Playing Under the Piano
From Downton to Darkest Peru
A The Times (UK) and Sunday Times Best Book of the Year
A moving, laugh-out-loud memoir from one of today’s best-loved British actors, whose credits include Downton Abbey, Notting Hill, and Paddington.
From getting his big break as Third Shepherd in the school nativity play, to mistaking a Hollywood star for a real estate agent, Hugh Bonneville creates a brilliantly vivid picture of a career on stage and screen. What is it like working with Judi Dench and Julia Roberts, or playing Robert De Niro’s right leg, or not being Gary Oldman, twice? A wickedly funny storyteller, Bonneville also writes with poignancy about his father’s dementia and of his mother, whose life in the secret service emerged only after her death.
Whether telling stories of working with divas, Dames, or a bear with a penchant for marmalade, this account of his life as an actor is richly entertaining.
Acting memoirs don't come much better than this humorous and self-effacing account by Bonneville, best known for his roles as the Earl of Grantham on Downton Abbey and Henry Brown in the Paddington movies. Bonneville makes the vicissitudes of his profession accessible while never taking himself too seriously, or his successes for granted. Born Hugh Williams in London in 1963, Bonneville had a pleasant childhood, forming close bonds with his parents; his father was a urologist, and his mother a government worker whose true employer, MI6, he only learned after her passing in 2015. He was attracted to acting at an early age, starting modestly: when he was about nine, he impersonated Davy Crockett to impress a girl he had a crush on. He became a member of the National Youth Theatre in 1980, joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1991, and went on to perform with masters of his craft, including Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh (who ended up giving him his first movie role, a small part in the 1994 film Mary Shelley's Frankenstein). There are behind-the-scenes looks at Downton, as well as an entertaining account of Bonneville's experiences with Courting Alex, an unsuccessful American sitcom. He also provides genuine insights into the actor's craft as well as moving sections detailing his aging father's diminishing mental capacities. This one's a winner.
I think I’ve been in love with Hugh Bonneville since his appearance in Notting Hill. He has an innate charisma that clearly journeys through the camera. His artistry is such that you believe with all your heart the very essence of whatever character he’s inhabiting. So it was an easy choice to select “Playing Under the Piano” when I recognized the author. The memoir is as genuine and self effacing as you might expect, and rife with humor. You will laugh heartily and shed genuine tears, and feel much richer from reading this memoir.