Recommended second chance
Hugh Bonneville was pipped at the post for an award in the recent Emmys by fellow British actor Damian Lewis. But that doesn’t matter to the millions of viewers worldwide who are devouring Downton Abbey. With series three riding high in the ratings, TV Choice tracks down the legendary Lord Grantham…
How does it feel to be back?
It’s so exciting. You think you know these characters, and then Julian Fellowes will wrong-foot you. I had no idea what was going on with Robert’s story. To find he’d made the catastrophic decision to invest so heavily in the Canadian railway was very interesting. The continuation of Downton to the next generation is the only reason Robert’s on the planet so for him to have made that mistake is why Julian wrote it. Robert feels he’s failed totally in his responsibility.
What are the series highlights for you so far?
I was moved when Mary [Michelle Dockery] came down the stairs in her wedding dress. I don’t have a daughter but it was such a wonderfully strong image of me and Jim Carter — Mr Carson — watching her. One a real father, one a kind of father in his imagination. I could imagine what it would be like with your eldest daughter about to fly the nest.
Is there a sense that Robert sees the estate as his extended family?
Absolutely. He does care about them. Robert, by nature, is a fairly compassionate man who doesn’t judge too quickly, and gives people, like Thomas, a second chance.
Apparently some Downton Abbey fans believe you are an earl in real life.
Yes, I’ve had a few letters addressed to the Earl of Grantham at Highclere Castle. They obviously know there’s some reality, that it’s not really Downton Abbey, but they think I’m an earl who lives there, which is slightly odd. I think on the whole most people get the fact that it’s acting!
Ian Fletcher, your character in the comedy Twenty Twelve, is even more believable.
Yes, and I actually met the real head of the Olympic Delivery Authority at a service at Westminster Abbey to celebrate the spirit of the games. He told me that some members of his team couldn’t watch it and some had to watch through their fingers. They took it in good spirit.
Shirley MacLaine joined the cast of Downton Abbey this series, had you met her before?
No, never, and I’m a huge fan — The Apartment is one of my favourite films. I met up with her in LA, and we had supper together, which was a hoot. She’s got such an infectious spirit. I had this wonderful scene with her in episode two and just as we were about to film it I thought, 'I’m working with someone who’s worked with Jack Lemmon, Billy Wilder and all those legends.' It was a great privilege to work with her.
Downton Abbey is such a hit in America — do you have any plans to move there?
I’ve done a few shows over there, and as I’ve said before, as long as I have a visa and a pay cheque, I’ll go anywhere. I’m not dreaming of living in the Hollywood Hills, but it’s a case of whereever the offers come from really. I’ve got a nice gap coming up before Christmas, so we’ll find something then, I’m sure.