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Atwell, McGregor love sharing spotlight with Pooh in ‘Christopher Robin’

Rick Bentley
Tribune News Service

LOS ANGELES — Director Marc Forster turned to some big acting names to tell his story of a bear not much bigger than a honey pot in “Christopher Robin.”

Ewan McGregor, who helped bring to life one of the most iconic characters in “Star Wars” history in Obi-Wan Kenobi, plays an adult version of the young boy from A.A. Milne stories. Winnie-the-Pooh and the gang show up to help Christopher Robin regain some of the childish enthusiasm and wonder he once had. Hayley Atwell, who has become deeply entrenched in the Marvel Universe through her work as Agent Peggy Carter, plays Christopher Robin’s wife.

In “Christopher Robin,” Pooh, Tigger, Owl and the rest appear to be stuffed animals living in the real world. That meant the human actors often had to work with nothing in front of them during filming as the animal characters would be added later through computer wizardry.

“A lot of the film, I was just knocking about with a teddy bear. It is sort of a skill you have to learn,” McGregor says.

Atwell explains after spending three years in drama school wearing tights and pretending to be a tree or an element, working next to an empty space is not much of a stretch. The “Christopher Robin” stars went through the same training as they both attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Feeling young: It was easy for both McGregor and Atwell to understand the major themes of “Christopher Robin” because working in the acting world has helped them hang onto the feeling of being young. Getting to have lightsaber battles in space, battle beside costumed superheroes or chat with a stuffed bear takes some youthful qualities.

Atwell says her friends would describe her as childlike.

“Or maybe they would say I am childish,” Atwell adds. “That’s because I work in a world where I am using my imagination. When you are doing any kind of a scene with an actor, you are playing with each other. I find the scenes that can be the most enjoyable are those where you are trying things out.

“There’s no ego or judgment, but just having a go and living in a world of imagination with each other. I love that.”

Atwell and McGregor are in agreement that the film gets a lot of its strength from Milne’s writing. McGregor has always been impressed with the clever way Milne writes that pulls the reader into the Hundred Acre Wood. Atwell read Milne’s books when she was young and again recently. When she was younger, she was struck by the purity and innocence of the characters. Atwell now sees the humor that comes from the “nonjudgmental irony that runs through the stories.”

Deep message: What both actors appreciate about “Christopher Robin” is while there is the fun that comes with a talking stuffed animal, the story has a deep message to relate about caring and connection. Atwell points to the scene where after Christopher Robin hurts Pooh’s feelings, the silly old bear continues to show unconditional love. Her theory is all humans are born with the blind ability to care for each other, but it begins to get lost as we grow older and learn ways to hide those feelings.

McGregor is happy the film stresses the importance of being able to open up and stay connected to the ones we love even when life has created piles of misery and pain. He adds an important message of the film is finding your way back to who you are.

When it comes to McGregor and Atwell, that means staying connected to the acting world. Atwell has loved playing Agent Carter in Marvel TV shows and films but is slightly divided about her future with the character.

“As an actor, you do your job and some will have more impact than others. Peggy Carter has had a lasting impact because of being inside the Marvel world,” Atwell says. “To be the custodian of Peggy Carter for that time is lovely. If there is one character who follows me around out of all the characters I have played, she’s the one I think is the most palatable to be associated with.

“If I had the opportunity to play her again, it would have to be a lot more than I’ve already done. But, at the moment I am looking for new female-led narratives, smart stories and things that are different.”

McGregor explains when it comes to the recognition for being part of a massive franchise, he doesn’t get approached about “Star Wars” as much as you think. Generally, the place where he gets the most attention is at red carpet events.

“People are throwing children out of the way to get me to sign an Obi-Wan Kenobi picture. They aren’t ‘Star Wars’ fans, but people who make money selling autographs,” McGregor says.