Hugh Bonneville on Viceroy's House

Simon Hemelryk / 21 February 2017

We talk to Downton's Hugh Bonneville about his new film Viceroy's House, what it's like working with Gillian Anderson and the likelihood of a Downton Abbey film.

With its dazzling breadth of experiences and deep spirituality, India never fails to delight the senses and uplift the soul. Find out about our holidays to India here.

You shot the new film in Jodhpur in northern India. What’s your impression of the place?

It’s a melting pot of people and there’s chaos on the roads – donkeys, cows, three riders on a bicycle. Yet everyone seems to rub along, most of the time. Here, we have red lights and high-vis jackets, but more explosive tempers. We could possibly learn from Indians’ ‘make-do’ philosophy.

How much British influence remains?

Considering the way in which we imposed ourselves, I’m astonished by their respect for things such as the monarchy. And there’s the extraordinary administrative structure.

I’ve never seen so many forms in triplicate. A lot of people in the upper echelons of Indian society are said to be more British than the British – the social mores, who’s in; who’s out.

There is a tremendous Anglo-Indian bond, still. While partition was one of the ugliest periods in British history, somehow the strength of the underlying relationship has survived and strengthened.

With its dazzling breadth of experiences and deep spirituality, India never fails to delight the senses and uplift the soul. Find out about our holidays to India here.

What role do you think Britain can play in the post-Brexit world?

For the country to survive with its head held high, compromise is a commodity we’re going to have to learn to use very quickly. And I don’t think we know how to redefine ourselves yet. 

I’m proud to be British, but I grew up as a European, too. I want to hear the voices of those with the responsibility of shaping our place in the world. I want to hear them loud!

What was it like working with Gillian Anderson, who plays your wife in the film?

She’s so in demand, but she’s tremendously focused with a great sense of humour. And like with all actors trying to play someone who existed, you’re trying to get the right tone in spirit. And I think, having talked with the family, both Edwina’s daughter and grandson, and having read up on the Mountbattens and seen footage from that era, I think Gillian completely immersed herself in the role.

We associate her so closely with the US series The X-Files, but she’s British. Do you still do a double take when she speaks in an English accent?

[Laughs]. I sort of do and I don't. I think every since I saw her in Bleak House, when you suddenly realize ‘my god, she is a Brit’. 

Don’t forget the Mountbatten era was again a different sort of English accent - incredibly cut glass and Gillian nailed it fantastically. It can sound a bit peculiar to us these days. Think of the Queen x10.

You took a break after Viceroy’s House. What did you get up to?

I’m not very good with my downtime. I didn’t suddenly take up archery or anything.

I stared at my garden thinking, ‘I need to tidy this up’. But I do love walking up on the Sussex downs near my home. If I don’t go out for a good yomp each day, I get pretty antsy.

Do other walkers remark on suddenly seeing Downton’s Lord Grantham?

You can have four camera phones trained on you in Wagamama, but I rarely get recognised on the downs – I’m out of context. People feel they’re in a different space up there, not connected to the day-to-day.

Do you miss Downton?

It was massively important and, in fact, the cast is having a reunion tonight over a pint and a curry. But it’s freezing today, and I don’t miss mornings shooting in Highclere, where it would be this cold well into spring.

There were vague rumblings of a Downton movie, but I’m guessing they’re still vague rumblings?

I’d love to see a script or more details of a project, but I’ve not seen anything like that, yet, so you probably know more about it than I do.

Watch our video interviews with the stars of Downton Abbey

You played Mr Brown in Paddington. Which other children’s book character would you like to play?

Hector from Hector’s House. He was droopy-eyed and rather – not pompous – but slightly a pace behind the world. Maybe that’s me.

Will your young son follow you into acting?

No, I don’t think so. Acting is that annoying thing that takes Dad away from home. I don't think that’s his bag at all. But having said that, he’s very up on his movies and we have long discussions about film structure and TV programmes that work and don’t work. I’m hoping he’ll give me a job one day when he’s a producer.

Viceroy’s House is released in cinemas on March 3

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