Paddington 2 Paul King interview: 'The need for kindness transcends all political debates' (exclusive)

Stefan Pape
Ben Whishaw returns to voice Paddington Bear in the adorably charming ‘Paddington 2’ (Studiocanal)

Though a film about a small talking bear finding his feet in the big city, it’s rather hard not to find pertinent parallels to the contemporary political landscape in ‘Paddington 2’, which is released this week.

It may be a surrealistic, charming family adventure movie, at its core our protagonist is seeking a better future for himself in a new country, only to be discriminated against while vying to adapt to this new culture. A notion that is sadly all too familiar.

And yet when Yahoo Movies sat down with the film’s director Paul King, he explained that the themes explored were not influenced by Brexit, but the sheer, universal need for human kindness, and it’s this which allows for this film to flourish to spectacularly.

Pouring coffee, for the both of us, this small, seemingly innocuous gesture displays a generosity that is exhibited and celebrated in this very sequel, as our morning with King made it rather easy to see exactly where the film’s indelible, and affable tone derives from.

Yahoo Movies: Just how much do we need ‘Paddington 2’ right now?

Paul King (right) with ‘Paddington 2’ producer David Heyman at the film’s London premiere (James Gillham for STUDIOCANAL)

Paul King: There’s some fairly universal values here. Paddington is such a good natured soul and he looks for the good in people, he doesn’t judge books by covers or sees people as being rich or poor, or the colour of their skin, he greets us all as humans with immense kindness and politeness, assuming we all have good manners and decency deep down.

Paddington stars in M&S Christmas ad
Paddington TV series on the way

That’s a pretty universal, timeless need that does feel very strong right now, but I don’t think there’s been a time in human history when we couldn’t have used quite a lot more Paddington-ness. Certainly at the moment there’s lots of divisions, a lack of understanding of the other side, from all sides, so it’s very important to see us as kind human beings trying to find our way in the world.

Do you think Brexit had any effect on the screenplay? Did it filter in to the way you and co-writer 
Simon Farnaby approached the material?

I really don’t actually. We really were looking at Frank Capra movies, and the little guy in the big world and all of that stuff, it feels as pertinent to Frank Capra as it does to us. The need for kindness transcends all political debates, and especially in media circles there’s often a desire to characterise one side as goodies and one as baddies and it comes from watching too much ‘Star Wars’, but I really don’t see the world in those terms, and I think Paddington is about seeing the good in everyone, and trying to break any of those deadlocks.

Despite the relatable, human aspects of this film – the depiction of London is fantastical, almost otherworldly. Is that there to counteract the political undercurrent?

There’s an inherent unreality to the character, and it felt like the answer was to make London as heightened as possible, a London where a bear could walk down the street and people wouldn’t call the police, just think it’s the sort of thing that could happen in this world. That was the genesis of the storybook London, and I think it also helps it not just be a London story.

London is my home and it’s a city I love dearly, but equally for a film of this scale to work and be financially viable, it needs to find audiences around the world, so a Mary Poppins-like London is no bad thing, to have it feel like ‘the big city’ rather than specifically London, England. There’s always something quite sad about films set in the present, and you watch them years later and it feels really dated, so it’s nice to set it in a sort of Neverland.

Do you think sometimes we need to have a heightened take on reality to explore deep, relevant themes? You could argue that the best and most accessible genres in cinema that do this are science fiction and family movies.

I think that’s absolutely true. Humans respond to story, and you can have just as much of a political impact in a ‘Star Trek’ episode as anything else. People are very good at picking up on metaphors.

How difficult is it to craft a film that works for both adults and children alike?

Actor Ben Whishaw poses for photographers at the world premiere of ‘Paddington 2’ at the BFI Southbank, in London, Britain November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mary Turner

I think it comes relatively natural to me. I generally try to make things that I would find funny. Of course there will be things that resonate more with adults, not every five year old is going to get the Shakespeare references, so you have to be vaguely conscious about not having drifted off into something else, but for this project, and in this world, it never felt like a big stretch. We just went for what felt right.

Do you think your background in comedy, with ‘The Mighty Boosh’ and ‘Come Fly With Me’, served you well?

Yeah I really do. Sometimes people say it’s so different, and it is, but the shapes of jokes haven’t changed and there’s a great silliness to Paddington and some surreal moments. I mean you do have a talking animal, and nobody does talking animals like Noel Fielding. I learnt a vast amount from those guys and try to apply those lessons here, so yeah, definitely. For me I see a very clear through-line whereas other people don’t.

It sounds like a third Paddington movie is likely. If it does go ahead is it something you’d be keen to helm?

Actors Hugh Grant and Hugh Bonneville pose for photographers at the world premiere of ‘Paddington 2’ at the BFI Southbank, in London, Britain November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mary Turner

Yes, absolutely. It would be very hard to say goodbye to the Paddington extended universe because it’s such a nice place to spend time. That said, it’s always nice to explore other things and do other things, so it does depend on timescale and all sorts of things.

But do you think it will happen?

I hope so. So far it’s been well-received, and if the box office matches the early reviews then we’ll be very happy, but if it doesn’t, it wouldn’t be the first time a film has been well-received critically and not found an audience, but it would be lovely if it did.

Have you spoken to Simon about a potential storyline for a third?

I mean things come up, there was one day we were really stuck, so I said, this afternoon let’s throw everything to one side and imagine what a third movie could be, just as an exercise. So obviously there were ideas, but there’s no sheet of paper that says ‘Paddington 3’. I mean, we could call it ‘Paddington 3D’ which every third film should be called.

So, this ‘Creepy Paddington’ meme, were you following that?

Yes, and they are very, very funny. I remember when it broke out the first time and Matt Lucas sent me an email at about 3am and it said, ‘you’re either going to love this, or hate this’. And I couldn’t stop laughing, they are very funny.

Were you not tempted to implement him into the sequel?

[Laughs] I suspect I was trying to do exactly the opposite!

‘Paddington 2’ arrives in UK cinemas on Friday, 10 November. Watch a clip below.

Read more
Mind-blowing movie details you probably missed
X-Men/Avengers crossover could be possible
Fans slam inappropriate Stranger Things kiss