Hugh Bonneville

Iris

Interviewed by Denise Hanrahan

How did you get the role of Iris's husband, John Bayley, in "Iris"?

The director, Richard Eyre, was having trouble finding an actor who resembled a young John Bayley or Jim Broadbent. I was working with his wife on a TV series at the time and she thought I had potential. I didn't see any resemblance whatsoever but I went along to audition. It was in front of Richard, Judi, and Kate, which was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but they gave me the job.

Were you familiar with Iris Murdoch before you took on the role?

I'd read the serialisation of John Bayley's memoirs in the newspapers and found them profoundly moving. Then when I read the script I thought it was remarkably close to the spirit of John's books, and I knew Richard would make a very faithful adaptation.

Did you base your character on John Bayley or a young Jim Broadbent?

It was a bit of both. I listened to a radio piece John did to get a handle on his voice. Then Jim and I had the grand total of 15 minutes together in Richard Eyre's kitchen to work on the character. Apart from that we had no contact with each other at all. Any resemblance that exists is down to good directing from Richard. We did share a dressing room for two months a few years ago so I do know what the inside of Jim's calves look like!

Where you pleased with the outcome of the film?

Very much so because I know how passionate Richard was about the story and the script. It's very close to him as both he and Jim lost their mothers to Alzheimer's. It's an intelligent film that doesn't spoon feed you, and you have to think what it's about. I'm very proud to have been part of it.

Are there any other real life characters you'd like to portray?

Well, I was once congratulated in Oxford St for my brilliant portrayal of Mr Darcy, so apparently I look like Colin Firth when I had curly hair. I reckon I could play him in a biopic.