The fourth son of a civil servant (his father worked in the foreign office), he was raised in a world populated by the upper class. His decision to pursue an acting career -- fueled by his association with the Cambridge Footlights -- led him to experience life on the other side. As he told The Guardian
(January 24, 2002): "I was an insider-outsider from the age of 21 when I went to drama school. With my acting I have run the two lives in tandem. I would be doing rep, sleeping in digs with leaking walls, then I would go off to a huge stately and have them do my laundry at the weekend." By drawing on this dichotomy, Fellowes produced a brilliantly observant screenplay for "Gosford Park" which, in his own words, is "a social examination of the class system, the games that it involved people in and the amount of collusion that it required between the classes". The film drew rave reviews and earned eight Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Original Screenplay.
After graduating from Cambridge and attending drama school, Fellowes honed his craft appearing on stage with various repertory companies as well as making the occasional guest appearance on TV (i.e., "The Duchess of Duke Street"). In 1981, he headed to L.A. and acted in several made-for-television movies, portraying a Nazi in support of Anthony Hopkins' Hitler in "The Bunker" (CBS, 1981), the Emperor Nero in the CBS biblical miniseries "Peter and Paul" (1981) and the Prince Regent in "The Scarlet Pimpernel" (CBS, 1982). Becoming disenchanted by Southern California, Fellowes returned to England, married and established Lionhead Productions, through which he served as associate producer on the syndicated TV drama "A Married Man" (1989), starring Anthony Hopkins.
Although interested in behind the scenes work, Fellowes continued to perform, becoming an in demand character player in projects ranging from "Goldeneye", a 1990 small screen biopic of James Bond creator Ian Fleming (in which he portrayed Noel Coward), to the features "Damage" (1992) and "Shadowlands" (1993). In 1994, he made his screenwriting debut adapting Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel "Little Lord Fauntleroy" into an award-winning miniseries. (It aired in the USA on the Disney Channel in 1995). In a rather odd twist, Fellowes was cast as the Minister of Defence in the James Bond film "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997). Drawing on his family background, he essayed a titled nobleman in the British miniseries "Aristocrats" (1999) and joined the cast of the BBC series "Monarch of the Glen" in 2000 as a Scottish lord. It was while appearing in the latter that he wrote the screenplay for "Gosford Park". While his success as a writer has brought numerous offers, Fellowes has stated he hopes not to abandon his performing career.