For decades Hugh Bonneville had a typical career for a working English actor. Roles on stage, radio plays, lots of TV shows and of course some movies including a terrific turn in “Notting Hill.” But of course that’s all changed in the last few years since he started ruling the manor in “Downton Abbey.” And now he’s starring opposite an adorable bear in the delightful kid’s comedy, “Paddington,” based on the classic book series. The 51-year-old actor spoke to FOX411 about “Paddington” and of course “Downton Abbey.”
FOX411: Did you read “Paddington” as a child?
Bonneville: Absolutely. It was a childhood character that meant a lot to me. Mum and Dad used to read those little short stories to me and then when I was a bit older I read them to myself and he became one of my buddies.
FOX411: Don’t you find the humor typically English?
Bonneville: Yes, it’s a gently, wry look at English sensibilities, the fact that the bear has been brought up to believe that everyone doffs their hat and is terribly polite.
FOX411: I think you’re the only English actor to never have been in a Harry Potter movie.
Bonneville: I think I was asked to audition for the first one and I couldn’t. Everyone I know seems to have been in them.
FOX411: Can you believe the global popularity of “Downton?”
Bonneville: It’s extraordinary and we’re still pinching ourselves on how it happened but it’s a lovely thing that it has. I think it’s one of those very rare things where writing, casting, production values and timing all arrive at the same moment.
I think back to my first experience reading the first episode and by the end of it, I’d been introduced to 15 or 16 characters all of whom were very vivid in my imagination and all of whom I wanted to spend time with and wanted to know what happens next and I think that must have translated to the big screen.
But I think if any of those aspects had not been good – if we’d got the wrong location – if the house hadn’t been cast right, the show could have crumbled. But the fact is all those elements did fall into place and I think it’s a sumptuous piece of entertainment.
FOX411: Had any surprising celebrity fans?
Bonneville: I think the most surprising was John Kerry. We visited the White House about four years ago. He told us he had insomnia so he put in the DVD and four hours later he was still watching. So it’s slightly peculiar when you have leaders of countries saying to chill out they like to watch our little show.
FOX411: You’ve had a long career before all of this.
Bonneville: Last week I went and did a radio play. Of course it’s wonderful what’s happened with “Downton Abbey” but I do like to remind myself of the things I’ve been doing for 25 years. It’s nice to sit up and remind yourself that it’s all transitory. It’ll all pass by one day but at the moment it’s a lot of fun.
FOX411: George Clooney came on set recently.
Bonneville: He very kindly gave us a half a day and he came and we mucked about filming a sketch. He’s great as everyone knows. He’s a complete gent and a pro and it’s interesting the number of ladies who turned up on set from the production office that had never been on set in five years but felt they had to be there that day.