Daniel Deronda: Who's Who

Henleigh Grandcourt Henleigh Grandcourt
played by Hugh Bonneville

Rich, worldly, and sophisticated, Henleigh Grandcourt could have been the perfect husband for Gwendolen, but he feels compelled to crush her spirit and mold her into his perfect wife. He also hides a dark secret which further threatens Gwendolen's happiness.

Award-winning actor Hugh Bonneville dons the mantle of powerful aristocrat Henleigh Grandcourt in Daniel Deronda. The star earned a BAFTA nomination and carried off the Best Young Actor Prize at the 2001 Berlin Film Festival for his performance in Iris as the young John Bayley, Iris Murdoch's husband, opposite Kate Winslet. He relished the chance, however, to show another side of himself in Deronda.

"I always try to contrast every character I play with the last significant thing I've done, and in Iris, you couldn't play a gentler, more neurotic, nervous, less self-assured man if you tried," he declares. "So to find a character like Grandcourt, who is the most self-confident, arrogant, mysterious, scary, surprising bloke, was a great contrast. It's no more Mr. Nice Guy!"

Another magnet that drew Bonneville to the all-star cast was screenwriter Andrew Davies. "Having read the scripts, I then read the novel and realized just why Andrew Davies is so brilliant at what he does," says Bonneville. "He manages to capture and compress and explore themes of the novel in TV form."

Grandcourt is determined to marry Gwendolen because, Bonneville explains, he relishes the challenge of controlling someone who thinks that she can control him. "It's to do with a battle of wills," he explains "Gwendolen, in the first part of the story, ... has a horde of young men swooning over her, gazing at her with doe eyes. Suddenly, she comes across a guy who's got the equivalent of a Lamborghini and an enormous credit card, and she thinks, 'Oh, great, I'll have some of that, too.' Of course, in contemporary terms, if you're 19 and you see a 35-year-old guy with a Lamborghini and a credit card, you think, 'Careful, girl.' ... She doesn't realize that she's stepping into shark-infested waters. Also, because she stands up to him, he finds that very attractive.

Bonneville believes escapism is one element that lends period drama its huge appeal. "You're taking a leap away from your own hang-ups and problems, even though the hang-ups and problems you're seeing onscreen are exactly the same as your own. They're dressed up in beautiful costumes and appear to be from a different era, but, in fact, stories like this are utterly contemporary," he says. And, he adds, "The way that George Eliot analyses the whole Jewish ghettoization of the 19th century, the way that the Jews were treated in Europe -- she explores it with incredible sensitivity, way ahead of her time and with a liberal conscience way ahead of her peers."

Bonneville launched his acting career with the National Youth Theatre, simultaneously studying theology at Cambridge University. He has been seen with Hugh Grant in Notting Hill and in the previous Masterpiece Theatre productions Madame Bovary, The Cazalets and Take a Girl Like You. He'll be seen again on Masterpiece Theatre during the 2003-04 season in Davies's adaptation of Dr. Zhivago.