Press Association Interview

Interview to coincide with the National Youth Theatre's annual auditions

17th November 2010

TELL US ABOUT YOUR OWN ROUTE TO FAME

Fame isn’t something I recognise either as a route or a destination; more an accidental detour along the way. I’m currently enjoying a picnic in a charming lay-by near Downton Abbey. How I got here has been as complicated and as enjoyable a journey as any wander across Europe in a beaten up old Vauxhall Astra. Basically, Theatre apprenticeship, TV, Film, Theatre again and a criss-crossing of those borders ever since.

WHAT CAN YOU REMEMBER ABOUT YOUR NYT AUDITION?

It was in a rehearsal room at The Shaw Theatre, in front of Michael Croft and a dozen fellow auditionees. I recited a poem I’d written about a Traffic Warden. Everyone sat there open-mouthed as I trotted out this truly terrible ditty. To this day I think the only reason I was invited to join the company was because I’d made a complete twit of myself without blushing.

WE LIVE IN TIMES OF RECESSION. DO YOU THINK A CAREER IN PERFORMANCE IS STILL VIABLE?

The performing arts, as a career path, will be harder than ever to follow in the coming years. But those practitioners who do find an audience will be needed more than ever. The Arts remind us who we are and allow every one of us to glimpse new possibilities and revive dulled emotions.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE PEOPLE CONSIDERING APPLYING TO NYT?

The NYT is the greatest training ground for anyone who hopes to collaborate with others in their future life, in whatever field, and I think that’s pretty much all of us. It is an environment which, through theatre, celebrates individuality and idiosyncrasy, demands dedication and discipline and engenders mutual respect among its members. And – yes, I forgot – it also happens to be ridiculously good fun.

IF NOT FOR NATIONAL YOUTH THEATRE, WHAT DO YOU IMAGINE YOU WOULD BE DOING TODAY?

For a while, in my teens, I thought I was going to be a lawyer. Looking back, I would have been an extremely ineffective one. Worse, I would have been a liability. In fact, with me around, they would have had to redefine the term ‘miscarriage of justice’.

WHAT ROLE WOULD YOU SAY BEST SUMS UP WHAT HUGH BONNEVILLE CAN DO AS AN ACTOR?

The next one.

WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO DOWNTON ABBEY?

Script, script, script. And can I mention that the script was also quite an important factor?

ARE YOU A FAN OF COSTUME DRAMAS?

I’m a fan of good writing and ambitious production values. If the characters and story captivate me, then it doesn’t matter to me if it’s set in a 15th Century space ship or a 21st Century dungeon.

DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD HAVE COPED DURING THE MORE BUTTONED-UP PERIODS OF BRITISH HISTORY?

Absolutely not. I break into a sweat just thinking about which knife to use when shovelling peas into my mouth.

HOW WAS IT WORKING WITH DAME MAGGIE SMITH?

Think Kiri Te Kanawa versus Wagner (the X-Factor one) and you’ll get a sense of the disparity of talent in the room. You don’t stand a chance but you give it a go.

WHY THE BLAZES ARE YOU NOT IN HARRY POTTER?

They couldn’t afford me.

ARE THERE ANY TYPES OF ROLE YOU HAVE YET TO PLAY? COULD WE SEE YOU AS AN ACTION HERO OR AN EVIL-DOER SOME DAY?

I’ve played a couple of serial killers and an action-hero baddie too, in fact. Alas, these projects didn’t particularly trouble the box office. But “I’ll be back”.

BONEKICKERS. DISCUSS.

Series Two is only a phone call away. I’d do it again like a shot. Loved it.

DO YOU HAVE YOUR EYE ON A HUGH LAURIE STYLE CAREER IN AMERICA?

No. But then again neither had he.

WHICH DIRECTORS HAVE IMPRESSED YOU MOST?

Roger Michell, Howard Davies, John Landis, Paul Roseby. Next question?

WAS YOUR FRENCH FILM CO-STAR ERIC CANTONA AS ODD AS ONE WOULD EXPECT?

Au contraire, he was ‘off book’ and word perfect at rehearsal and there was I flailing around with script pages spilling all over the place. But I take comfort in the knowledge that I am a better footballer than him.

WHEN YOUR PHONE RINGS, WHO DO YOU HOPE IS CALLING?

The person who has found my RSV Bible in which I had written 6 years of notes in the margin while studying Theology, from O Level through to Finals. One afternoon, I lent it to a friend… who promptly lost it.

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