Bonneville goes from Downton to a down-and-out
When: Sunday, 6.30pm.
Where: BBC One.
Hugh Bonneville is almost unrecognisable in his new role as Mr Stink, a tramp created by David Walliams. The actor tells Lisa Williams why it's perfect festive family viewing
W ith his shabby clothes, bushy grey beard and unkempt hair, Hugh Bonneville dressed up as homeless man Mr Stink is a world away from his role in Downton Abbey.
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"It took an hour and a half in make-up," the actor announces proudly, before adding: "Our make-up director had great fun getting just the right consistency of snot to embed in my moustache."
Not only that, but the title character in the adaptation of David Walliams's children's book is followed everywhere he goes by a special effects haze of putrid smell. When you're sleeping rough, personal hygiene standards tend to slip, but Bonneville says there's another reason why Mr Stink smells as he does.
"He's very much an outsider, and this wall of aroma around him keeps people away. He doesn't want people to get too close," he says.
However, much to his suspicion, a 12-year-old girl called Chloe (played by Nell Tiger Free) decides to befriend Mr Stink.
Bonneville says: "Chloe is an outsider. She's teased at school and she's not one of the gang. Chloe gets past the stink because she understands that he is on his own as she is. Chloe sees a kindred spirit and they form a bond."
He describes the adaptation, which also stars Sheridan Smith and Johnny Vegas as Chloe's pushy mum and pushover dad, as "bright, poppy, big and broad" and says one of the funniest things about it is seeing the state of Smith's hair.
He says: "She has this extraordinary beehive, which grows and collapses with her fortunes."
The visual style is inspired by Quentin Blake's illustrations for the book, and the humour is typical of Little Britain star Walliams, who adapted the book for screen with Men Behaving Badly creator Simon Nye.
"There are lots of fart and poo jokes, in a very David Walliams way," says Bonneville.
Walliams also appears in the show, playing the Prime Minister.
"He's in our faces most of the year, and in this case he's in my face," jokes Bonneville.
Another key member of the cast is Britain's Got Talent winner Pudsey. Walliams was a judge on the series that announced the dog and his owner Ashleigh the winners, and brought him in to play Mr Stink's beloved companion Duchess.
No stranger to working with dogs on set, Bonneville knew how to butter up Pudsey in the same way he has to butter up Labrador Isis on the set of Downton.
"They both love treats," he says. "They'll do anything for treats – a bit like actors really."
Bonneville will also be appearing on screen this Christmas in the Downton Abbey Christmas special, although he's being very secretive about what we can expect from it.
"All I can say is that it's not set at Christmas and that we go to Scotland," he teases.
The actor does reveal, however, that he will be sitting down with his family to watch it. "I'm sure we'll be watching Downton. You only see your bits while you're filming so it's lovely to see the whole thing put together."
Christmas is a time for charity and for thinking of others, and that's why Bonneville thinks Mr Stink will resonate with people.
"It's a glorious Christmas story, it has all the elements of a traditional Christmas fable but lots of modern-day touches, too. And it does touch upon the way we treat each other, outsiders and people less fortunate than ourselves."