Hugh Bonneville on Parenthood, Paddington, and the End of Downton Abbey
When it was first announced that the Paddington series was being made into a movie, plenty of people (myself included) worried that this would be another failed attempt at converting a beloved book into film. But when it was released this past winter, fans were delighted to find that the family flick was a warm and heartfelt retelling of the little bear's story. (It even has a 98% positive rating on RottenTomatoes now!) One of the best aspects of the movie is star Hugh Bonneville, who appears to be having a grand time playing the father, Mr. Brown. (You probably recognize Bonneville as Lord Grantham, the slightly stuffy but always loving patriarch from Downton Abbey.) Parents spoke to the 51-year-old actor about raising his son (Felix, 13), his love for Paddington, and of course, the last season of Downton Abbey.
Is it true that Paddington was the first book you read yourself as a child?
Yes, my parents first introduced me to the stories, and he ended up becoming quite a personal friend of mine. When you read your first book for yourself, it sparks your imagination in a whole new way.
Did you feel a lot of pressure to get the movie right because of that?
Absolutely! I think everyone involved did feel pressure. I was very nervous when I first started reading the script because certainly for Brits in particular, Paddington is an iconic children's character. But the script's take on the story was so inventive and the spirit of the bear was so intact that I felt pretty confident. I think the biggest risk was always going to be if the bear would be able to captivate the audience, and the answer thankfully has been quite a resounding yes.
Were there any special children's books you used to read to your son?
I remember reading him The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, which I also read when I was a child. I remember it was such a vivid experience and it really unlocked my imagination and curiosity.
You're best known for playing a more uptight character on Downton Abbey, and your character Mr. Brown starts out similarly in Paddington, but he ends up letting loose a bit later on.
Mr. Brown is something of that classic father archetype, like Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins or Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, who needs someone else to chip away at his shell. In Mr. Brown's case, he became that way after having children. I think many parents can recognize the way he responded to the sudden realization that for the rest of your life, you're going to be responsible for another human. Mr. Brown takes that to extremes and becomes overprotective. And of course it takes having this wild animal in his house that finally allows him to thaw a bit.
You're filming the last season of Downton Abbey now. How does it feel?
It's a glorious day here in the UK today, and I was walking down the driveway at Highclere Castle [where the show is filmed] with Rob James-Collier, who plays Thomas. We were reflecting that for six months of each of the last six years, this place has been something of our home. We won't miss the early starts and the long hours and the complicated schedules. But we will absolutely cherish the memories because we've all become friends. And the fact that it's so beloved is the most special thing of all. But it's better to finish now then let the show drag on into old age.
What are the differences between British fans and American fans?
[Co-star] Rob James-Collier said, "In America, fans cross the street to tell you how much they enjoy the show. In Britain, they cross the street to tell you they don't watch it." There's an enthusiasm in America that's delightful and quite un-British.
So many people are obsessed with Downton. What shows do you love to watch in your downtime?
To my shame, I've only just started The Sopranos. I remember turning on an episode halfway through the series and thinking, "Oh no, I've got to watch this from the beginning." And it's taken me 10 or 12 years to actually start it! I also recently caught up on Homeland, and I was completely absorbed by Breaking Bad, so I'm dying to watch Better Call Saul. I'm looking forward to catching up once I get a bit of time-off from work.
Is it hard to see your wife and son while you're working?
I'm very lucky that the castle and the studio are about an hour from my home in different directions. So it's not like filming in Scotland, where a day off means I'd be stranded. It's really a blessing that this job has enabled me to be at home quite a lot. That doesn't always happen.
What is your biggest parenting fail?
I wish I'd been better at soccer. I'm a pretty disappointing dad. My son has always been better than me when it comes to soccer.
What's the best parenting advice you've ever received?
Oh my goodness me! I think the absolute key one is don't force your child to do the things you failed to do and wanted to do, like playing the piano or something. Another great piece of advice that someone once said to me when my little boy was arriving was, "Hug him close, and let him fly." And of course, cherish every day—as I'm rapidly discovering, they go by faster than you can possibly imagine, and then they'll be gone. Although I'm sure my son will return to the nest when he needs to wash his clothes.
Paddington is available on DVD tomorrow! Click here to order it now.
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Chrisanne Grise is an editorial assistant covering children's entertainment at Parents. She still can't believe she actually gets paid to read books and watch movies. Follow her on Twitter @xanne.