Paddington Bear was first introduced to children in the 1958 book A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond, and the subsequent series went on to sell over 35 million copies, translated into 40 languages. And then, in January 2015, in what was the first time Bond had given his blessing for his beloved characters to be brought to the big screen, Paddington charmed critics and audience members alike, earning over $228 million worldwide at the box office.
Paddington is now available on Blu-ray/DVD, and producer David Heyman spoke to Collider for this exclusive phone interview about how happy he is with how everything ultimately turned out, the he didn’t know if the film was working until they put the finished product in front of an audience, wanting to make something that everyone involved could be proud of, and the greatest challenges in pulling all of this off. He also talked about wanting to get Paul King (who wrote and directed the first film) back for the sequel, being in the very early talking stages on it, and wanting to be sure they come up with a story that works.
DAVID HEYMAN: Working with Studio Canal was wonderful. They gave us the support and freedom to make the film that we wanted to make. And there were moments where they were tested, as it were. For example, the voice of Paddington was initially Colin Firth, who is a wonderful, brilliant actor, but when we heard his voice alongside the bear that we were building, it just didn’t quite work. And Colin was, in many ways, ahead of the game. He knew it before we did. But there was a cost associated with that change, and they embraced it and were somewhat fearless. It was great. We had a great environment. (Writer/director) Paul [King] is hugely gifted. I hope he’s going to Paddington 2. He’s a real talent.
You’ve talked about your nostalgic affection for Paddington, but could you ever have imagined that not only would you be able to pull this off, and that it would end up being so successful and surpassing everyone’s expectations for it?
HEYMAN: Every time I see a film I was on, I’m nervous, and this was no exception. But, it’s been incredibly gratifying. It’s a story about the outsider coming to a strange land and ultimately being embraced by this family, who is enriched by Paddington, and he realizes that it’s not about fitting in, but being himself. By being himself, he will be embraced. And in being embraced, the family is enriched. Those ideas are not unique to England or the United States, but are relevant all over the world.
This seems like a film that really could have gone wrong, in so many different ways. Did you have a moment where you realized that that is was going the way you had hoped?
HEYMAN: No. You don’t know until you put it in front of an audience, as a completed film. Once we put it in front of an audience, as a completed film, than I believed that we made something that worked. I did believe that it was rich, and I loved the performances. The animation that Framestore did was just extraordinary. I thought it was special, and I felt it was what we had set out to do, but I didn’t necessarily know that it was going to connect with audiences the way that it ultimately has. That’s the difficulty. One of the things that we had to do was have Paddington speak to grown-ups, and we brought the two worlds together. It’s an extraordinary notion that a bear is in London. The original drawings of Paddington were much more cuddly teddy bear, so we made him a little more bear like. He felt a little more like a toy in the drawings, so we made him more real. And then, simultaneously, we made the world a little more heightened. It’s an idealized London, in some ways. The Brown family home is tweaked a little bit and slightly heightened, so that these two worlds, with the talking bear and the real world, could co-exist comfortably.
Knowing that this was the first time the author, Michael Bond, had given his blessing for his beloved character to be brought to the big screen, how much more weight and responsibility did that give you, to bring the character to life?
HEYMAN: It’s not dissimilar to Harry Potter, in the sense that you’re taking much-beloved characters in books. I’m a fan, and the writer/director, Paul King, is a fan. As fans, the challenge was to make something that we could be proud of. If we were proud of it and we were comfortable with the adaptation, it felt that we were then being true to Michael’s vision and what Michael created. To look at the responsibility of it and thought in those terms, I think we would have been paralyzed. Everybody has got their own view of this things. The first images of Paddington caused concern. There were all these memes put out of Paddington that were anxiety provoking. But ultimately, you just have to believe in what you’re doing. If we’re the harshest critics and we liked it, than others would follow.
What do you think would most surprise people about what it took to get Paddington from the page to the screen?
HEYMAN: One of the greatest challenges was having a character at the center of the film who is your heart and soul and source of comedy, interacting with real people, and having to create a digital character that engages you in that way, over a 90-minute film. The emotions have to be truthful. That was one of the great challenges. I’m sure people can imagine that, but they can’t necessarily imagine all the work that went into it. If you translated Michael Bond’s books into a film, it would be five minutes long. The challenge was in creating a whole film out of those stories and ultimately having to invent so much, and yet keep that cohesive and coherent and true to Michael Bond’s spirit. And then, because the books are rooted in 1950s values, we had to create a film that was set in a contemporary world, but keep true to that spirit. A lot of those values still exist today, or people most certainly wish things like good old fashioned manners and politeness and decency existed. The world we created is not a world filled with computers and mobile phones. We tried to make it a more classic world, with a contemporary bent.
You said that you hope to get Paul King back for the sequel. How close are you to making that happen, and where is the sequel at, in the development process?
HEYMAN: It’s very early days. Let’s just say that we’re in talks. That’s where we are. We’re having conversations. Paul has to decide that he wants to do it, and we have to come up with a story that we feel works. If we do that, than we’ll be on our way.
Was this always a film that you hoped you’d make a sequel for, if it did well, or did you only ever think of it as one film?
HEYMAN: It’s funny, even with Harry Potter, it was all about the film that we were making. If you think about the sequel, than you’re getting ahead of the game. The key is, if you make a good first film and audiences respond, than hopefully you’ll have the opportunity to do a sequel. We just tried to tell a good story to make a film that was as good of a film as possible. Hopefully, each one is better than the last. Sometimes we succeeded and sometimes we didn’t with Potter. And hopefully, we’ll succeed with the second Paddington. It’s about looking at each film as a film on its own. We didn’t plan ahead. When we were trying to get the money, one of the things we talked about was that it could be a series. But in making it, that’s not how we approached it. We approached it as an individual film.
Paddington is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand.