Terry Morrow: 'Downton Abbey' star locates his spot in Hollywood's pecking order

Hugh Bonneville plays Lord Grantham on 'Downton Abbey,'  airing tonight.

Photo by Nick Briggs, A20112011

Hugh Bonneville plays Lord Grantham on "Downton Abbey," airing tonight.

BEVERLY HILLS — Hugh Bonneville, assume the position.

Chewing over how "Downton Abbey" (9 p.m. Sunday, PBS) has changed his life, the 49-year-old actor doesn't hesitate to respond.

"I get frisked a lot more at the airport," he says with a laugh. "They're just interested in taking a little bit more time in seeing what's in my bag. I found a pen in my bag yesterday that I had been looking for for months.

"So I guess there's an upside to all of this."

This recent interview marked one of the rare moments Bonneville has visited Beverly Hills. Wandering around the hotel for a day or so, he didn't find his privacy invaded much.

"I was around the pool this morning and a few heads turned about, but that was about it," he says with a joking lament.

Even a star on "Downton Abbey" — one of TV's hottest shows — has to find his pecking order.

That's not how Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham — the undisputed head of Downton Abbey — is used to being treated. His buck stops with him.

Recent episodes have shed light on Crawley's mismanagement of money, putting his family and Downton Abbey in jeopardy. His wife, Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), is also angry with him, placing part of the blame for their daughter's death on his poor judgement.

"He needs help. It's kind of doom and gloom for him, and he doesn't know where help is going to come from," Bonneville says.

Born in Blackheath, London, England, Bonneville's career began in theater, where he performed Shakespeare in the middle 1980s. By 1991, he made a transition to television. "Downton Abbey" solidified his career.

Married 15 years with no children, Bonneville likes to break free of the formal attire of "Downton Abbey."

"When I am home," he says, "I am a bit of a slob."

Terry Morrow may be reached at 865-342-6445 or morrowt@knoxville.com.

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