The cast of Paddington reads as a roll-call of the finest in acting talent, spanning film, television and theatre. Each of the principal cast are recognisable as many an iconic character, to generations both young and old.
Hugh Bonneville (Mr. Brown) is perhaps best known as Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, in the multi-award winning TV drama, Downton Abbey. Taking on the role of a father once again in Paddington appealed to Bonneville on several levels.
“I remember having the books read to me and then reading them myself and falling in love with them. Paddington is a part of British culture, part of our DNA really. I read the script and saw how much of that DNA is preserved, even though it’s set in a contemporary world”.
He continues, “It still has the flavour of the original books, which is so beautifully captured in Paul’s script. There’s also a great deal of humour running though the story – innocent, uproarious slapstick as well as clever wit – which will resonate with everyone, whether you are coming to the story with fresh eyes or as an unashamedly nostalgic parent, like myself.”
As one of the first actors to come on board the project and highly aware of the public's love of the source material, Hugh felt very strongly the need to do justice to Bond's stories--but any initial concerns were very quickly forgotten: “Within about five seconds of meeting Paul and David about Paddington, I was on board. I was struck by how much Paul understood Paddington--he IS Paddington! He is as innocent, wide-eyed and as delightful as our furry friend!”
As Mrs. Brown, the wonderful Sally Hawkins, who was recently nominated for an Academy Award® for her role in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, effortlessly captures her character’s good nature and inability to resist a cry for help. Being the first to engage with the little bear all alone on the platform of Paddington Station, Mrs Brown’s family is swept along by her well-meaning actions, regardless of the consequences. Says Rosie Alison of the casting of Sally, “What we love about Sally is that she gives this very grounded performance. She talks to the bear just beautifully, as if he is a living, breathing creature. One believes in her and in turn, in Paddington.”
Says Paul, “Hugh and Sally were a joy to work with. They are both tremendously accomplished writers as well as performers. For someone like me with a background in improvised comedy, it was hugely reassuring to know they wouldn’t feel straight-jacketed by the dialogue, and that together we could breathe life into the characters.”
He continues, “Their performances are the bedrock of the film: comic but touching, real yet existing in a world where a talking animal can be accepted. It’s a delicate balance, and they hold it beautifully.”
It’s perhaps every child’s dream to appear in a movie and newcomers Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin, cast as sparring siblings Judy and Jonathan Brown, took the experience in their stride.
Through a long winter shoot in and around London, often on location and frequently filming through the night, Maddie and Sam more than matched the stamina of their seasoned co-stars. The strong connection that developed quickly between the fictional family members is evident on screen, as is the fun they clearly had working together.
Bonneville is quick to praise his young co-stars “Maddie and Sam have got fantastic energy and real focus--they’re really on the button.” And he continues, “There is that famous phrase, ‘Never work with children or animals’. Well, I can make an exception in this case.”
With regards to portraying one of the most famous families in British literary history, Bonneville adds, “We had the luxury of three weeks of rehearsal in which Paul was determined that we should not only finesse the script but work on the characters and explore the relationships of the Brown family - which was invaluable. You rarely get to have that. So we had a lot of fun, playing around with the scenes, building up a strong family dynamic, which I hope comes across. The little ebbs and flows of family life are all there.”
Rounding out the Brown household is the eccentric Mrs. Bird, played by Julie Walters. A distant relative who lives with the Browns and runs the household as a very tight ship, Mrs Bird is strict, but also compassionate--when she needs to be! Worldly-wise, she thinks nothing of a walking, talking bear crossing the threshold of 32 Windsor Garden and turning all of their lives upside down.
Julie confesses to loving the prospect of working on another film which appeals whole-heartedly to the young--and to the young at heart. Certainly, knowing that David Heyman would once again be behind this adaptation must have been reassuring for Julie? “It was lovely to be asked back by David Heyman, because I had such a wonderful time on Harry Potter, you know, so it’s a real thrill to work with him again--and he’s a really nice bloke, apart from anything else!”
Along with Mr. Gruber, played by the prolific British actor Jim Broadbent (another Harry Potter alumnus) and nosey next door neighbour, Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi), the Browns are characters as familiar as Paddington himself to the generations of children that have grown up with these stories. However, a 21st century Paddington required a villain that could challenge the most savvy of young audiences. Enter stage left Millicent, the evil taxidermist.
Explains King, "Where Oliver Twist has to survive Fagin and Bill Sykes before he can find peace with Mr Brownlow, so I wanted an opposition for Paddington, someone who didn’t respond to ‘Please Look After This Bear.’ It struck me that for a young bear, the greatest opposition wasn’t someone who didn’t want him in the house, or even the street, but who felt that a bear only belonged in one place in London--the Natural History Museum!”
From the outset, the desire of all involved was to deliver a Paddington to the big screen for a whole new generation of fans, whilst remaining loyal to Bond's wonderful world.
Get to see British culture through Paddington
by posted on February 3, 2015