Exclusive Interview: 'Downton Abbey' Actor Hugh Bonneville Says 'Paddington 2' Encourages Building 'Bridges Rather Than Walls'

(Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)Hugh Bonneville, Julie Walters, Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins, Madeleine Harris, and Samuel Joslin in Paddington 2 (2017)

Paddington, everyone's favorite marmalade-loving bear, is once again brought to life in the charming new film Paddington 2, hitting theaters today.

Starring Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins and Ben Whishaw, the film opens with Paddington happily settled in with the Brown family in Windsor Gardens. However, his peaceful life is interrupted when he's charged with a crime he didn't commit. Paddington must prove his innocence by catching a thief, all in time for his beloved Aunt Lucy's 100th birthday party.

While the first installment in the Paddington series focused on acceptance and the meaning of family, Paddington 2 highlights the timely themes of compassion, kindness and seeing the good in others, says Bonneville, best known for his role as Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey.

"We're living in a world where, let's face it, some of those we look up to for guidance and being role models are more preoccupied with insulting and degrading others," he told this reporter. "I don't feel that that's a great state of mind or a great way to educate children. Anyone who goes to see Paddington comes out feeling that there are still good values emulate, that small acts of kindness can go a long way, that it's important to build bridges rather than walls."

In the first Paddington, Bonneville's character, Mr. Brown, learned that in order to let his family fly, he had to "not clip their wings and be less of a neurotic, overprotective parent" thanks to Paddington's influence, the actor said. This time around, Mr. Brown is experiencing a midlife crisis that prompts him to take up extreme yoga, juicing, and other bizarre fitness routines.

(Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)Hugh Bonneville in Paddington 2 (2017)

"There is a comedic bent to his character this time around. Everything is creaking, which sends him into a horrible tailspin of self-doubt," Bonneville chuckled. "But, by the end of the story, he's realized his age isn't so bad after all."

Like millions, the Emmy Award-nominated actor grew up loving the Paddington series. So, bringing the beloved bear to the big screen was a "bit of a risk" from all sides, as the books are national treasures, both in England and around the world.

"Paddington is a much-loved icon of British children's literature," he said. "There was a worry a film could denigrate or besmirch the affectionate place that a bear holds in people's hearts. But when the movie came out it was far more enjoyable and true to the character than we could have hoped.

Author Michael Bond, who died aged 91 on the last day of filming for the forthcoming sequel, even gave his stamp of approval for the movie before his death.

"His death was very poignant for us," Bonneville said. "He'd been the godfather of our film nearly all the way through. But, he loved the first film; when Michael Bond saw the movie, his statement was,' I came, I saw, I was conquered.' It was a huge honor and relief that he loved the movie like he did."

(Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)Hugh Bonneville, Julie Walters, Sally Hawkins, Madeleine Harris, and Samuel Joslin in Paddington 2 (2017)

While Bond wrote his first Paddington novel six decades ago, the stories remain just as relevant and beloved today because we've all been in the shoes of the fictional bear in some way, said Bonneville.

"The reason the bear has lasted and resonated for so long is really quite simple: We've all been the stranger in a strange place relying on the kindness of strangers, be it in a new school or new town," he explained. "We all recognize and feel that vulnerability. The good thing about Paddington is, whatever he gets into, the dial is always reset to positive, and his only interest in life is learning more, helping people and trying to fit in, and that's something we can all learn from."

Bonneville said that in a chaotic world that "sometimes leaves us feeling rudderless," he hopes Paddington 2 brings a smile to the face of audiences, both young and old.

"You don't have to take children to see it, it appeals to grownups, too," he said. "It makes people come out feeling better about life. That's what movies best can do, and if they can make you have a little lighter spring in your step in a troubling world, that's a wonderful thing."

Paddington 2 is rated PG. Watch the trailer here.