I received an all expense paid trip from Disney to attend the #ChristopherRobinEvent. The opinions expressed here are my own. Some interview questions and responses have been edited to improve readability.
While at the Christopher Robin press junket, we sat down with Hayley Atwell to chat about her role in the film as Evelyn Robin, Christopher Robin’s wife. She is known for her work in stage productions such as A View from the Bridge, and onscreen, for period pieces as the 2008 drama The Duchess, the 2010 historical drama miniseries The Pillars of the Earth and for her portrayal of Peggy Carter in various films and television series set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including the lead role in the ABC action-adventure series Agent Carter. During the interview she mentioned that “you can’t really do a film like this and have a bad time”. I would say that you can’t really interview Hayley Atwell and have a bad time. She was bubbly, funny and brought a great energy to the room. Keep reading to see what she brought home from the set.
You can read all about my experience on the Christopher Robin red carpet HERE.
Q: Have you seen Christopher Robin yet?
A: Yeah, I saw it by myself which is just as well because I started crying in the opening credit and what I felt coming out of it was the feeling of what a wonderful antidote this film is at the moment because without it being too sentimental it’s quite profound as the books are. When I was reading them as a child there’s this kind of sweet, endearing quality about it. These animals come to life but as an adult reading it and the witticisms but also the profound simplicity of it just made me feel that this is kind of already a wonderful film to be telling now. It’s just something that’s very refreshing. It’s basically saying you’re enough and I just wanna hang out with you as you are. I’m a big fan of it.
Q: How did you become involved in the project?
A: I was on holiday on a boat in Greece. I was sunbathing and I got a call from my agent [asking if I’d skype with] Marc Forster, the director of Christopher Robin. I said yeah of course. I have quite erratic reception here in the Aegean ocean so I went to the captain and I said I need to find a spot where I can skype someone and he went you see that rock over there. I went yeah, yeah. He went go passed that for about ten minutes and you’ll find a spot.
So I got my life jacket on and I went on a jet ski and I went very far until I pretty much couldn’t see any form of civilization and then I was able to get reception and I remember answering. I never met him before and I just went welcome to my office. It’s just how I work here. It’s just what I do and so we broke the ice that way but he was just talking about how he wanted to tell a story that was classic to the philosophy of Pooh Bear that everyone knew so that these characters are familiar to everyone, not doing anything kind of left field with any of these characters because they’re complete in themselves.
But wouldn’t it be interesting to explore the idea of what happened when Christopher Robin grew up and have that being the access point for adults who would identify with being an adult now and being burdened by and lost a little bit by the pressures of everyday life and being on a bit of a hamster wheel and not realizing that your ambitions are kind of getting the better of you and so we talked a little bit about that. And then he talked about wanting to create the relationship between Evelyn and Christopher as one where it began with genuine love and joy and he set it up at the beginning then you know that what is at stakes for him to lose and you kind of root for them.
So we wanted any scenes or any moments with Evelyn for her to be someone who had compassion to know that this man who’s come back from war, who’s struggling to provide for his family, whose heart’s in the right place he’s struggling within himself rather than anything that she could probably criticize him for and she’s taking on the pain of the cost it’s having on the child as well. So rather than in her in any way seeming kind of unsympathetic or moaning or whining or anything like that, just someone who she’s taking care of her own feelings and experiences in this, feeling lost and left behind by her husband but knowing that he’s in a lot of pain as well. So we spoke a little bit about that really and then I got back on the boat and here we are.
Q: Evelyn’s a really strong, loving mother. Where did you find inspiration for that role?
A: Well I have a strong mother and I have strong women in my life. one of them is my auntie Randy who’s over there [points to her aunt in the room] who’s visiting from Virginia, my father’s sister. I think it’s from those experiences of being with older women who set the way and the safety that I have felt from them at times when feeling the world is a big place and the kind of the calm, the calm kind of voice of reason and strength but a gentleness that comes with that is something that I’ve had experienced over the women in my life and felt that, that felt the right kind of time for this movie as well that she’s not sentimental.
She’s not, she’s not passive. She doesn’t kind of sit there, you know, allowing things to happen but she also doesn’t attack him for it. I think she’s aware of the complexities of his situation and also being heartbroken about the effects it’s having on her daughter but also not turning her daughter against her father as well. And I think for me that was a very emotionally intelligent character choice to make and one that was much more realistic. I think that’s what parents have to do and have to struggle with.
I’m not one myself but I’ve seen it with my god children and their parents and the people in my life who have kids of that dialogue of going how do we help our children navigate these very emotionally, tricky times with an open heart still and able to process pain in a loving and healthy way. So I think although this is a good feel children’s movie it does touch on things that I think families will identify with.
Q: You talked about Winnie the Pooh being iconic. How did you feel about taking on role of someone iconic?
A: Well, I think there wasn’t any pressure because Evelyn’s not in the books and so this was a new character. I wasn’t having to create something that was already well know. I think that maybe the visual department here in charge of this guy might have been feeling the pressure slightly but I think it’s where technology is at the moment and when you can see fine hairs on a bear and you can see how human and expressive they can be I think it’s I walked in feeling very much in safe hands and because also you have Jim Cummings who’s been our Pooh since the 80s. He’s part of our- – he’s our third Pooh right now I think and kind of have that incredible privilege to work with him. As soon as I heard Pooh’s voice I went oh, he’s here. Oh, he’s here.
Yeah, there was a very, I think a very gentle kind of atmosphere on set. We had a nice time and we had Jenny Beavan our amazing costume designer. She would come in and she’d go oh, have you seen the stuffed animals. They’re just darling. She goes, this is the happiest job I’ve ever done. You can’t really do a film like this and have a bad time. You know, you can’t. If you were to have a grump I think someone would be like having a bit of an Eeyore day, you know.
There was a gentle quality to it because the material — I’ve always found whatever the material that I’m working on it does seem to bleed over into the atmosphere of the set in between takes and so this was a summer spent in Ashdown Forest with a bear of a very big heart so we were all oh, it’s so sweet. Yeah, we had a nice time.
Q: I’ve heard that you play pranks with co-stars? What kind of good pranks did you play?
A: Well, I think it wasn’t so much of a prank. There was a moment where Marc Forster was saying in a small picnic scene and I knew a lot of the dialogue wouldn’t be used. I knew the scene was more of an establishing shots and he said, you know, talk to the animals. I said well I’m not gonna really give him much back. I don’t know how to improvise with stuffed animals but I ended up kind of going on a bit of a rampage talking to Kanga and going Kanga, I just wanna say like kudos for you for being a single parent here. I was like you’ve done a great job with Roo and I was also going like where is Roo’s dad in all of this actually and Marc going I don’t think that’s gonna make it into the film. It’s an interesting spin.
I remember kind of offering Owl a sandwich and then the voice saying oh, no thank you I’m fine and I go oh, are you gluten free? That probably wasn’t a concept in the 1940s that people knew about. So and then we, you know, had an ongoing gags that, you know, Piglet was the diva who never came out of the trailer and was addicted to haycorns and was a nervous wreck and also kind of and also the fact that I thought in my ignorance a very valid conversation which is how does Piglet identify. Like I’m interested to know like how does he, she identify? I don’t know. How does Piglet identify?
So we just kind of humanized them I think and it was fun watching so we’d film with the stuffed bears who looked very similar to the final animated ones that you see and then for the visual effects department we had to do a scene again without the stuffed bears but instead for visual effects they needed the headless, hairless versions that were grey and so you do a scene like oh, lovely. And then all of a sudden this kind of thing would be plumped in front of you and suddenly I’m doing a Guillermo Del Toro horror version of the film and then the next pass it would be without limbs as well and then one was a rod with a light on it and then eventually it was just absolutely nothing there so it was the deconstruction of Pooh throughout the takes which we found very amusing and slightly creepy.
Q: Play is so important in this film. How do you as an adult relax and play?
A: I think I’m quite childlike anyway and yeah I think my friends would describe me as that because I partly do this as my job anyway but it’s I think given me free reign to know that even when I’m just being silly and playful and being childlike this is actually good because this is what I do for my living. But I think it’s just I have friends that I’ve known for, you know, when I was a child and you get together with certain people and they bring those qualities out in you and I think I’d like to do that and I also I like games.
I have games night at my house so we play things from like Articulate to Secret Chameleon, Hidden Chameleon and then also Escape Rooms I quite like to do. I’m really into that. I’ve been doing them here a little bit. I’ve done some with my dad as well so yeah I think some of the work that I do, am about to go do Measure for Measure on the stage in the west end and although that can be quite an academic, heady more classical piece and I’ve done a lot of those more classical roles I think in my personal life I tend to — the antidote is actual kind of behave like a child.
Q: Bronte told us that she was able to bring home Piglet at the end of filming. Were you able to bring home souvenirs?
A: Yes, I had two souvenirs. So the first thing that I was given was the gramophone which is really beautiful and that’s in my living room but then weeks after we wrapped I got a package in the mail and Marc Forster had commissioned the art department of the film to paint me, a beautiful painting of Pooh and my dog and then because my dog was on set every day and he was very welcome on set and he would come into the rehearsals with us and he’d sit on some of the set and he would just be one of the animals and Marc adored him and would always go oh, bring Howard and I found that dogs like — my dog’s very calm and very quiet so had a quite a therapeutic effect in the workplace so Marc took a real shine to Howard so he had this painting of Howard and Pooh in matching red sweaters. It’s really cute.
Q: Did you have a favorite character as a child and now that you played in the movie have a different favorite character?
A: Yeah, I think in a way all the animals are kind of archetypes of different versions of ourselves based on the day of the week or moods that we’re in or the circumstances and I think I always found Piglet to be just totally adorable and so vulnerable and it always made me want to kind of reach out and look after Piglet. Having worked with Piglet though it’s just neurotic. It’s like he’s got what we call now in today’s kind of vocabulary is anxiety and like treated with haycorns which seem to kind of exasperate his issues. I think he needs like maybe some therapy and medication.
I don’t know so as cute as he is I’m like it’s just a leaf, Piglet or it’s just a, so I didn’t have as much as patience I think with Piglet as I thought I would and I think, you know, Pooh to me ended up being like the kind of Zen master because almost like this bit of an unknown guru without realizing it which makes him so endearing isn’t it because he doesn’t have that, he doesn’t have the self-awareness to know really what he’s saying. He’s just pure love without agenda and I think the thing that maybe kind of breaks my heart when I saw the film remember that moment where Christopher Robin’s hurt him and Pooh says did you forget me too?
And what makes me cry about that is because the way Pooh processes pain is that he just takes it in like a dog would like unconditional love and instead of attacking back or being defensive about it or finding ways to seek revenge or go well fine and walk away as well he just absorbs that pain but still loves Christopher Robin and that seems to be a very human quality between people that love each other and a very necessary quality to our own civilization and for our own sense of belonging to each other. The ability to absorb pain from someone who knows that they can cause us pain but see beyond that and I would just found that moment was so moving and so evolved of Pooh without him realizing it that it made me fall in love with Pooh.
Q: What is your favorite Pooh piece of wisdom?
A: I do think it’s the one that’s in the trailer actually of the people saying nothing’s impossible but I do nothing every day because actually I find doing nothing is really hard and I think a lot of people would resonate with that today whereas there’s this constant need for living in today where there seems to be now such a praise and celebration for productivity and perfectionism and attaining of goals and achievement and success that I think it can create Piglets in us of having anxiety and neurosis which also seem to be sometimes not the healthiest response to a world that seems to want so much of us that we can’t ever be enough. So that quote in itself of, you know, in the humor of him not really understanding what he’s saying and what that actually means. He’s actually saying the profound thing which is he’s able to just sit with himself and it be enough and that life itself is enough and that we’re enough and so I think that was my favorite.
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