Hugh discusses Lord Grantham’s huge secret and life with Shirley MacLaine as his mother-in-law

Interview by Anna Howell for Unreality Primetime

21st August 2012

With the new series of Downton Abbey only a month away now, viewers can expect a rollercoaster of emotion regarding several storylines left hanging in the balance from the last series and the Christmas special, and a few ones that seem to spring out of nowhere!

In particular, and not wanting to spoil anything for anyone, is the humongous secret being harboured by the head of the household, Lord Grantham, which unravels in the first episode and threatens the entire estate as we know and love it.

Unreality TV was invited to attend the world premiere of the first episode last month at the Mayfair hotel, London, where we were treated not only to the excellent series launch but also interviews with the cast, where we found a bit more juicy gossip regarding the trials and tribulations that lie ahead for the Crawley’s and the beautiful Downton Abbey!

Speaking of the new series, Hugh Bonneville, who plays Lord Grantham in the hit ITV show, said:

“The entire nine episodes have taken place over about 18 months so there’s a much slower pace to things developing. I think that’s given Julian [Fellowes – the shows writer] the scope to really explore the character relationships at a gentler step. The freneticism of the impact of the First World War in the second series blew the emotions of the house apart. It made for a very extreme graph on the oscilloscope if you like, a wave pattern of big emotions here, there and everywhere because of the impact of the outside world. This series, the outside world still impacts on the house, obviously, but it’s in a much more nuanced way.”

That aside, there are still many bumps in the road for his character, Robert, Earl of Grantham:

“After the end of the war and the Spanish flu and Matthew and Mary finally resolving that they’re going to be together, I think part of him [Lord Grantham] feels that life will return to how it was before the war: the old order will be restored. But of course life isn’t like that – the changes that were brought about by the First World war and ait’s aftermath are things he’s going to have to face.

“You begin to see the cracks in the country house estates as a notion, what with the social changes brought about after the First World War. The big estates really did start to have to fight for survival.

The big troubles for Lord Grantham centre around the estate, and the business that runs from it, which Bonneville, who describes his character as “not a man of numbers” commented:

“Ultimately what Robert cares about is the family, be that of his own or the larger family of the estate – that’s his passion and he will do anything that will stop it falling apart.”

On the casting of Hollywood legend, Shirley MacLaine, as his character’s mother-in-law, Bonneville said:

“It was quite something – I was I was in the hall when Maggie [Smith] and Shirley first met.  It was like Stanley meeting Livingstone, you know – these two great adventurers of our industry meeting for the first time on the show.  Often in the dinner scenes, with me sitting between Maggie and Shirley, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven really, listening to some of the stories about the people they’ve worked with.  The Apartment’s one of my favourite films and to be able to quiz her [MacLaine] about Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon and the way they shot it and the editor and all that sort of thing, it’s fascinating.  I think she’s a remarkable woman and Maggie and she got on famously.”

On the global impact and success that Downton has received, Bonneville commented:

“Its impact has been growing and growing.  When you’re here in a field in Highclere Castle [where Downton Abbey is filmed], you know, just getting on with filming a cricket match or whatever, you’re not really aware of the way that it’s been grasped to the world’s bosom.  It’s very gratifying because ultimately we’re still trying to just get on with doing our day job.  Yet go to New York or LA and it’s quite overwhelming actually.  The only downside is people think you are the character – when of course you don’t actually live in a big house and wear a lot of tweed!”

However, he does insist that there are certain aspects of the 1920’s era that he appreciates:

“I think secretly we all acknowledge it would be nicer if we weren’t quite so tied to our mobiles and weren’t chasing our tails all the time but then again, you think about the phenomenal advances that have come since.

The new series on Downton Abbey begins next month on ITV1/ITV1 HD.

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