English actor Hugh Bonneville has appeared in several popular movies, but for the 49-year-old it has been PBS’ Masterpiece Downton Abbey that’s been the game-changer. Bonneville plays Robert Crawley, Earl Grantham, lord of the family estate. At last count the period drama is seen in 170 countries. Season 3, which has already been aired in Britain, premieres here Sunday on PBS.
Q: I read you were obsessed with needlework?
A: I’m not. That’s a complete fabrication (laughing) ... There was a charity I was hosting, a wonderful charity in Britain called Fine Sew Work, which promotes the use of needlework, embroidery in prison. It gives inmates a sense of discipline and purpose, and their work is fantastic. It’s being sold around Britain, around the world.In introducing the charity, I said many years ago I would do some embroidery on set between takes, but I haven’t done any for 15 years. So my ability to stab myself in the finger with a needle is long gone.
Q: What about tweeting?
A: I started, bizarrely, when Downton Abbey started. The PR team said they were going to do a Downton Abbey feed, and I didn’t understand. I don’t do Facebook and I didn’t understand Twitter, but I had a look and like a lot of people got ridiculously drawn into it. Now, ironically, I can’t tweet about Downton Abbey anymore because I don’t want to spoil it for people who are lagging behind in the various broadcasts around the world. So I don’t really comment on Downton, but I do enjoy tweeting.
Q: Does memorizing lines come easily?
A: When I was young we used to have to learn a poem a week at school. I think that really started in me the ability to learn. I can remember stuff from a long, long time ago that was deeply embedded because of repetition like theater parts. Film and TV parts leave a much shallower memory trace. The discipline of learning poetry at school was a wonderful one, partly for the enjoyment but partly for the mental muscle, if you like, that began to be trained.
Q: Acting is such an insecure profession. Were you innately confident, or did you have to build that up to survive?
A: I don’t think any actor who is worth his salt is confident about what they do (laughing). I think it’s a daily discovery. It’s a lifelong insecurity. I think the best actors are those devoid of complacency. It never ceases to be a nerve-wracking experience because you are only as good as your last job.
Q: What about audiences? Do you get addicted to the applause?
A: I haven’t been on stage for eight years, and I do miss it. I suppose, of course, the applause is mixed in with the whole. Actors are showoffs basically. I mean, since I was a kid I used to love dressing up and prancing around on stage and writing little plays and making my friends be in the plays that they didn’t want to be in. I feel very comfortable in front of an audience. I don’t know how much the praise is a factor.
Q: How does the level of attention you are getting from Downton Abbey compare to other projects you have done?
A: Certainly the show has had this extraordinary ripple effect around the world. First, I thought maybe it’s just a show that is working in Britain, but gradually as it rolled out overseas we became aware — maybe because it’s a quintessentially British show — that people do latch onto it. I can’t analyze why.
Q: Several of the younger cast members have left (or are rumored to be leaving). Don’t you want to say to them: Don’t you realize you are on a mega hit? Stay for the ride.
A: No. I am not going to comment on why people stay or go. Everyone has got their choices about the way their career goes.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Patricia Sheridan is a writer for the Post-Gazette. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.