Reliving his childhood amid a mid-life crisis

Hugh Bonneville.
Hugh Bonneville.

Much like Mr Brown, his character in the Paddington films, Hugh Bonneville concedes that he is suffering a mid-life crisis.

In the second Paddington movie, which opens this week, the character, whose family adopts the bear, is passed over for a promotion and starts dyeing his hair before taking up an extreme form of yoga.

Speaking to media at The Shard in London last month, the Downton Abbey (2010 to 2015) star says it is a situation that he recognises only too well. "I definitely identify with that line when Mr Brown says, 'My hair has gone grey, my belly has popped out and I have started to creak,'" laughs Bonneville.

"I completely identify with that. Now, I haven't got so far as taking up extreme yoga, but I had to buy a convertible this year. I had to. I really did buy a convertible car."

Bonneville is now 54 years old and has found fame relatively late in life, his star rising on the back of his turn as Robert, Earl of Grantham, in the global phenomenon that was Downton Abbey.

He followed that up with further success in Britain, courtesy of his performance as Ian Fletcher in the award-winning BBC comedy series Twenty Twelve (2011 to 2012) and its spin-off W1A (2014 to 2017).

Given the success of the Paddington films, which focus on the story of a small brown bear from Peru which ends up in London, people might stop associating him with his Downton character.

"I don't know if that will happen," he says. "Nowadays, people think that I am Ian Fletcher from those other shows. "But if I am branded as a character like Mr Brown and the whole Paddington family, I am happy. I do not mind at all."

His association with Paddington seems written in the stars. Bonneville was born in the London suburb from which the famous bear takes his name, though he says he did not live there for very long. "Somebody put that on Wikipedia," he says. "I was born there, but I spent only about 10 minutes there."

In fact, his mother and father, a nurse and a urological surgeon respectively, trained at St Mary's Hospital in the heart of Paddington, and one of their colleagues became their obstetrician. "So I was delivered there, but then hustled off to their home elsewhere in London."

And he has memories of bedtime tales about Paddington. The children's character, now immortalised on film, began life in a series of books by Michael Bond.

"Not only can I remember mum and dad reading them to me, but also, importantly, when I was able to read, they became the first books I read for myself. That made him very special to me."

Hence, when he was approached about a major role in the film series, which kicked off with 2014's global hit, he was unsure. "Were they going to mess with my childhood?"

With the now late Bond and his estate agreeing to the adaptation, however, Bonneville took the plunge. "I realised they'd do justice to my childhood friend and they did. The rest, as they say, is history."

Will Lawrence

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2017, with the headline 'Reliving his childhood amid a mid-life crisis'. Print Edition | Subscribe