When I last met up with actress Hayley Atwell, it was December of 2015. I was Los Angeles for the Global Media Event for the theatrical launch of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but in the midst of things my group made a detour. After rolling onto the Universal Studios lot on Burbank, California, we soon found ourselves at the Los Angeles Office for the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR). An incredible, 360° set located just a quick walk from where The Voice was taping, the 1940’s-era West Coast home base for the precursor to S.H.I.E.L.D. was a sight to behold, and sadly, the work that went into creating it was seen in just one season of Marvel’s Agent Carter. Just a few months later, that series would come to an end, but like many actors that find themselves welcomed into the Disney family, Atwell would soon find herself embarking on another adventure… this time into The Hundred Acre Wood. With Disney’s Christopher Robin (reviewed here) now playing in theaters everywhere, Hayley sat down with a crew of the usual suspects (myself included) to talk about her role as Evelyn Robin in the film that would see Winnie the Pooh and friends brought to the big screen in live-action for the very first time.
As Hayley took her seat at the table, she asked if we’d seen the film. We had at a screening the night before, so I asked if she’d seen it at this point – one in which most of the cast and crew had not…
“I saw it by myself, which is just as well because I started crying during the opening credits,” she said. “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 a child, there’s this kind of sweet, endearing quality about them. These animals come alive – but also the profound simplicity of it just made me feel that this is a wonderful film to be telling now. 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.”
Christopher Robin presented the unique challenge of showing what happened to Christopher after he grew up, became a man, and like many of his era, was sent off to fight on the battlefields of World War II. Back at home, his wife was raising a child very much as a single mother, forced to adjust to life without her husband, but then having to re-adjust to a man who would return much different than the man she fell in love with.
“Christopher Robin became the access point for adults who would identify with being an adult now — being burdened and lost a little bit by the pressures of everyday life and being on a bit of a hamster wheel, not realizing that your ambitions are kind of getting the better of you,” she explained. [Director Marc Forster] and I talked about wanting to create the relationship between Evelyn and Christopher as one where it began with genuine love and joy, so the audience knows what is at stake for Christopher to lose and you kind of root for them.”
“We wanted any scenes or any moments with Evelyn to show 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 — that he’s struggling within himself more than anything that she could probably criticize him for and that she’s taking on the pain of what’s happening for the child as well. Rather than in any way seeming unsympathetic or moaning or whining, Evelyn is just someone who’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.”
“She’s not passive. She doesn’t kind of sit there, 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. 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 a parent myself, but I’ve seen it with my God children and their parents and the people in my life who have kids — a dialogue of questioning how do we help our children navigate these very emotionally tricky times with an open heart and still be able to process pain in a loving and healthy way? It touches on things that I think families will identify with.”
In the end, Atwell finds that perhaps the best message for families to take away from Christopher Robin is one of the simplest, and as she points out – “it’s one that’s right there in the trailer, actually.”
“Pooh says that ‘people say nothing’s impossible, but I do nothing every day.’ I actually find that doing nothing is really hard and I think a lot of people would relate with that today. There’s this constant need for living in a way where there seems to be 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 – a neurosis which is not the healthiest response to a world that seems to want so much of us that we can’t ever be enough. The humor of Pooh 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!”
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. Get tickets now via my affiliate, Fandango.
Interview Photo Credit: Louise Bishop, MomStart.