Hugh Bonneville will voice new engine Merlin in the "Thomas & Friends" movie "Journey Beyond Sodor".
The 53-year-old actor - best known for portraying Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham in "Downton Abbey" - has been cast as a brand new train in the legendary children's television show's 12th film and is thrilled to have landed part, which has made his younger self very happy.
He said: "I am delighted to be involved in the latest "Thomas & Friends" movie. Like so many others I enjoyed the books when I was young, so it's a real honour to be voicing a new character, Merlin. To play an engine in one of Thomas's adventures is a big thrill for a little boy in a grown-up body! One of the keys to Thomas's endurance is that young children, who are just beginning to explore their imaginations through story telling, are drawn into a world they feel they can inhabit and understand. At their heart these are tales of friendship, adventure and lessons learned from mistakes made, all while trying to keep on the railway tracks."
Merlin has been created to match Hugh's own on-screen persona, something which the producers say was a "happy coincidence".
Ian McCue, Senior Producer of Thomas & Friends, said: "When we design engines" faces it's really important to us that their character comes across. Merlin is so full of life, energy and enthusiasm and despite being older than Thomas, he also has an innocence to him and he's a really caring character. Our director worked on a few different sketches, from which we chose the face which we felt best fitted the character - we chose one which had big, sparkling eyes, and defined cheeks as he's always laughing. As Merlin tries to make himself invisible, we also wanted to get across a slightly mystical feeling, which we feel his face does well!"
A trailer for the forthcoming movie has been released today (12.05.17) as also the first ever Thomas the Tank Engine book celebrates its 75th anniversary.
"The Three Railway Engines", which was written by the Reverend W. Awdry and published on this day in 1945.
The story follows Thomas leaving the he Island of Sodor for the first time to travel to the mainland and he ends up befriending the Experimental Engines, Lexi, Theo and Merlin.