Starting his acting path at the famed Webber Douglas Academy, Hugh Bonneville began acting professionally in 1986. His stage career flourished for nearly 10 years, and in the mid-1990s Bonneville began a transition to TV and films. His first film role was in Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, in 1994, and he appeared in a string of films to round out the decade. TV became Bonneville's real wheelhouse, though, and he made more than 50 television appearances before landing the role that has come to define him: that of Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, on Downton Abbey.
Born Hugh Richard Bonneville Williams on November 10, 1963, in Blackheath, London, England, actor Hugh Bonneville was educated at the Sherborne School and then at Corpus Christi College at the University of Cambridge. He began serious acting efforts with the National Youth Theatre and studied theology at Cambridge before embracing acting for good and moving on to the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London.
Bonneville made his professional acting debut with a small role in A Midsummer's Night Dream at the Open Air Theatre in 1986, also serving as an understudy for Ralph Fiennes's Lysander. Bonneville spent several seasons with the National Theatre, appearing in such plays as Entertaining Strangers, Juno and the Paycock and The School for Wives, and landing the title role in The Devil's Disciple. He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1991, where his string of appearances grew as he worked on such plays as Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Alchemist, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, and The Virtuoso. One notable part Bonneville took on during this period was the difficult role of Laertes in Hamlet, opposite Kenneth Branagh.
On and Off the Stage
In the mid-1990s, Bonneville expanded his oeuvre while remaining firmly in the dramatic world, co-producing Beautiful Thing and co-writing Half Time, which he also directed onstage. He also began to garner notice for his acting work, earning a nomination for the Ian Charleson Award, a British theater award recognizing the best performances by actors under the age of 30. During this period Bonneville also appeared in Sam Mendes's Habeas Corpus and Cloaca, directed by Kevin Spacey.
Working with individuals in the film industry perhaps gave Bonneville a leg up when he decided to move off the stage and onto the big screen, and he made his feature film debut in Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in 1994. He went on to appear in 15 British TV movies and series before the end of the decade, among them EastEnders, The Vet and Married for Life, and several big-screen releases, such as the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), Notting Hill (1999), and Mansfield Park (1999).
Despite ongoing film work, Hugh Bonneville never strayed far from TV, appearing again and again on British shows such as The Cazalets, Midsomer Murders and Daniel Deronda (miniseries) and in TV movies such as Madame Bovary (2000), The Gathering Storm (2002) and Doctor Zhivago (2002). Always impressing both critics and audiences, in 2002 Bonneville won the New Talent Award at the Berlin Film Festival and was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Iris. In 2008, he took Best Actor at the Monte Carlo Film Festival for his performance in French Film. Even with his film work, all told, Bonneville played upward of 40 TV roles from 2000 until 2010, when the role of a lifetime came along.
'Downton Abbey' and Beyond
In 2010, Bonneville landed the role of Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, on ITV's Downton Abbey. Whether or not he knew it would be a game-changer in his career, it was, as the show went on to international success. After three seasons on the air, Downton Abbey has been as big a hit with critics as it has been with the viewing audience, winning two BAFTAs, nine Emmys and two Golden Globes. Bonneville himself has been nominated for a Golden Globe and an Emmy for his performance, and the cast won Best Ensemble at the 2013 Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Bonneville has also had a role on Twenty Twelve, a BBC comedy, which won Best Sitcom at the British Comedy Awards 2011 and earned Bonneville Best Comedy Actor nominations in 2011 and 2012.
Bonneville has been married to Lulu Williams since 1998 and lives in West Sussex with her and their son, Felix.
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