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TV Interview

Hugh Bonneville ('Twenty Twelve')

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Hugh Bonneville

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Taking a break from the spiffing good drama of Downton Abbey and battling in the Tardis on Doctor Who, Hugh Bonneville will be showing off his comedic talents this week in new BBC Four mockumentary Twenty Twelve. Based around the team in charge of the London Olympics, it has a great cast, a great writer and plenty of pedigree. We caught up with Hugh to find out more and also chat about his antics in Downton.

Can you explain the premise of Twenty Twelve?
"Well it's from the pen of John Morton, who wrote People Like Us, which was a faux documentary series in the late '90s. It was based around a BBC interviewer going around interviewing people about their lives, and it was something of a first cousin for shows like The Office with that reality style. This show is another first cousin of that, but it's based around the Olympics. There is a producer making a documentary about the deliverance commission, which has been charged with bringing together the plans for 2012. It is the level below Seb and all the bigwigs, who are the brains of the outfit, and this lot aren't quite as brainy as the lot upstairs, but they have to carry the can and make the cogs turn as best they can."

What is your character Ian like?
"Of all the people involved, he is the one person you would be confident to have manning the lifeboats, so to speak. He's actually perfectly qualified to do the job, he's spent a lot of time working on urban regeneration projects in the past and he's worked at this level before, but this is a very, very big project, of course. But no, Ian's big responsibility on the show is to keep his marriage together."

Will his marriage be a big storyline during the series?
"Obviously he has had to sign wavers and allow the cameras access all areas and the BBC lied to the people involved and said that they would have editorial control, but they haven't. So there is plenty of privacy invasion, which Ian is very, very unhappy about. My wife, who is a lawyer, takes legal advice and certain elements are cut out, but no, certain areas of my relationship with my wife have been washed in public."

Why do you think it is that as a nation we are so hilariously rubbish at organising big events like the Olympics?
"I think we are very, very good at committees. And I don't think committees are always the best ways to get things done. You end up going around and around pushing paper. I think anyone who has sat on a committee will recognise these characters. You can be organising a village tea party and there will be the same confusion where someone says they'll do something by next Thursday and they thought you meant Thursday next year. I don't think it's necessarily a British trait though. It could be an international trait. That's why we have so many management consultants wandering around these days, because we have buried ourselves in bureaucracy and red tape and can't get things done."

The show has a brilliant cast. Did you know that they would all be involved when you signed up?
"No, I didn't actually. It took me about 30 seconds to sign up for it when I heard it was John Morton. I'd done a couple of the radio versions of People Like Us and I think he's a genius writer. I knew what he would bring to the piece would be very fun to do. Then Karl [Theobald], Vincent [Franklin], Olivia [Colman] and Jessica [Hynes] came onboard and it was a fantastic mix. We all got on fantastically well, and we filmed it incredibly fast in four-and-a-half weeks, and with John at the helm it was a steady ship."

Is there potential to squeeze in another series before the 2012 Games?
"Absolutely. We're planning to start again in the summer if things go well and the public like it. And maybe we'll be able to squeeze a third series as well, leading up to the games when the pressure is really on. Then the taps really will be coming off the water systems!"

Was it nice to take a break from Downton for something more light-hearted?
"I love doing comedy. I finished the last series of Downton on a Friday and then started this on a Monday and it was a complete contrast in style and atmosphere. And as you say I've got to do Doctor Who as well, so what's not to like... I got to go in the Tardis and mess around as a pirate. I am very, very lucky."

The expectations about the second run of Downton are massive. Are the cast nervous?
"Hugely! On the one hand, we started filming together ten days ago and it was great to see everyone again and be back, see the gang. In my opinion, the scripts are as good, if not better than the last series. But we're also well aware of the expectation. I mean barely a day goes by where there isn't some article popping up, be it fictional or factual. We are well that we have got to keep ourselves on the top of our game and we're striving hard to do that and deliver."

Have you all had to sign agreements to not reveal any of the plots?
"Well, we're all just vaguely sensible about it. We don't want to spoil it for anyone. I'm intrigued by this need to know how it is going to be. It really came to me when I was filming Doctor Who and people were guessing plots before we had shot them and people were talking about story arcs and so on. I guess it's just a hunger for information these days. But we're all adults and we don't want to spoil it for anyone. There's various bits of things I can say, time has moved on, we're now in the First World War and there's going to be lots of changes around Downton Abbey. We've got some lovely new members of cast and there are some big rollercoasters on the way and some big surprises."

Twenty Twelve starts tonight at 10pm on BBC Four.

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