‘Abbey’ made actor a star

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Hugh Bonneville has been acting for 26 years, but it took the mysterious alchemy of an absorbing script, astute producers and the dream cast of “Downton Abbey” to elevate him to star status. That doesn’t really matter because, like every actor, Bonneville says he still worries where the next job is coming from.

“’Downton Abbey’ is a hugely popular show and I love it, but it will end at some point and then I need to find work. We’re all waiting for hire,” he says.

The phenomenal success of “Downton Abbey” — on which Bonneville plays the stalwart Earl of Grantham — surprised everyone and fans are hotly awaiting the premiere of Season 3 on PBS stations Sunday. “I’ve not been in a show that’s had the impact ’Downton Abbey’ has had around the world,” says Bonneville, 49.

“But the work is the same discipline, and I have the same approach to the work as I do with any other project. For the show to have it hit in a way we all find overwhelming, in a lovely way, is quite humbling, really. Because most of the time it doesn’t happen.”

He says it has changed his life in a peculiar way. “Getting through customs is harder now. They think, ’Oh, you think you’re so-and-so,’ so they give me a bit of a hard time. They check far more thoroughly than ever before. Just coming here yesterday at Heathrow they had to empty everything out of my bag. It’s great because I found a pen I’ve been missing. It’s a privilege to be so thoroughly searched,” he grins.

While he’s no daredevil, Bonneville admits that he loves the challenge of performing a role to which he feels inadequate. “But that’s thrilling when you’re sent a script or invited to audition for a project and you think, ‘I can’t do this. It’s outside my range, my compass.’ And when they say, ’Well, you’re going to play the part,’ you get terribly nervous. And then you raise your game. If you do manage to do it with any degree of credibility, then you think, ‘Maybe I have gotten better.’”

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