Jenna Bush Hager moderated a special “Downton Abbey” panel with cast Hugh Bonneville (“Robert”), Laura Carmichael (“Lady Edith”), Robert James-Collier (“Thomas”), Phyllis Logan (“Mrs. Hughes”), Lesley Nicol (“Mrs. Patmore”) and “Downton Abbey” executive producer, Gareth Neame at at the Hudson Theatre.
Read some highlights below:
If you’re in the streets, do you get stopped?
Robert: The difference between the fans: A fan in England they won’t tell you they like you, a fan in America will come across the street and tell you they like you … They’re a lot more enthusiastic over here, and a lot more warmer.
What’s it like on set everyday?
Lesley: Carnage. Absolute mayhem. I can’t speak for upstairs, I don’t go there.
Laura: There is a bit of a difference being on set and location because we’re in someone’s home and we’re nervous of breaking stuff.
Gareth: We film about 40% of the show at Highclere castle which is an hour and a half outside London, and 40% in a studio in England and the rest is on location. As Laura says, you get nervous about the stuff at Highclere castle.
Robert: All the stuff at the studio presumably is breakable.
Lesley: Yeah we’re not afraid to trash it.
Alistair (the historical consultant for the show) tell us what you do for each season.
I do get a chance to talk about history in a wide sense, and I’m a bit of a mosquito. They’re kind enough to call me the oracle by coming up all the time, telling people to sit up straight. I try to get everyone to get into the protocol of the time. A lot of what the narrative is is time, and it’s also entertainment. The subconscious is also terribly busy and wants to be fed, so I hope that trying to get the history right, will help the subconscious go on a legitimate path into the story and you can enjoy it a bit more.
Talk about the Watergate scandal (the water bottle) scandal.
Alistair: The thing about the water, is that you all think it’s a mistake, what’s simply magnificent is that we’ve got you to talk about “Downton Abbey.”
Gareth, when you made this show, what made you want to make the magic that has happened in the last five seasons?
In the United States I thought we had a few million very dedicated followers of the show, I didn’t think that it was going to be one of the top shows in America, that was beyond everyone’s wildest dreams.
Was there ever a moment where you thought, okay, you’ve made it?
Gareth: I remember standing in the shower, and only one episode had aired in England and I was listening to the radio program, and Rachel Johnson, she was talking about something completely unrelated to our show to which only one episode aired and in answer to her question, she said “I don’t mean that in an Downton Abbey sort of way,” and that happens occasionally when a TV show gets a huge amount of attention and it comes into popular culture. To have it after one episode, I thought that was very strange.
Tell us where Lady Edith is.
Laura: The end of season 4, you learn that she’s going to bring her daughter back to the estate, she’s going to bring her, and the Drew family is going to adopt her as an orphan, who Edith has told passed away. She’s put herself in a more dangerous situation, she’s more in danger of getting caught, she needs to be near her young daughter, so she’s fighting to be part of her life.
Robert, what part of your character do you think people relate to?
I hope that by now, they get a sense of, they can identify why he is and how he is. He was a gay man in the time when it was illegal. Its a huge burden and a secret to not allowed to love or be loved so I think its a lot of the audience empathizing with Thomas and why he behaves like he does.
Lesley, do you daydream of a day that will take Ms. Patmore far away?
No, I think she feels quite proud in where she is at the moment, she’s at the top of her particular tree. When it started, Alistair gave us the context where we were, in this house, with the historical backing that we didn’t know about, so when I first read the first scenes, she was mean, she was bossy, she was mean to the little girl, and so what is she? Is she horrible? Nobody’s just that. Alistair said, just realize that this is a big house, you’re the cook, your responsibility is to make every dinner superb, the best show in town, it has to be. So there’s no room for error, and if the kid’s not pulling her weight, you’ve got to encourage her, because you want her to do well, it made perfect sense.
Is it so much fun to be downstairs?
Robert: I transcend and there’s equal fault on either side.
Phyllis, is there a romantic feeling coming out of your character?
The thing about Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes is that they do have great respect for one another, and they can get on one another’s nerves endlessly as well. So maybe it’s like a marriage. It’s not like mine though. They certainly respect one another, they’re from similar backgrounds, they’ve been in that house for a long time, they got used to one another. They like one another and that’s the most important thing, they actually genuinely like one another. I don’t know maybe, if you talk about romance, it might spoil things.
Alistair: For Phyllis’ role, and Mr. Carson, they have set aside normal aspirations like those, in order to serve a house like that. They’ve literally given up the whole concept of marriage, although the base is marriage, it is because we’re in the 20’s and they’re allowed to and things are starting to change. But when you started as a housemaid, and when Carson started as an under-footman, they were simply aware that you had to dedicate yourself first and foremost to the family, but if you got married, it was fine, but you’re obviously no longer committed to the family and you had to leave.
“Downton Abbey, Season 5” premieres on PBS MASTERPIECE on January 4 at 9/8c.