Saturday, April 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Secrets of 'Downton'

Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess (left) and Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary in a scene from Downton Abbey. (Nick Briggs/Carnival Films)
Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess (left) and Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary in a scene from Downton Abbey. (Nick Briggs/Carnival Films)
Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess (left) and Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary in a scene from Downton Abbey. (Nick Briggs/Carnival Films) Gallery: Downton Abbey to return Jan. 5

1. Who the model was for Robert Crawley, earl of Grantham, a character that actor Hugh Bonneville, who plays him, describes as being often "a beat behind the action."

"My father is really the original Robert," said "Downton" creator Julian Fellowes during a lively question-and-answer session following the Season 4 premiere event in New York last month.

His father, a diplomat, "wasn't as grand," Fellowes said, "but he was very decent, and he was always trying to do the right thing, but he never questioned his role in society. . . . He just sort of thought that, you know, on the whole, if God intended you to be rich, he ensured that someone left you some money."

2. Where the "Grantham" came from.

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  • "When I was 11, I ran away from my prep school" with a friend, said Fellowes, "and we were pulled off the train by the police at Grantham [a town in the Lincolnshire section of England]. And I was sent back in the mail van, sitting on the mail bags."

    3. Why the house is an abbey.

    "I'd taken Downton from the name of a house, but the house was actually Downton Park," and as Fellowes had already written the movie "Gosford Park," he looked for another name.

    The fictional back story: "It was a monastery and when Henry VIII decided he'd be better off in the church of Anne Boleyn . . . he commandeered all these places" and many ended up being converted into country houses, Fellowes said, adding that Highclere Castle, where the show is filmed, "was originally a religious house" and that the "central hall, where a lot of the action takes place, is in fact the old refectory of the monks."

    4. Mrs. Patmore shops at Costco.

    Lesley Nicol, who plays the voluble cook, began one anecdote about being recognized by viewers (mostly by her distinctive voice) with, "I'm at Costco in LA," and another, "I had one the other day at CVS . . .I go to the best shops."

    5. The food is authentic.

    A woman who works on the show "makes all these recipes from, like, Mrs. Beeton's [Book of Household Management] back in the day," said Phyllis Logan, who plays the housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes.

    "Some of them are fantastic to look at, but when you investigate what they are," added Nicol, "you wouldn't want to eat it."

    6. The people who make the show hate the delay between the U.K. and U.S. airings as much as we do.

    Fellowes decried "the interminable months of spoilers" that result after British audiences take to the Internet.

    And then there's the piracy. "There's a whole generation that believes that anything on the Internet is free," said Bonneville, calling copyright "an incredibly valuable and important proposition. . . . We all need to pay our mortgages, somehow."

    7. The underbutler isn't really evil, just misunderstood.

    Rob James-Collier, who plays the closeted Thomas Barrow, thinks he's frustrated.

    "The guy's not had a boyfriend in four [seasons]," said the actor. "Thomas needs love." And, he pointed out, Thomas was gay at a time when his homosexuality could land him in jail. "Human nature is, you've got to respond to that and give society what they want. As Eminem said, 'I am whatever you say I am.' "

    "He's afraid of intimacy because intimacy is the most dangerous thing in his life," added Fellowes.

    8. When the cameras aren't running, roles can get reversed.

    "On set, frankly, Sophie McShera, who plays Daisy [a kitchen maid] demands that I get her cups of tea," said Bonneville.

    9. The real costume drama may be behind the scenes.

    "I've got a new apron this year," said Nicol, sarcastically, when some of the women in the cast were asked how they liked the clothes. "I think I have a new pair of boots as well."

    10. What really distinguishes a lady from a lady's maid (or a housekeeper or a cook).

    Cosmetics. Makeup's apparently for upstairs actresses only. On the show, "I look like my grandmother who's just been dug up," moaned Logan. "I'm told to grow my eyebrows."

    - Ellen Gray

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