that audiences have connected with him in such a way. I think that Paul King is such a special director, that he is the spirit of Paddington; that he is such a generous, funny, positive spirit and I think that spirit came across. I just love it that have enjoyed it so. They seem to be coming out of the cinema and telling their friends and family to go and see it. That’s a wonderful thing. Am I surprised? Yes. I never go in expecting any film that I work on to be a huge success. It was like that with Gravity, it was like that with Paddington. I work with uncertainty and I do whatever I can to help the director with the film, but then it’s in the hands of the audience and it’s always surprising and incredibly gratifying whenever it does work.
HTF: How does it compare to work on a film like Paddington, in comparison with the likes of Gravity?
DH: The fundamental difference is that in Gravity, what wasn’t there was the environment, but in Paddington, the environment was there, but your central actor wasn’t. But actors have vivid imaginations, so they’re able to imagine an environment that isn’t there and they were able to imagine a character that isn’t there. I supposed Gravity, by its very nature, we pre-visualised the film, so there was probably less spontaneity or improvisation on set than there was in Paddington where the entire cast were encouraged to improvise. But even with the great control that existed with gravity, Sandra would find moments within these shots where the camera was moving in a certain way or at a certain pace that was unalterable for the most part.
HTF: Are you aware of the creepy Paddington meme?
DH: Oh yes, I think people are having lots of fun and we should let them enjoy it. When the first image of Paddington came out and that was the response, that had to be managed; there was a slight concern. But I don’t think it had any effect [on the film] in a positive or negative way.
HTF: What was the best part about working on the film?
DH: Well for one, to work with the incredible Paul King and to actually be able to work with Michael Bond’s fantastic creation and to see the way that audiences have responded. To leave a skip in their step, like you dream of, so it’s been great.
Paddington will be available from 23 March 2015 on DVD, Blu-ray and download.