Interview by Ian Sandwell for DigitalSpy
“I think audiences can be reassured that, really, it’s sort of Paddington 3.”
Whether you know him as Robert Crawley from Downton Abbey, Mr Brown in Paddington or something else entirely, you’re sure of one thing about Hugh Bonneville: he plays nice guys who’d you happily hang out with in real life.
Enter Netflix’s I Came By – out now in select UK cinemas – and those expectations are about to get crushed. Bonneville plays Sir Hector Blake in the new thriller, a prestigious retired judge known as “St Blake” who is anything but.
When young graffiti artist Toby (George MacKay) stumbles upon Blake’s dark (and we mean, dark) secret, his life and the lives of his loved ones are dragged into a potentially deadly game of cat and mouse.
Ahead of I Came By‘s Netflix release on August 31, Digital Spy sat down with Hugh Bonneville to discuss his first major villainous role, the timely themes of the new thriller and whether or not he’s seen Rick and Morty (it’ll make sense when you see the movie).
Oh, and of course, Paddington 3.
Netflix has done a great job keeping the big surprises of I Came By a secret, so does that make it a tricky movie to talk about?
It’s quite tricky to talk about this film, so it’ll be a very short interview you’ll be pleased to hear. But I think audiences can be reassured that, really, it’s sort of Paddington 3.
A lot of talk has been about how it sees you play your first major villain…
I mean, you say he’s a villain. I think he’s a nice bloke. It was a nice departure from certain other characters that I’ve been playing recently, and I thought it was time the truth came out really.
Was there a particular element of playing Sir Hector Blake that was especially challenging?
I suppose just trying to reconcile the fact that this is a pillar of the establishment who’s corrupt in whatever way you want to put it. At first you thought that couldn’t possibly be true, but then you look at the state of our society and you realise that, actually, the establishment is pretty corrupt so it’s not too far from the truth.
Joking aside, I think the way that [director/co-writer] Babak [Anvari] has woven this tapestry of a London that is on the one hand, full of the establishment going about its ways and living its daily life knowing that it can get away with murder, so to speak, and the other side of society, the disaffected youth.
[They’re] trying to find their way, trying to express their dissatisfaction but not really knowing how to express itself beyond tagging somebody’s walls with a load of spray paint. They feel ill-equipped, they feel helpless about how to change society or do something better, how to better themselves.
I think Babak, in the cloak of a film noir thriller setting, is asking some interesting questions about how we live.
As you say, I Came By explores themes such as the divide between the haves and the haves not. It’s an everlasting issue, but does it feel especially timely for this movie to come out now given what’s happening in the UK?
It’s really interesting, the timing of things. When projects come out, they suddenly take on a new significance.
I did a film a couple of years ago called To Olivia all about Roald Dahl, and it came out just during the pandemic and just as the vaccines were about to roll out. It was about Roald Dahl and his wife losing their child to measles before there was an efficient vaccine.
It resonated because of that very reason, the whole question about vaccines and their efficacy and the rollout of that.
Now, we’re entering into this period with, I think, one of the biggest crises our generation has ever seen, this cost of living crisis. I think the government is sleeping on the job.
We may be in August as you and I are speaking, but coming over the horizon, I think potentially a hugely disruptive time in society with the haves feeling OK and cushioned, because they’re all on holiday anyway, and the have nots being really, really seriously punished for being the have nots and that doesn’t seem fair.
I think, funnily enough, some of the themes in this film resonate with that so it is, coincidentally, quite timely.
I Came By marks one of the first movies of Netflix’s UK slate, does it feel different when you’re working on a Netflix film or have they become so big as to feel like a traditional studio?
We’re grateful that they’re putting it out in cinemas because Babak and other filmmakers want their films to be seen on a bigger screen, on a bigger canvas with a shared experience that you can only get in a cinema of watching a film with other people.
That’s the joy of it, whether you’re watching a Marvel film or a smaller, more intense [film] like this.
We can all watch films on our watches if we want or at home in our big or small TVs that we might have acquired over the pandemic years, but going to the cinema is a wonderful cultural experience and is an important cultural experience, as is going to a live gig or anything else like it.
It’s a collective experience so to have this going out, albeit on a limited release in the UK, is really important and Netflix, and some of the other streamers, are safeguarding that haven and long may that continue. Otherwise we will all end up watching them on our watches and being dictated to by strange algorithms, whereas this is a conscious decision to go to the cinema and enjoy the experience.
Netflix has been great in helping independent cinema. Making independent films has become an incredibly complex coalition of the willing to try and get all the funding sources together, and the producers are breaking their backs on bridge funding and trying to get over the finish line.
Netflix has been able to, because of the way it operates, to come in and service a production from start to finish and to back it right through to release.
It was great to feel that there was a proper support network there and not worry that one of the threads could come unravelled at any moment as so often happens in independent films.
Finally, of all the surprises in I Came By, arguably the most unexpected is that Sir Hector Blake is a big fan of Rick and Morty. Was this your first experience of the show?
It was. I’m a little tamer than that. I’m sort of more Family Guy, that’s more my level.
And we couldn’t let you go without asking about Paddington 3? Can you say anything about it or are your lips sealed like with I Came By?
Well I haven’t seen a finished script yet… but I think the clue is in the title, Paddington in Peru, so that’s all I know.
I Came By is out now in select UK cinemas and is released on Netflix on August 31.