Talking Strength, Compassion, and Jet Skis With Disney’s Christopher Robin’s Hayley Atwell
Talking Strength, Compassion, and Jet Skis With Disney’s Christopher Robin’s Hayley Atwell. You may know Hayley Atwell as Marvel’s Peggy (Agent) Carter. Or you might know her as Cinderella’s mother. You may not remember where you know her from, just that she looks so familiar. Allow me to introduce you to Haley Atwell as Evelyn Robin, the wife of Christopher Robin.
Hayley Atwell has an energy that permeates every corner of the room. Before she even walked in the room, we all knew she was there. Her smile, her passion for her work, and her love for life followed her throughout this interview. As you’re reading through the questions we asked and the answers she gave, imagine the smile she has in the photo below. This is what we saw as she answered each question so enthusiastically and elaborated on her experience in filming Disney’s Christopher Robin.
Have you seen it (Disney’s Christopher Robin)?
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 alive. As an adult reading it and the witisms, but also this, the profound simplicity of it just made me feel that this is kind of already a wonderful film to be telling now, you know. 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.
How did you become involved in the project?
How I became involved was I was on holiday on a boat in Greece. I was sunbathing and I got call from my agent saying Mark Foster, the director is directing Christopher Robin. Will you Skype with him and I said yeah of course. I have quite an erratic reception here in the ocean so I went to the captain and I said I need to find a spot where I can Skype someone and he said you see that rock over there. I went yeah, yeah. He went go past 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 put my phone down the life jacket like this and I went very far until 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 a and 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 and he was 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 within these characters because they’re complete in themselves.
But wouldn’t it be interesting to explore the idea of what happens 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 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 said at the beginning that you know that what is at stake for him to lose and you kind of root for them.
Evelyn’s a strong, loving mother. Where did you call from to give that?
Well I have a strong mother and I have strong women in my life. One of them is my auntie Roundy who’s over there who’s visiting from Virginia. My father’s sister and 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 the feeling the world is a big place and the kind of the calm 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 like the right kind of time for this movie.
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. Also not turning her daughter against her father. 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 godchildren and their parents and the people in my life who have kids about 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.
What kind of pranks did you play (on set)?
Well, I think well it wasn’t so much of a prank. There was a moment where Mark Foster 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 Mark going I don’t think that’s gonna make it in. It’s an interesting spin.
I remember kind of offering Owl a sandwich and then the voice saying oh, no thank you I’m free and I go oh, you’re gluten free. That probably wasn’t a concept in the 1940’s 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 acorns and was a nervous wreck. 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.
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 in front of you and suddenly I’m doing a Guillermo Del Toro horror version of the film. Then the next pass it would be without limbs as well. Then one was a rod with a light on it. Eventually it was just absolutely nothing there. It was the deconstruction of Pooh throughout the takes which we found very amusing and slightly creepy.
How do you as an adult relax and play?
I think I’m quite childlike anyway and yeah I think my friends would describe me as that so because I was partly because I do this as my job. 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 a living. I have friends that I’ve known for when I was a child and you get together with certain people and they bring those qualities out in you. I think I’d like to do that and also I like games.
Did you have a favorite character as a child and now do you have a different character?
Yeah, I think in a way all the animals that are kind of archetypes of different versions of ourselves based on the day of the week or moods that we’re in or 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 acorns which seem to kind of exacerbate 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. I didn’t have as much as patience I think with Piglet as I thought I would. 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 self-awareness to know really what he’s saying. He’s just pure love without agenda and I think the thing that maybe breaks my heart when I saw the film remember that moment where Christopher Robin hugs 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 way. 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. 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. I would just find that moment was so moving and so evolved of Pooh without him realizing it that it made me fall in love with Pooh.
What is your favorite Pooh piece of wisdom?
I do think it’s the one that’s in the trailer actually ‘people saying nothing’s impossible but I do nothing everyday’. Because actually I find doing nothing is really hard and I think a lot of people would resonate with that today. There’s this constant need for living where there seems to be
now such a praise and celebration for productivity and perfectionism and attaining of goals and achievement and success. But I think it can create Piglets in us of neurosis which also seem to be sometime not the healthiest response to a world that seems to want so much of us that we can’t ever be enough.
So that quite 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.
This was such a fun interview! I don’t think I’ve ever interviewed anyone quite as animated and just fun to sit down with. I felt like I was out to lunch with my bestie. Hayley Atwell and I could totally be besties! I know it!
About Disney’s Christopher Robin:
In Disney’s heartwarming live action adventure, the young boy who shared countless adventures with his stuffed animal friends in the Hundred Acre Wood has grown up and lost sight of what’s important in life. Now it is up to his childhood friends to venture into our world and help Christopher Robin rediscover the joys of family life, the value of friendship and to appreciate the simple pleasure in life once again.
Christopher Robin is directed by Marc Forster from a screenplay by Alex Ross Perry and Allison Schroeder and a story by Perry based on characters created by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard. The producers are Brigham Taylor and Kristin Burr, with Renée Wolfe and Jeremy Johns serving as executive producers. The film stars Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin; Hayley Atwell as his wife Evelyn; Bronte Carmichael as his daughter Madeline; and Mark Gatiss as Keith Winslow, Robin’s boss. The film also features the voices of: Jim Cummings as Winnie the Pooh and Tigger; Brad Garrett as Eeyore; Toby Jones as Owl; Nick Mohammed as Piglet; Peter Capaldi as Rabbit; and Sophie Okonedo as Kanga.
Christopher Robin is now open in theaters everywhere!
You can get your tickets now over at Fandango!