The Wacky World of International Mr. Bean Look-Alikes
Mr. Bean is a global phenomenon. While only 15 half-hour episodes of the original series were made over a five-year period from 1990 to 1995, the character became an instant comedy icon. A combination of Rowan Atkinson’s incredible performance and a minimal use of dialogue meant Bean’s slapstick antics became a worldwide success, a mainstay of in-flight entertainment systems in the days of one chunky CRT monitor at the front of the cabin. The episodes were sold to TV networks across the globe, and the character reached a kind of language-transcendent status.
Over 30 years, there have been two movies, an animated series, several books, an appearance at the Olympics, a starring role in British Airways’ safety videos and endless cameos, ads and one-off spots.
All of which is to say, Mr. Bean is still a big deal. When we think of global icons, we tend to think of people who are a bit cooler or sexier, but this dude is huge. If Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson walked into a rural village in the middle of nowhere, people would be excited. If Mr. Bean walked in, everyone would shit their fucking pants. If you live within a mile of a TV, you’ve seen him.
Naturally, this means that all over the world, people have tried to make a few bucks off of him. As such, there’s an international cottage industry of Mr. Bean lookalikes — people who vaguely resemble him monetizing that vague resemblance, sometimes to pretty lucrative results. It’s an easy costume, and a character that transcends basically all barriers. So if you were a slightly rubbery-looking dude with access to a tweed jacket and a teddy bear, why wouldn’t you jump on those sweet, sweet Mr. Bean millions?
China’s Clumsy COVID Correspondent
China loves Mr. Bean. His peak years, the early 1990s, coincided with both mass TV purchasing in China and a slight relaxing in government control over what was broadcast on those televisions. This saw an influx of international shows, and nothing travels like slapstick. While international audiences were embracing Jackie Chan, Chinese audiences took Mr. Bean enormously to heart. He’s been used in animated form — without permission — in government propaganda videos about the importance of protecting state secrets, alongside Spider-Man and Hitler. At one point, Shanghai had not one but two Mr Bean-themed coffee shops. Translation search engine Youdao mentions his international success (in kind of a bitchy way) on its page for him, giving the sample sentence, “British people resent Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) because he is internationally successful.”
In fact, in addition to the two “legit” Mr. Bean movies, there’s a Chinese kinda-sequel — Atkinson made a strange but highly publicized appearance as the character in a Hangover-like Chinese movie that seemed like it must have coincided with a bad tax bill or something.
Meanwhile, in early 2020, a British man named Nigel Dixon was visiting Wuhan when, for reasons you can probably figure out, he found himself trapped there. Dixon had supposedly doubled for Atkinson before — potentially on the Chinese movie mentioned above — and began posting videos in character on Chinese social media platforms using the name Mr. Pea. His videos, originally about wearing a mask, sanitizing your hands and doing other virus-containing behaviors, became enormously popular in China, with Dixon becoming famous in his own right.
His fame led to the mildly surreal sight of a man in full Mr. Bean regalia sharing his heartfelt, decidedly un-slapstick views on global togetherness.
It also led to Dixon being employed — according to Sky News Australia — by the government-owned Xinhua News Agency to put out pro-China propaganda, making statements about how awesomely the coronavirus pandemic was being handled there. “Once people were waiting for hospital beds, now beds are waiting for people,” he claims in one of them. “It sickens me to hear of other countries blaming China, but for what? We are now hearing of cases where people around the world have contracted their virus with no obvious connections to China.”
It was all very strange — it was unclear how in-character any of this was meant to be, whether this was meant to be taken as Mr. Bean himself promoting central government in Beijing or Dixon playing himself or what. Either way, it was pretty creepy.
Dixon’s less sinister material, however, continued to do well, with one 17-second clip of Mr. Pea chopping a cabbage, swiftly amassing well over 100 million views across Chinese video platforms Kuaishou and Douyin.
This led to him being commissioned to make a comedy travelogue/documentary series called China Through Pea’s Eyes. It’s yet to debut, though, and its status is unclear given Dixon’s return to his native Britain (where he is available for lookalike work).
Italy’s Silly Sorcerer
Italian comedian Arnaldo Mangini first used his resemblance to Mr. Bean in 2001, appearing in phone commercials in Italy that were ultimately removed from the air, supposedly due to a cease-and-desist letter from the real Rowan Atkinson. The commercials employed quick cuts and sped-up footage, so it’s easy enough to imagine a casual viewer being fooled into thinking Telecom Italia had coughed up a lot of cash for the real deal.
Over the last few years, Mangini has reinvented himself as an upbeat, brightly colored magician incarnation of the character — he uses his own name, but very much leans into the Mr. Bean resemblance, from the presence of the teddy bear to awkwardly dubbing raucous laugh tracks onto some of his sketches. A lot of his output is sleight-of-hand magic accompanied by wacky hats and cute animals, all wild-eyed childlike wonder and whimsy rather than the full-on asshole behavior of the original. He’s made it work though — with more than a million followers on both YouTube and Instagram, and amassing more than 28 million views on TikTok.
Young Ms. Bean, The TikTok Teen
Another Italian TikTok star who has leaned into a resemblance to Mr. Bean is 19-year-old model and makeup artist Fabiola Baglieri, who has reached nearly half a billion views on the platform. Baglieri alternates between looking impossibly made-up and contoured with presenting her “natural” self, which she claims looks like Mr. Bean.
Her transformations “from Rowan Atkinson into Kendall Jenner” have seen her accused of catfishing while also building a huge fanbase. She sees the videos in part as spreading an anti-bullying message, “to make people realize that what is external to a person does not define the interior.” She was named as one of Variety’s 50 most influential people on TikTok, has worked with enormous makeup brands and is pursuing a career as a Hollywood actress, so, you know, it’s all going pretty well for her.
She’s also collaborated with Mangini on content, presenting themselves as a Mr. Bean-like father and daughter, leading to incredibly confused Google results.
Zimbabwe’s Cricket Controversy
In 2016, the Harare Agricultural Show in Zimbabwe was advertised as featuring an appearance by Rowan Atkinson as his iconic character. This drew huge crowds, but rather than Atkinson himself, it instead featured an appearance by Pak Bean, aka Mohammad Asif, a Pakistani tribute act who had been flown over by a paint company. While plenty of people happily had their pictures taken with him — and he entertained the gathered crowd with Bean-esque moves leaning out the top of a police car as he was escorted away — others were livid that they were being conned with a second-rate version.
In any event, Zimbabwean Mr. Bean fans have long memories, and six years later, some were still angry. In the buildup to a World Cup Twenty20 cricket match between Zimbabwe and Pakistan, one disgruntled Zimbabwean fan wrote, in a tweet shared thousands of times, “As Zimbabweans we wont forgive you...you once gave us that Fraud Pak Bean instead of Mr Bean Rowan,” before referring to Pak Bean as “tha fuck” and accusing him of stealing people’s money.
It was enough of a furor that two world leaders got involved. After Zimbabwe won the match, President Emmerson Mnangagwa congratulated his team on Twitter and praised Pakistan, adding the postscript, “Next time, send the real Mr. Bean.” Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also waded in, commenting, “We may not have the real Mr. Bean, but we have real cricketing spirit.”
Pak Bean himself ended up breaking his silence to deliver a unifying statement: “I love you Zimbabwe, I love you Pakistan,” followed by that “urrrr” noise Mr. Bean does so well.
Thailand’s Got Talent
In 2016, Season Six of Thailand’s Got Talent featured Tai Mongkol, a Mr. Bean lookalike. Mongkol’s act largely consisted of wearing a blazer and screwing his face up while doing a bunch of pelvic thrusts and waving a teddy bear around. The crowd went completely apeshit, and the 42-year-old advanced to the next round, although he was culled from the competition before the semifinals.
A Hill of Beans
It certainly doesn’t stop there either. There are loads more international Mr. Beans out there. Cameo features a Spanish-speaking lookalike, Doble De Bean, who does a Muttley-esque “ss-ss-ss-ss-ss” laugh that’s, honestly, pretty disconcerting. Faiket the Malaysian Mr. Bean is pretty much just a guy with a teddy bear. In Britain, there seems to be a very low bar to entry to peddling your wares as a Beanalike — having a side part seems to be more than enough. One in particular looks like something that flashes before bad people’s eyes when they die.
Englishman Lewis John, known as “Bean Reborn” on TikTok, has a million followers and completely nails the voice, although his visual resemblance to the original ends at “Caucasian male.” (While the official Mr. Bean TikTok account has four million followers, there’s also a very sketchy fake “official” account in Rowan Atkinson’s name with the bio, “What’s up guys this is the official account of Rowan Atkinson, I’m an actor in Mr. Bean, go and check it out.”)
It’s Never Bean Like This
There probably won’t ever be another comedy character that becomes a global icon in the same way as Mr. Bean has. The only characters that are even slightly comparable are from comic books and video games, and they’re all the product of huge teams of people and endless reinterpretations, not just one greying man in a tie. To go from a one-off TV episode to three decades of international fame — to the point that a man will be flown from Pakistan to Zimbabwe on the basis of a tenuous resemblance — is entirely nuts, and could only happen due to a combination of technology being at a certain point and a largely mute character being able to cross cultural boundaries.
Atkinson himself has discussed his beloved status among immigrant families in Britain and second-language English speakers, comparing his slapstick to “an immigrant coming into a world in which he knows very little and having to acclimatize and adapt and adjust to enable him to live the life he wants to live.”
These are big, grand thoughts about the unifying power of comedy, but it’s also just nice to know that if you have a jacket and a mole, wherever you are in the world you can pick up a teddy bear, make some stupid noises and earn a few bucks.