CHILDREN at Hollycombe Primary School were treated to a special assembly when Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville made a guest appearance, talking about one of their favourite films and the making of Paddington Bear.
Introduced by headteacher Tamsin Austoni, the actor admitted that during the filming three years ago Paddington Bear became a "very real character" to all the actors, director Paul King, and the crew.
Based on Michael Bond’s series of books, Hugh revealed the bear’s appearance on screen was a mixture of an actor in costume, a stuffed life-size model, and technical wizardry.
Children were able to put their own questions to Hugh, including asking what was his favourite sandwich filling was as a child – which turned out to be grated cheese with ketchup.
The wonderful tree house in the film, he explained, was a combination of a set at Pinewood Studios, a jungle area in Costa Rica and digital enhancement, and that filming at Paddington station at night and seeing the bear’s statue there proved to be exciting for everyone.
He also told children the snow scene, which was filmed in a residential area in Primrose Hill, featuring playwright Alan Bennett’s house, required tons of fake snow, which quickly became sticky and messy.
Children learned about the tricks of filming on location and on a set, how actors, the director and the crew make everything look perfect and that some scenes, which may have taken a few days to film, can still end up on the cutting room floor.
He spoke about his part as a naval officer in the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, which was filmed over two days in a simulator in Portsmouth, dressed up to look like a British naval vessel on operations in the South China Seas. He also admitted he never got to meet James Bond, who was played in the film by Pierce Brosnan.
Children found out about the difference between performing in a play on stage and filming a movie.
“In a play you are all in it together,” said Hugh, “but with a film, scenes are filmed out of sequence and you often start with the last scene at the beginning, with actors dipping in and out at different times.”
Hugh describes himself as a character actor, who has lots of fun playing different roles ranging from serious parts to comedy, but so far he has never played an heroic role.
“I like to play parts that surprise the audience, even if it is a baddy, and which are also challenging for me,” he said.
Hugh, who has been in the industry for 30 years, told the children being an actor was like working for yourself. It requires passion and being tough enough to carry on when getting rejected, while having to open up and expressing yourself fully in any role, whether large or small.
When asked how old he was when he knew he wanted to become an actor, Hugh – who lives in nearby Milland – admitted he wrote plays, acted and designed tickets for his own shows as a young boy and always acted in plays during his school years.
He concluded his talk by revealing that the second Paddington Bear movie was almost finished and will be released later this year on his birthday – November 10.
Hugh also gifted a set of six personally signed Paddington Bears to Hollycombe School, which will auction them individually to raise money for its various projects.
Mrs Austoni said: “One of the children wrote to Hugh Bonneville and invited him to our assembly, and to our great delight he responded almost immediately.
“It was such a treat to hear Hugh speak. The children were captivated and really inspired by his visit because he gave them so many interesting insights into the world of film and theatre.
“Hugh centred his whole talk around the questions that the children had asked, which meant it was completely relevant. We are really grateful to him for finding the time to visit us.
“He certainly left a smile on everyone’s face!”