Interview by Jack King for GQ
**I CAME BY SPOILERS AHEAD **
In Netflix’s new Hitchcockian thriller I Came By, the Paddington star plays a disturbingly credible villain with a secret. We spoke to him all about it, plus his time in Bond and Paddington 3.
Hugh Bonneville is not a man you’d think primed to slaughter you, incinerate your corpse and flush your ashes down the toilet. But that’s really the entire point of I Came By, Netflix’s newest thriller, in which the Paddington stars plays a retired high-ranking judge, Hector Blake, with an insidious secret locked away in his basement. He stars alongside George McKay and long-time friend Kelly MacDonald, best known for Line of Duty.
It’s a B-movie Psycho with a refreshing dollop of class consciousness, its central theme something of an emergent trend in contemporary cinema: rich people are very, very fucking weird.
It’s not the first time he’s played to a more sadistic beat, but the casting will certainly strike as subversive to an audience familiar to his roles in Downton Abbey or Paddington, where he plays the curmudgeonly but ultimately lovable Mr. Brown. We spoke to Bonneville about indulging in a rare bit of malevolence, plus the time he was in a Bond flick and, yes, Paddington 3.
Hector Blake isn’t someone audiences would typically expect you to play — what made you want to do something a little more nefarious and creepy?
Well, obviously the script, and the fact you think you’ve set off on one journey — I started reading it thinking, ‘Oh, this is a great role for George,’ and we were getting to know his character, we’re getting to care about his conflicts with his mother, his mate, and all of that. And bang, suddenly, it turns left, and you’re in a whole different avenue of storyline. I found that very intoxicating. As you say, the character is perhaps not what recent audiences have expected, but I’ve played fairly twisted characters in the past, just none of them have really troubled the box office. So hopefully this one might!
And what was your take on Hector Blake himself?
I thought he was just fascinating and horribly credible. Because let’s face it, there have been — I think “monsters” is too strong a word, “misunderstood individuals” is probably too weak — but people of his bent, who have probably got away with stuff in the past, because of their position in society, who are so reliant and are so comfortable with their position at the upper echelons of the establishment, that they probably can, as it were, get away with murder. On the other end of the spectrum you’ve got characters in the style of George’s and Percy’s who are struggling to make their own voices heard in a society that won’t listen. It seems like a timely moment for this film to land.
Going off that, were there any true crime examples that you used as a launching pad?
There’s [something fascinating about] the world of Ted Bundy, for instance, in America, and indeed Dennis Nielsen – you know, high achieving, highly intelligent on the surface – intellectually intelligent, anyway. Very, very, very dangerous and troubled people. I think troubled is a polite way of putting it, fucking psychopaths. But the fact they could function in society perfectly normally, until somebody’s felt that the drains were a bit smelly — I can’t quite remember now how Bundy was ensnared, but he was absolutely squeaky clean. There’s a complete disconnect between their apparent role in society and what they are on their own. [In terms of] motives, that’s almost unanswerable. I think you have to surrender yourself to that when playing it. You play the person, not the result.
I believe it’s the first time you’ve properly worked with George [McKay] and Kelly [MacDonald] — clearly two of Britain’s preeminent acting talents.
I’ve known Kelly over the years, but we’ve not worked together. George I have worked with, we did a film together when he was literally in shorts, when he was 12 or 13, so I’ve watched his development as an actor from a distance with great pride, and to see him emerge as a really fine leading man is very exciting. He’s sort of the next Christian Bale, I reckon, the child actor who didn’t completely lose his marbles and kept his integrity and has become, you know, potentially a great, iconic actor. He’s a very hard working, serious minded but playful actor, and that’s the best combination.
Going back in time a tad, one of your earliest parts was a small role in the first act of Tomorrow Never Dies, playing a ship crewman. What was it like being in a Bond so early in your career?
Oh, I was very excited, very excited. I went to meet the director Roger Spottiswoode and he was talking about how he was casting these naval officers who would be in this sequence in the South China Sea, and the British Navy were taking on the Chinese Navy, and I immediately saw myself on a beach in Thailand, you know, for a few weeks, drinking cocktails and occasionally doing a bit of filming on a frigate. It turned out to be two days in a simulator in Portsmouth, with a whole load of Naval cadets who were far better at doing it than we actors were, because they did these drills day in, day out.
The real Royal Naval radars and everything else look sort of grey and ordinary, and functional, so the set dressing was to have them all really super-duper cool, and they had sort of amber lights coming off them. The Naval cadets were like, ‘What the hell is all this?’
We were all dressed up like Pillsbury Dough men in our overalls. There was Brendan Coyle, later in Downton [Abbey], there was Gerard Butler — not in my sequence but in another bit. Jason Watkins, Julian Fellowes, Pip Torrens. There was a real sort of roll call of [up-and-coming] actors. It was an incongruous little bunch of us down in Portsmouth for a few days, but we had a nice time. And we were in a Bond movie!
Presumably, then, you didn’t get to meet Pierce?
I think he was off on a stealth boat at that time, or something. Our film was called “Bond 18” for months, and that’s all I knew about it. We certainly weren’t given the rest of the script. I had my three pages and two lines and that was that.
And you’ve not been asked to come back since?
Obviously it’s only a matter of time now that Daniel [Craig]’s retired. But I think I’m coming into my prime now. I’m ready. I’m ready, Barbara [Broccoli, Bond producer], when you are.
We’ll add you to our list. Paddington in Peru hasn’t started shooting yet, has it?
No, no, there’s a long way to go. Many a slipped ‘twixt cup and lip. No, there’s all sorts of factors to be in place, like a script. [Laughs.] I mean there was a script, but there’s all sorts of factors as well as a script that need to be got in place and aligned. With a fair wind, I believe there’ll be a Paddington 3 shot next year, yes.
And what do you know about it? I know this is the hot question…
I know literally no more than the title, which slightly gives it away, Paddington in Peru. So I suspect a trip to Aunt Lucy’s in some way, shape or form. But we’ll have to wait and see.
The whole franchise has just been an amazing, rare success, hasn’t it?
It has. It could have gone horribly wrong, and it didn’t, so that was very, very fortunate. I for one would have been very cross because I grew up with Paddington and he’s a pal of mine.
So, bearing [editor’s note: no pun intended] in mind that the script for Paddington in Peru is barely [editor’s note: really] off the press. Paddington 4?
Let’s see if there’s a Paddington 3 first. Though you could say in many ways that I Came By is sort of Paddington 3, because it’s about, you know, an avuncular fellow who takes strangers in.
I Came By is now in select UK cinemas and will be on Netflix from 31st August