Returning for Season 3 in September in the UK and January 2013 on Masterpiece on PBS, the hit drama series Downton Abbey will see wrenching social changes, romantic intrigues, and personal crises that grip the majestic English country estate, now that the Great War is over and a long-awaited engagement is on. Written and created by Julian Fellowes, the show has become a worldwide cultural phenomenon, breaking records with all of its nominations for the Primetime Emmy Awards.
While at the PBS portion of the TCA Summer Press Tour, co-stars Joanne Froggatt (who plays head housemaid Anna Smith) and Brendan Coyle (who plays currently incarcerated head valet John Bates) talked about how all of the Emmy nominations feel, what it’s been like to have the show become such a cultural phenomenon, how surprised they were when they learned the fate of Mr. Bates, and the possibility of working in the U.S., once the show is finished. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
JOANNE FROGGATT: Yes! Brendan and I had shot half of a scene, and then it was our lunch break, which was when the Emmys were announced. So, I was in the post office on my lunch break, and then I ran back to my dressing room to get changed back into my costume. I looked at my phone and had a text from Michelle [Dockery] saying, “Congratulations!” And my manager called three times. I was like, “What’s going on?” So, I called Michelle and was like, “Did we do really well in the nominations?,” and she was like, “You’re nominated and we’re all nominated. We got 16.” I was screaming on the phone, and jumping up and down with Michelle. Brendan and I didn’t see each other until we went back to finish the scene. So, the first half of the scene, he’s quite normal and calm.
BRENDAN COYLE: That was pre-nominated. The second half of the scene was post-nominated. I want to see the rushes to see if there’s any kind of glow.
FROGGATT: I have very red ears in the post-nominated half because I was so flushed and emotional. It will be interesting to see if people spot that.
When you started working on this show, did you have any idea that it was going to become such a pop culture phenomenon, and what do you make of it?
FROGGATT: Well, I’m getting married, later this year, and the vicar that’s marrying me and my partner sent me an email about details for our wedding. At the bottom of the email, he said, “If Jo could fix it for me and my wife to go to the Downton set, she’ll go straight to heaven.” I was like, “Great!” That’s the easiest deal that I’ve ever done!
COYLE: Yes! I’m Lady Mary, and I’m really happy about it!
Many viewers assumed that Bates would not be found guilty because it was just circumstantial evidence, and they were really surprised when he was convicted of the crime. Did you guys know the full plot arc, or were you surprised too?
COYLE: Well, just getting a script is a bit of an event, in itself. We’re the last ones to receive the script, so when we get the scripts, it really is a case of phones off, kettle on. It’s an event. And I read it as a fan of the show, as well. But no, I did not know what was going to happen. When he was found guilty, there was a real thud in my chest, not just because I was going to lose the part, but because it was a very dramatic event in the script. I thought, “Are they going to kill me?” It was a fascinating read.
FROGGATT: The same with me. When I read the bit where Mr. Bates gets sentenced to murder, I literally gasped. We were reading the script, and I was like, “No!” It was just like, “What happens to us?!” It’s just as much of a surprise to us, I think, and that’s great.
COYLE: They’re cracking reads.
FROGGATT: Yeah, it’s like opening a little Christmas present, every time you get a script.
COYLE: I really put myself through it. I was trying to figure out just exactly what his injury was and how it would affect his movements. I was very keen, when I first started. I had this strap, which limited the movement with my ligament, so I couldn’t completely stretch my leg. I even had a pebble under my heel, at one point, trying to perfect it. Now, it’s become second nature, like learning to drive. But, we’ve decided that it’s a war wound that flares up, every now and again. It was a process. The most gratifying things about this job, for me, is that I got a letter from a guy who had a disability. I’m not quite sure what it was, but all of his life, he had these terrible nicknames thrown at him. Now, he’s being called “Mr. Bates.” That’s what his workmates call him. So, he wrote to thank me for giving him a cool nickname, at last.
After Downton Abbey is finished, do you have any interest in doing U.S. television?
COYLE: Sure. It’s a phenomenal time for U.S. television. For the last ten years or so, we’ve been looking at it in wonder. There’s some great stuff coming out here.