Paddington 2 Exclusive: Hugh Bonneville on Hugh Grant… and whether there will be a Paddington 3!
Hugh Bonneville has had a busy year. The former Downton Abbey star reprised his role as Ian Fletcher in BBC comedy W1A, received acclaim for his turn as Louis Mountbatten in Viceroy’s House and also costars in the new release Breathe. Most importantly of all, of course, he has returned to the role of Mr Brown in the eagerly awaited Paddington 2, alongside Sally Hawkins (as Mrs Brown), Brendan Gleeson (prisoner Knuckles McGinty), Ben Whishaw (the voice of Paddington Bear) and Hugh Grant – whom Bonneville appeared with in 1999’s Notting Hill – as actor Phoenix Buchanan.
Early reviews of the movie – including Movies4Kids five star review – declare the sequel is as good as, if not better than, 2014’s Paddington, which has come as something of a shock to self-effacing Bonneville.
“We had no idea people would love this movie so much,” he smiles. “I felt comfortable as it was the same team [on the sequel] and we had become a family. And by the second film, the vast team that create the bear had got a handle on how to do it and how to really use Ben [Whishaw] to best effect. What struck me in Paddington 2 was how you’re even more connected to the bear than in the first film.”
Sitting in a hotel room in The Shard, 36 floors above London, Bonneville is as warm and friendly as his movie character, Mr Brown, who is going through something of a midlife crisis when we revisit him. So can Hugh identify with that?
“When Mr Brown says ‘my belly has popped out, my hair has gone grey, and I creak’ in the movie, I can completely identify with that,” he laughs. “My first scene was Mr Brown doing yoga and instead of it making me feel younger or more supple it made me feel older because the teacher was sixty-something and can put his legs behind his head. There was no hope for me! And the people in that scene are all yoga teachers of varying ages so they were centred and calm – and bloody flexible. I did feel my age that day.”
Having a youthful looking Hugh Grant on set may not have made Hugh Bonneville feel any younger. “It is 19 years since Hugh and I sat in a rehearsal room for Notting Hill, and he has hardly aged at all,” Bonneville grumbles with a smile. “He still has cheekbones and I haven’t!” (You can check out a clip of Bonneville and Grant in Notting Hill at the end of this feature).
The movie also teams Bonneville with Irish actor Brendan Gleeson, who plays an inmate at the prison Paddington is sent to. “The visit to the prison was fun to film,” Hugh remembers. “When all the heads pop up in the visiting booth – that was very technical and everyone was great sports about it. I am such a fan of Brendan, and the finished result is enchanting.” (see the clip below)
Although the cast’s performances all look effortless, there is quite a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to tell the story of a marmalade-loving bear and his adventures in London, as he reveals. “Filming the movie was really hard work and we were filming during the coldest part of the year. It is quite focused and tricky, particularly with Paul [director Paul King, who also made Paddington] because you are trying to please him because you don’t want to see him sobbing in a corner!”
So would Hugh be prepared to make a third Paddington movie? “There is certainly material for a Paddington 3, because there are lovely stories and events from the books that can be built on,” he says with a smile.
“Though I think Paul King needs a long lie down as he has spent seven or eight years working on the character,” he continues. “He probably wants to go off and do something entirely different…”
Paddington 2 is in UK cinemas from Friday 10 November.