Cast of the PBS series "Downton Abbey."

Cast of the PBS series "Downton Abbey."

America’s favorite aristocrats are returning to the U.S. PBS’ “Downton Abbey” is the British period drama that chronicles the lives of the Crawley family: Lord and Lady Grantham, their three daughters and a host of servants who keep their grand house running. The show digs into issues of class, gender and sexuality during an era of rapid change. Season four of the show premieres on Sunday, Jan. 5 on PBS stations around the country. Today on The Diane Rehm Show, catching up with the Crawleys of Downton Abbey.


  • Julian Fellowes Writer and creator, "Downton Abbey." He also wrote the film "Gosford Park," which won an Oscar in 2002.
  • Laura Carmichael Actress who plays Lady Edith Crawley, the middle daughter of Lord and Lady Grantham.
  • Lesley Nicol Actress who plays Mrs. Beryl Patmore, the head cook at Downton Abbey.
  • Rob James-Collier Actor who plays Thomas Barrow on "Downton Abbey." Thomas started as the footman, now is the under butler.

Watch The Full Broadcast

We experienced some technical difficulties with our audio during the web stream. Sorry for the inconvenience.

“Downton Abbey” Season 4 Trailer


  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Emmy Award winning PBS series, "Downton Abbey" has guided viewers through the finery of the upstairs and the bustle of the downstairs. Not to mention romances, evil plots and many, many meals. Season four of "Downton Abbey" premieres Sunday, January 5th on PBS. Joining me from NPR's bureau in New York City to reflect on what's happened so far, and preview what's to come, Julian Fellowes, writer and creator of "Downton Abbey."

  • 11:07:32

    MS. DIANE REHMLaura Carmichael, the actress who plays Lady Edith. Rob James-Collier, the actor who plays Thomas Barrow. And Lesley Nicol, the actress who plays Mrs. Patmore, the head cook of Downton Abbey. I'm sure many of you will want to join the conversation. Give us a call. 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.

  • 11:08:08

    MS. LESLEY NICOLThanks for having us.

  • 11:08:10

    MR. JULIAN FELLOWESWell, we're very pleased to be here.

  • 11:08:11

    REHMSo good to have you all person to person. Julian Fellowes, "Downton Abbey" has now aired in more than 200 countries. Why do you think this British period drama has enjoyed such incredible, widespread popularity?

  • 11:08:36

    FELLOWESOf course, if I really knew the answer to that, I'd write nothing but mega-hits. The truth is, somehow we've got the recipe right, but I don't pretend to understand completely why. I think it may be a mixture of the structure, which is essentially American and taken from E.R. and West Wing and those very fast paced shows, but also the appearance and sound of a classically British show. So, that combination seems to work, but, I mean, I'm only guessing in the dark, really.

  • 11:09:05

    REHMWell, I think we're all guessing, but we all love it. I do want to let our listeners know that we're live streaming video of today's conversation with cast members and the creator of "Downton Abbey." So, our listeners can go to our website,, and watch the conversation live. Now, at the end of the last season, the actor who played the beloved Matthew left the show. Julian Fellowes, what were some of the challenges that that presented to you?

  • 11:09:57

    FELLOWESWell, it was very difficult, because we weren't expecting it. I mean, we should, probably, have been more aware that Dan was thinking of going, but, you know, we got to the end of his contract. He behaved perfectly properly. I don't want to imply anything different, but I wasn't completely geared in to the fact he would go until really we'd already written five episodes and got them going. So, we did have to have a very swift change of gear. I mean, the option to killing him would be to have made him and Mary unhappy. Or him to walk off and, I don't know, be imprisoned or some --

  • 11:10:33

    FELLOWESI mean, there was really no logical reason why Dan, who was very much in love with his wife in the show, had just got a new baby and was the heir to the estate, would suddenly vanish. And, really, I'm afraid the grim reaper was our only option once he'd made his decision. But, you know, in the end, it sort of worked out, particularly for Michelle, because in the new series which we're about to have, her arc of coming to terms with her grief and rejoining the human race and everything, is one of the main strands. So, you know, I'm quite pleased with that.

  • 11:11:07

    REHMAll right. Well, let's hear a clip of something about to come up.

  • 11:11:17

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE#1How is the luncheon for the tenant farmers coming along?

  • 11:11:20

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1Well, I think. Tom?

  • 11:11:21

    TOMThey've all accepted, except for Barnes at Breeders Wood. He's sworn to his sister's wedding.

  • 11:11:26

    #1I think we can forgive him.

  • 11:11:29

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #2Do you know I have a terrible feeling I've double-booked. It's this Saturday, isn't it?

  • 11:11:32

    #1Don't worry. We're not having the wives. Edith can preside.

  • 11:11:36

    EDITHI can't, I'm afraid. I'm going up to London.

  • 11:11:39


  • 11:11:41


  • 11:11:42

    #3Well, George is owner of half the estate now. Shouldn't you represent him?

  • 11:11:47

    #1I don't want to bother Mary.

  • 11:11:49

    TOMThey'd like to see you.

  • 11:11:49

    MARYI'm sure they would, but...

  • 11:11:50

    #3After all, you'll have to run it if anything happens to Robert. Until George is of age, or longer.

  • 11:11:57

    MARYOh, for heaven's sake, why does everyone keep nagging and nagging? My husband is dead. Can't you understand what that means? After all he suffered in the war, he's killed in a stupid car crash. Matthew is dead 50 years before his time. Isn't that enough for me to deal with? Just leave me alone.

  • 11:12:22

    REHMAnd that poor woman is really struggling. Laura, as Edith, how do you deal with Mary? What is Lady Edith's role now that Mary's husband is dead?

  • 11:12:43

    MS. LAURA CARMICHAELWell, it's interesting. I think as, you know, modern day women, we sort of, Michelle and I, feel that, you know, the desire to kind of have a hug and talk about it and have a cry about the terrible things that have happened. But these two sisters, at this time, you know, that's not what's gonna happen here. You know? There's a frosty relationship between them, but also, in this time, in this class, you know, it's not the sort of thing that they would do to sit down and have a cry, I think. You know?

  • 11:13:19

    MS. LAURA CARMICHAELAnd so we sort of see Edith and Mary struggling through the sort of painful moments. And, for myself, for me and Michelle to play that, I find that really interesting. And how to play that tension that still exists between them, even though they've both suffered a loss, particularly Mary.

  • 11:13:42

    REHMYou mean that fact that they are sisters and one has suffered this great loss, and yet, they do have this, as you say, kind of frosty relationship. How do you get through that?

  • 11:13:59

    CARMICHAELWell, I think, you know, it's a very, sort of, tense moment. There's a brilliant scene in the first episode, that you'll see, where that's sort of really addressed. You see that tension that's still there, and our director, David Evans, really, sort of, wanted to play on this idea of how do they feel in each other's company? And it's tense. It's not lovey dovey.

  • 11:14:26

    FELLOWESBut there are siblings who can't stand each other in any period.

  • 11:14:29


  • 11:14:29

    FELLOWESI don't think it's really much to do with the 1920's, much as to do with disparate personalities of Edith and Mary. I always think the fact that brothers and sisters adore each other in all films and television is completely untrue.

  • 11:14:40

    REHMI'm laughing. Yes, I think in real life that rarely occurs. So, I think it's perfectly appropriate that it shows up, in that way, on-screen. And, turning to you, Rob James-Collier, you play Thomas. He is always scheming and plotting. What's it like to play such a scoundrel?

  • 11:15:09

    MR. ROB JAMES-COLLIERIt's absolutely fantastic. I'm gonna try and justify why he's always scheming and plotting.

  • 11:15:15


  • 11:15:16

    JAMES-COLLIERI've come up with many, many answers, but not many of them seem to -- people have seem to take him onboard, so I'm gonna go with a different one today. I think it was such a mundane existence and life, that I think, with Thomas, one, he's highly ambitious and he wants to get to the top of the tree. So, a lot of the scheming is gonna come from that point of view. But I think, with Thomas, there's a bit of -- he's quite a playful character in the fact that to relieve the boredom of every day, I think the scandal and gossip that went on upstairs was very much their soap opera, their TV.

  • 11:15:48

    JAMES-COLLIERObviously, television wasn't invented then, so they lived -- they needed a bit of juicy gossip or scandal just to get through the day and make it more interesting than the next. And I think that's his reason. Just to alleviate the boredom. Julian Fellowes is looking at me like, going, that's completely wrong, Rob, but, you know, that's my…

  • 11:16:07

    FELLOWESNo, no, I don't disagree with that. I mean, I think he is a defensive personality because he is gay in a period when it was a criminal offense. And that was a very dangerous, threatening period when one drink too many, you make a pass in the pub, and the next thing you know, you're in prison. And I think, you know, a lot of the younger generation don't understand that that is the tension that Thomas is living with. And I think it's made his defensive. And I'm kind of, you know, on his side.

  • 11:16:33

    REHMSo, Rob, you're, in part, sarcastic and scheming, but at base, you're really a frightened man?

  • 11:16:44

    JAMES-COLLIERWell, he's an outsider, isn't he? He's an outsider, just cause, as Julian eluded to, because of his sexuality, so he has this tremendous burden, this secret, this cross to bear. He has to look at people like Mr. Bates and Anna, who will live happily ever after and, well, we hope, but you never know. It's "Downton Abbey," isn't it? And he, Bates, has everything that Thomas wants. He has love. He has companionship. You know, he has the little cottage on the estate. Thomas can never have any of that, just because of how he is.

  • 11:17:11

    JAMES-COLLIERAnd what I love about Thomas, he's quite modern in the fact that he doesn't apologize for his sexuality. As he said to Mr. (unintelligible) , I'm not foul. I'm not like you, but I'm not foul. I think that was quite modernistic. He isn't ashamed of what he is, but it must take its toll on a person, and it does, you know? He reflects, outwardly, what society puts onto his character.

  • 11:17:34

    REHMAnd, Julian Fellowes, were you taking a risk bringing homosexuality into the plot?

  • 11:17:46

    FELLOWESWell, you know, all drama really depends on tension. I mean, nothing is harder to dramatize than happiness, which is why Hollywood films used to end with the kiss. They didn't get married and kiss in the middle, because there was nothing more to be said. And when you have someone who is gay in a homophobic society, where the homophobia was really universal. I mean, there were some liberal people, and I'm sure there were plenty of people who didn't really care much either way, in which category I'd put Robert Grantham. But, the fact is, it was very, very tough. And that means that one of our characters is surrounded by tension from the moment that he opens his eyes, and that's good for drama.

  • 11:18:28

    REHMJulian Fellowes, Lesley Nicol, Laura Carmichael, Rob James-Collier. The creator and part of the cast of "Downton Abbey." Do join us. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • 11:20:00

    REHMAnd welcome back. We are delighted to have with us today Julian Fellowes. He's writer and creator of "Downton Abbey." He also wrote the film "Gosford Park," which won the Oscar for Best Screenplay. And also with us from New York, Lesley Nicol. She plays Mrs. Beryl Patmore, the head cook at Downton Abbey. Laura Carmichael plays Lady Edith Crawley, the middle sister of Lord and Lady Grantham. And Rob James-Collier. He plays Thomas Barrow. Thomas started as the footman. He is now the under butler as he's called. Here is a tiny clip from the next season.

  • 11:21:00

    BERYL PATMORESo why would we need it?

  • 11:21:02

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #4It's a mixer. It beats eggs and whips cream and all sorts.

  • 11:21:05

    PATMOREYou and I would do that.

  • 11:21:06

    #4I would be glad not to, thank you very much.

  • 11:21:08

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #5The lady didn't say why she got it.

  • 11:21:10

    PATMOREOh, her ladyship has to, too.

  • 11:21:12

    #5She wants to save us a bit of elbow grease.

  • 11:21:14

    PATMOREYou don't understand. Before too long, her ladyship could run the kitchen with a woman from the village. What with these toasters and mixers and such, we'd be out of a job.

  • 11:21:25

    #4I want to try it.

  • 11:21:27

    PATMOREThen on your own head be it.

  • 11:21:30

    REHMLesley Nicol, Mrs. Patmore is having a hard time embracing change. What's going on?

  • 11:21:41

    NICOLWell, she feels, I think, she's the only one who's really got it right. I mean, nobody listens to her. But she's pretty sure, she just said in that clip, that if this keeps happening they're out -- out of a job. And in those days what are they going to do? I mean, she's really frightened. Whereas the kids are going, oh yeah, bring it on, bring the mixer in so I don't have to spend half an hour beating an egg. So it's a legitimate fear and it continues through the season as things keep coming up, you know, fridges and god knows what.

  • 11:22:13

    REHMSo here's what I really want to know. Are you a good cook?

  • 11:22:18

    NICOLI'm really not, Diane, no.

  • 11:22:19

    REHMYou're not.

  • 11:22:21

    NICOLNo. I can sort of -- I mean, you know, I can sort of but I'm not -- am I a good cook? No, no, no.

  • 11:22:27

    REHMBut, you know, Julian Fellowes has written it and staged it so realistically. You really do look as though you know what you're doing.

  • 11:22:39

    NICOLI think slowly but surely it became clear that what you have to do is not do anything that looks too technical because if I did, people would know in a heartbeat. What we do when we rehearse a scene is we work out very quickly what time of day it is, where we are in the preparation or the serving of the meal. We talk to a very wonderful guy on the crew called Mark who's our props guy who is a chef. And we grab him and say, help, Mark, what do we do -- what can I do that will look real and won't give me a way. And so he does all of that and tells us exactly what we're doing.

  • 11:23:17

    NICOLAnd also I think -- I mean, I am the head cook and therefore I do what these fancy people do. I garnish, I taste, I shout at people. That's what they do. You don't see them doing anything too much other than that.

  • 11:23:32

    FELLOWESYou're referring to Gordon Ramsey.

  • 11:23:33

    NICOLI am. I am, who I met the other day. And I said to him, do you know I've been referred to as a female Gordon Ramsey.

  • 11:23:43

    REHMAnd Julian Fellowes, those meals around the dinner table, such an incredibly important part of where the tensions, where the beautiful glassware, dinnerware appears, the flowers, the servants. That must've been fun for you to write about.

  • 11:24:09

    FELLOWESWell, the great thing about the dining room scenes is that you have a completely unforced real excuse to have this wide range of characters all doing different stories sitting there. So a lot of the narrative of Downton employs the trick of having five or six stories advanced by one or two lines of dialogue in a group scene. And the dining room lends itself to that. And of course, the one it's really -- well, the three it's really tough on is the butler and the footman because on the whole, the kitchen staff don't have to work when we're at Highclere. And the upstairs family don't have to work much when we're at Healing. But the only people who are never off are Carson and the footman.

  • 11:24:51

    JAMES-COLLIERTell me about it.

  • 11:24:52

    FELLOWESSo I do feel sorry for them.

  • 11:24:54


  • 11:24:55


  • 11:24:55

    JAMES-COLLIERI earn my wages.

  • 11:24:57

    REHMYou really do earn your wages. But you get to hear a lot and you get to see a lot, don't you?

  • 11:25:06

    JAMES-COLLIERYeah, the footmen were very much the -- and the butler were the eyes and ears upstairs, And the footmen in particular because they were in the high position where they have to maintain, you know, the secrecy of the family like Mr. Carson the footman could bring back the tidbits and the little bits of gossip downstairs, which people thrived on. And I think Brian Pursall (sp?) let the first series very much wanted to see -- not just have a dinner where, you know, it was the upstairs gentry just talking -- they wanted to see sometimes what the footmen were thinking and the reactions to how that could play downstairs and how the two lives merge with each other.

  • 11:25:43

    JAMES-COLLIERSo Brian Pursall was very keen to know what his footmen were thinking. So you get the up glance from Thomas or Jimmy and then you'll see how ramifications downstairs. And I like the way they keep that thread through to link the upstairs and the downstairs world together.

  • 11:25:59

    FELLOWESThat is one of the central ironies of the show is that we see the servants reacting upstairs, but almost never speaking, unless they're given an order certainly, the footman. And yet there is permanent dialogue going on downstairs. And I think that that is part of the interest of the show because one thing we can be sure of is that in that kind of house, invariably the servants knew more about the family than the family knew about the servants.

  • 11:26:28

    REHMWell, but when you, Rob, see or hear something, do you say it in such a way down the stairs that it's more than just a whispered gossip to one person? You say it to everybody. Everybody knows what you've seen.

  • 11:26:54

    JAMES-COLLIERWell, Thomas, very much like his old partner in crime, Ms. O'Brien, they would always listen out for any piece of gossip and use it for their own end. So he would -- has a tendency to exaggerate a fact or maybe perhaps twist a little fact and lie to get his own advantage downstairs. Then he'll do it, but that's all part of the fun of the character.

  • 11:27:18

    REHMAll fun of the character except when he must confess to Carson that he is a gay man.

  • 11:27:29

    JAMES-COLLIERYes. This is a storyline I think we needed to tell. And I've said it before, not just because Thomas was a gay man but because he was a gay man in Edwardian times when it was -- not only was it illegal but it was against god. Now every time Thomas walks down the stairs -- I don't think we've seen on screen -- but there's a little placard above the door before we go into the servants' quarter which says, "In Jesus We Trust." Now Thomas has to walk past that every day but unfortunately his religion is telling him that, you know, he's wrong. He's against God, so how can he trust in Jesus, you know, if his religion is condemning him.

  • 11:28:07

    JAMES-COLLIERSo I was glad when Julian wrote that story because it was fascinating to see the pressures that a man like that would've been under, like Julian mentioned before. If he outed himself, gave his secret away he would be put in prison. So I think it was a story that needed to be told and I thought Julian told it beautifully.

  • 11:28:27

    REHMAll right. And let's hear this clip.

  • 11:28:32

    MR. CARSONI cannot hide that I find your situation revolting, but whether or not you believe me, I am not entirely unsympathetic. You have been twisted by nature into something foul, and even I can see that you did not ask for it. I think it better that you resign quietly, citing the excuse that Mr. Bates has returned. I will write a perfectly acceptable reference and you'll find that there's nothing about it that's hard to explain.

  • 11:29:07

    THOMAS BARROWI see. What about tonight?

  • 11:29:10

    CARSONIt's nearly time to change so you should dress tonight and let Mr. Bates take over tomorrow.

  • 11:29:16

    BARROWI'm not foul, Mr. Carson. I'm not the same as you but I'm not foul.

  • 11:29:23

    REHMThat's quite a line, I'm not foul. Julian Fellowes, that's quite a line.

  • 11:29:33

    FELLOWESWell, I thought they all did it very well. And Ed was very good actually as the young innocent caught in the whole thing because he would've been filled with all the prejudices of his own time as we're all filled with the prejudices of our own time. And, you know, he isn't entirely to blame. But the essence of a Downton quarrel should always be that you slightly understand why everyone has taken the position that they take because it makes it more complicated and interesting, I think.

  • 11:30:01

    REHMAll right. And let's get back to Lady Edith for a moment.

  • 11:30:10

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #6You're so wild.

  • 11:30:12

    LADY EDITHYeah, it was a man drinking and dining in a smart London restaurant. Can you imagine being allowed to do anything of the sort five years ago, never mind ten?

  • 11:30:22

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE #2War changed everything.

  • 11:30:23

    EDITHMama used to say we could never eat anywhere public except in a hotel we were staying in. She might cheat and take us to the Ritz but that was about it.

  • 11:30:32

    REHMLaura, tell us about those kinds of restrictions that you had to impose on yourself to convey that kind of character.

  • 11:30:48

    CARMICHAELOh well, it's a very different time for women. And the exciting thing for Edith this season is that she's sort of embracing a wilder lifestyle. She's...

  • 11:31:03

    REHMA wilder lifestyle.

  • 11:31:05

    CARMICHAELYes. Well, again, she's picked another complicated man -- or he's picked her, whichever way you look at it, Michael Gregson. And they are very much in love but he's married. So it's complicated. And when we start up again this season you see them reunite after several months. There's been a period of mourning where the family have been at home but you'll see Edith travel to London to visit him, which is very controversial. He's married and as you heard in that clip, you know, you wouldn't dine out alone with a man unless you were married. And, you know, in that way it was a bit shocking.

  • 11:31:49

    CARMICHAELShe is taking some risks and -- but I love that and I feel like it was a good move forward having had this sort of -- the shocking deaths in series three. There's this sort of feeling of wanting to grab life with both hands and find happiness. And I think Edith has that for herself.

  • 11:32:11

    REHMWell, what does she wear to that London restaurant?

  • 11:32:17

    CARMICHAELYeah, that's right, you can't see the fabulous costume in that clip but, you know, I got this wonderful dress which the costume goes nicknamed bedith because it was this beaded corset with a very shocking sort of slit up the skirt. And that it was, you know, a real sort of show stopper. So, so much fun getting all these costumes this year.

  • 11:32:44

    REHMAnd we will look forward to seeing that. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Julian Fellowes, you were determined to have your character sort of break all the bonds of the constraints that would've been on them during that period.

  • 11:33:07

    FELLOWESWell, I think for the younger generation, the war had really altered them. I mean, women had been employed in all sorts of ways, I mean, nursing and so on, which were very shocking actually. Originally when they went off to help they thought they were just going to sit by the bed and read books and things. But they -- all these debs and they were helping with amputations within minutes of their arrival. And it was a very shocking period. And I think so many of their friends were dead.

  • 11:33:33

    FELLOWESI mean, my great aunt once said to me, talking about that time, it was as if every man you ever danced with was dead. And I, in fact, gave that line to Sybil. And they wanted to have some life. They wanted to have some fun. And so the nightclubs opened, the jazz bands arrived. And it was a different world to the world before the war. And we want to show the younger ones particularly, Edith and Rose and so on, realizing they're living in a different time.

  • 11:34:00

    FELLOWESWhereas of course for Robert, it's a little bit harder because he is a Victorian in his thinking. So you have that tension between parent and child, which anyone who lived through the '60s or indeed more or less any period in history, is aware of.

  • 11:34:14

    REHMI'd be interested knowing what it's like for you all to be working together. Do you all get along well? Do you correct each other? Do you sometimes argue about the interpretation? How do you manage that?

  • 11:34:36

    FELLOWESWho gets to answer this?

  • 11:34:38


  • 11:34:42

    FELLOWESGo on, Lesley.

  • 11:34:42

    NICOLWell, I'll speak for downstairs because I'm only there really. I occasionally get let out to go up the stairs. But in our little world, it's -- in terms of the actors, if that's what you mean, we're a supportive bunch. And it doesn't feel competitive or -- it feels like a good working relationship. We all have this -- it's never been difficult.

  • 11:35:10

    FELLOWESI think one of the tests is the visiting actors on the whole enjoy the experience. And I'm always getting seized by, you know, Joanna David who played the Duchess of Yeovil in this series or Peter Regan who was in the Christmas special of last year. Oh, can I come back? Can I come back? And I think you don't want to go back if it's been an unhappy time.

  • 11:35:30

    REHMAnd what about Shirley MacLaine. Does she come back?

  • 11:35:36

    NICOLWell, I don't know how much we're allowed to say. Julian, over to you. Does she come back?

  • 11:35:42

    FELLOWESShe comes back. She comes back and this time she comes back with her son, Cora's brother who is played by Paul Giamatti. So that was very exciting because he is a wonderful actor. I think he's one of the...

  • 11:35:54

    REHMOh, he's terrific.

  • 11:35:55

    FELLOWES...terrific actors. Yeah, he's marvelous.

  • 11:35:57


  • 11:35:58

    FELLOWESSo that was good fun. So you've got them to look forward to. More duels with Mackey (sp?) .

  • 11:36:06

    REHMAnd as you think about Lady Edith, Laura Carmichael, she is perhaps the most traditional of the sisters. And now in this new relationship, she really tries to become the most modern.

  • 11:36:32

    CARMICHAELYeah, it's so great because you do get to see this -- how the attitudes of women in this time did change. And I feel like for Edith these several things that happened, you know, living through the war and having that experience and driving the tractor, you know, and then trying to make things work with Stralin (sp?) and being jilted has sort of forced her to find a new sort of way for herself.

  • 11:37:00

    CARMICHAELAnd that's really great for me because I think it's this wonderful evolution for her that's happened through her experience. And she's become...

  • 11:37:10

    REHMI can only imagine the reactions of the rest of the family that we're likely to see of Lady Edith Crawley when the new season of Downton Abbey begins. Short break here. When we come back, it's time to open the phones. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • 11:39:57

    REHMAnd welcome back. We're fortunate enough today to be talking with the writer and creator of "Downton Abbey," Julian Fellowes, and some of the cast of "Downton Abbey," Lesley Nicol, who plays Ms. Beryl Patimore. (sic) She is the head cook at Downton Abbey. That's Beryl Patmore. Laura Carmichael plays Lady Edith Crawley. She's the middle sister of Lord and Lady Grantham.

  • 11:40:33

    REHMRob James-Collier plays Thomas Barrow. He started as the footman. He's now the under butler. And season four, I want to remind you, premieres on Sunday, Jan. 5, on Masterpiece Classic on PBS. We've had numerous emails about killing off Lady Sybil.

  • 11:41:05

    REHMAnd, Julian Fellowes, how do you respond? Why did that happen? Did she have another gig that she wanted to take on?

  • 11:41:16

    FELLOWESWell, you see, in England or Britain, the difference is really we don't have any contracts longer than three years. In America, you can sign an actor to a new series for five years or seven years. But no agent in Britain will allow that. You're only given three years. So at the end of the third season, it's 100 percent up to the actors, whether or not they stay or go.

  • 11:41:38

    FELLOWESAnd Jessica, who played Sybil, had said from pretty early on, she only wanted to do three years. And we thought at that time that she was the only major cast member leaving. So we would make, you know, a three-course feed out of her departure. So we had a whole episode of her dying in childbed and eclampsia, and we had the doctors finding everyone in sobs.

  • 11:42:04

    FELLOWESAnd we reckoned that if she died in episode five, we'd have three to get over it and get on with our lives. And then Jessica would go off. And, actually, she has been very successful. She's done a lot of film. She's just about to start her next film. So I'm not, in any sense, saying I think she was wrong to go. I -- you know, that's what she wanted. And it was quite a useful thing to remind people that it -- although the '20s was beginning to seem normal, there was still aspects of it that were like the 19th century.

  • 11:42:35

    FELLOWESAnd in certain areas of health, that was definitely true. I mean, eclampsia, once the fitting had started, was 100 percent fatal. You only had this tiny window -- if you had a very, very quick Cesarean -- before the fitting that sometimes occasionally worked. But if you missed that, you died. And that seemed to me to be quite an interesting thing to remind people of, that childbirth was extremely dangerous and is pretty dangerous now.

  • 11:43:02


  • 11:43:04


  • 11:43:05

    REHMAnd here's an email from Nancy in Dallas, Texas: "Which actor's personality is most similar to the character that he or she plays on the show? And which actor least resembles his or her character?" Lesley Nicol, I'm sure you've never been a head cook.

  • 11:43:34

    NICOLNo. That's correct, and I never will be. But there are definitely -- actually, there are definitely aspects of Mrs. Patmore that are similar to me, I think. I was given some advice before I started this show by a very good British actress called Anne Reid who I have a lot of respect for. And she said to me, when you start working on this, do not complicate it by overdoing stuff. She said, try and find -- legitimately try and find aspects of this woman that you are comfortable with, can relate to, that -- bring some of your own stuff to it is what she said, which is what I've done.

  • 11:44:12

    NICOLAnd I think part of that might be the humor of her. But there are other aspects that -- where they are similar. But cooking is not one of them, no.

  • 11:44:20


  • 11:44:20

    FELLOWESI would say the -- one of the actors that's least like is Jim Carter.

  • 11:44:24


  • 11:44:24

    FELLOWESFor one, he's hilariously funny where Carson's just really austere...

  • 11:44:26

    REHMIs he?

  • 11:44:29


  • 11:44:29


  • 11:44:29

    FELLOWES...very professional, very stern man who has his gentle side. We know that with Lady Mary, but she...

  • 11:44:34

    JAMES-COLLIERHe always plays the comedy. He always gets the comedy when Carson's not...

  • 11:44:38

    FELLOWESYeah, with -- oh, the -- with the -- yeah, the phone in the first series. But Jim's also a conjurer and a magician. And I know Carson had a backstory in variety. And so there could be a tenuous link there. But Jim is very different to Mr. Carson.

  • 11:44:53

    CARMICHAELHe's the warmest and funniest man, I think. And when you see him before he has his hair slicked down, that's the man where you see Jim as himself. Like, it's very funny that -- maybe it's when he comes on the set without his hair flattened to his head. You sort of see, you know, funny Jim in his butler outfit.

  • 11:45:06

    REHMI love it.

  • 11:45:07

    FELLOWESBut the truth is we had a very, very good casting director in Jill Trevellick when the show was first put together. And so, first of all, the actors were very carefully selected, what was seen, to have some qualities of the characters. But also what happens when you're writing it is that you start to see what the actors are doing with their characters, and you start to write for that.

  • 11:45:32


  • 11:45:32

    FELLOWESSo that, you know, for instance, Lesley was talking about Mrs. Patmore's sense of humor. She didn't have particularly a sense of humor when the curtain went up. But, you know, by now, she's become the sort of downstairs violet because she delivers the funny lines well.

  • 11:45:47

    REHMAh. All right.

  • 11:45:48

    JAMES-COLLIERWould you say, Julian, going on on that theme, with Kevin Doyle who plays Moseley?

  • 11:45:54


  • 11:45:54

    JAMES-COLLIERHe's turned into a comic -- comedic tour de force. And I would argue that he didn't start out, and that's you reacting to what Kevin Doyle's doing onscreen. Would that be correct?

  • 11:46:02

    FELLOWESYes, absolutely. And he's now become a really sort of poignant clown. I mean, that Jacques Tati sad comedy, which is one of the best things in the show.

  • 11:46:14

    REHMAll right. I'm going to open the phones now. Let's go first to Jack in Pittsburgh, Pa. He's got a question, I must say, I've been wondering about. Go right ahead, Jack.

  • 11:46:30

    JACKGood morning, Diane.

  • 11:46:32


  • 11:46:33

    JACKI'd like to ask Julian, what's happened to Grantham's sidekick? We see his backside at the opening of every episode, the white dog.

  • 11:46:46

    FELLOWESWell, we love our dog. But, of course, filming with animals -- as I'm sure most of the world knows -- is always a little bit difficult because if the animal gets it right, that's the print you have to use. So it can be a little bit trying for the actors. But we've only had two dogs so far. The first dog, Pharaoh, sort of mysteriously died between -- I can't remember now -- between series one and two, was it?

  • 11:47:09


  • 11:47:10

    FELLOWESAnd then was replaced by a new...

  • 11:47:13


  • 11:47:14

    FELLOWESIsis, who was then a bitch rather than a dog, and she's been with us ever since. And she's a more reliable performer than Pharaoh was. So I think, in as much as Hugh was prepared to work with a dog, he's happier with Isis than Pharaoh. But, I mean, I was the one that insisted on a dog. I said, you can't have a large country house with no dogs. I wanted a pack of them. But I do now see that that wasn't terribly realistic.

  • 11:47:40

    REHMAll right. Here's a tweet from Jennifer, a question for Julian: "Is there any effort to release the show in America at the same time it's released in the U.K.?"

  • 11:47:58

    FELLOWESWell, this is an issue that keeps coming up. And I have to say, if it were left to me, they would be released at the same time. They've just done this with "Doctor Who," I think. And they go out at the same time in -- or, you know, within the same 24 hours or whatever in England and America. And I would love to see that with "Downton," but by extraordinary chance they don't take my opinion on this particular issue into account. But I do feel these different releases that are months apart belong to an earlier era than the one we're living through.

  • 11:48:33

    FELLOWESAnd the Internet has changed all that. And we're all now living in a much more simultaneous world, so I think it will come but probably not in time for "Downton."

  • 11:48:44

    REHMAll right. Let's go now to Pam who's in Lansing, Mich. You're on the air.

  • 11:48:52

    PAMThank you, Diane. Mr. Fellowes and PBS have given the viewers a high-quality alternative to regular reality trash TV that we see so much now on so many of the channels here in the U.S. "Downton" is like a great novel, like "Doctor Zhivago" or "Gone with the Wind" that the masses worldwide can see. And without it and without PBS, the only people who could see any kind of quality programming here would have to pay for services like HBO and things like that. And there are so many of us who can't afford to do it. So it's just exquisite. Everybody on the show is wonderful in their characters. It's so well done. Everything is -- every detail is like reading a wonderful novel.

  • 11:49:53

    REHMThat's great, Pam. I'm so glad.

  • 11:49:55

    JAMES-COLLIERThank you very much.

  • 11:49:55

    NICOLThank you.

  • 11:49:55

    CARMICHAELThank you.

  • 11:49:56

    FELLOWESThank you. That was a...

  • 11:49:57

    REHMYou all must enjoy those comments.

  • 11:50:00

    FELLOWESA lovely tribute. We're all sitting here blushing.

  • 11:50:03

    NICOLBeaming, we're beaming.

  • 11:50:05

    REHMAll right. Let's go to Greensborough, N.C. Hi, Wesley.

  • 11:50:11

    WESLEYHey, thanks for taking my call, Diane.

  • 11:50:13


  • 11:50:15

    WESLEYI was late coming to "Downton Abbey." I watched the first three seasons last spring. I will say I was furious to know I would have to wait until Jan. 5 to hear -- rent season four. Here's my question: Is Mrs. Patmore and Lord Grantham and Mr. Bates and Anna for sure all know and have known that Thomas is gay or not like other men? But they seem to take it in their stride, and they're matter of fact about it. Does that reflect today's attitudes or attitudes of that time?

  • 11:50:52

    FELLOWESWell, I would say that there were always liberals. I mean, certainly in my own childhood, my elder brother, who was born in the middle '40s, 1940s, his godfather was gay. And my parents, who were as straight as a ruled line, really -- but, you know, he was a great friend of theirs, and they didn't really care. And I think there were people like that right through the 19th century. And you only have to look at "The Trial of Oscar Wilde."

  • 11:51:19

    FELLOWESThere were a good many people who thought it was terrible, what had happened to him, and they thought it was a terrible mistake in pressing the law. And, in fact, even members of the government didn't want to prosecute him. They wanted him to run away to France and get off over the channel before they had to. And it was this curious decision by Wilde to stay put in the Cadogan Hotel for 12 hours, so that in the end they had to come and get him.

  • 11:51:46

    FELLOWESAnd I think he was making a statement which is with us today. But it wasn't at all unsupported. And so while you have mainstream opinion, essentially hostile to homophobia, doesn't mean there weren't liberal or reasonably liberal people around who went, you know, oh, the old Mrs. Patrick Campbell thing. If it's not in the street and it doesn't frighten the horses, I couldn't care less. And, you know, I think she wasn't alone in that.

  • 11:52:12

    NICOLCan I just say also, Wesley, when I was child in the '50s and '60s, I had an Uncle Doug who was a relative obviously, and he was -- I have now realized -- gay. But he was a kind, sweet soul that we used to go and visit. And nobody ever said a word about his sexuality. I mean, in retrospect, it's very obvious, but because he was a sweetheart, a fuss was not made. And I think that goes through the ages, you know. There are people who accept people on face value. And if they get a good feeling from them, they'll probably just overlook it. And I think that's...

  • 11:52:46

    REHMBut, of course, Thomas is not a sweetheart.

  • 11:52:51

    NICOLNo. He's not.

  • 11:52:53

    JAMES-COLLIERBut what we -- this is true. But what we have is Lord Grantham. As Julian says, he's a very liberal guy. And once he's put his marker down next to Thomas, which he does and saves Thomas' career and gently coerces Jimmy into changing his mind about testifying to the police, once his lordship has, in effect, supported Thomas -- and it's not necessarily Thomas he's supporting. He's got the honor of Downton at stake as well -- he's very much well -- anyone who may have had homophobic feelings has to keep them to one side 'cause the governor's supporting him. So it gets swept under the carpet.

  • 11:53:27

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Jeff who's in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. You're on the air.

  • 11:53:41

    JEFFMorning. Wow. It's really great talking to both of you -- I mean, all of you and two of my favorite shows. I was just curious if you could talk a little bit about what it's like to film a typical episode, you know, having to shoot part of it in London and part of it, you know, at Highclere Castle, like, some of the challenges that you have in, you know, filming and, you know, how you manage to do it. Thanks.

  • 11:54:02

    JAMES-COLLIERWell, I'll -- what I love about the show is 'cause we're moving through the eras, and the -- we have so many different scenes to play. It's not all just dinner scenes and downstairs scenes. But I'll tell you one of the challenges, a true story in series one, episode three where they had the hunt. And we -- Julian got his wish of having about 30 dogs on set 'cause we had a pack of dogs, and we had all horses in.

  • 11:54:26

    JAMES-COLLIERAnd everything was going swimmingly for the first three hours until, unfortunately, across the grounds of Highclere Castle where -- which substitutes for Downton Abbey, a rogue fox wandered across the fields.

  • 11:54:39

    JAMES-COLLIERAnd his scent was picked up mid-take, cue 30 dogs scampering across the fields, and five or six madmen on horses trying to get them back. It took us about 45 minutes to reset them. The fox, alas, I don't know what became of him. I hope he made it, but it wasn't looking good from where I was standing.

  • 11:54:56

    CARMICHAELWrong page, wrong time.

  • 11:54:58

    REHMBut, Julian, what about that? It does seem as though it would be so complex to get that huge situation to work well.

  • 11:55:11

    FELLOWESWell, I -- you know, this is the actors' job. I mean, continuity's their job. Yes, you have other people looking after it. But they have to look after their own continuity. And they have to look after their own story, their own narrative, and we always say that at the beginning of each series 'cause there's always a few new actors who've come into play, you know, some other parts in the first few episodes.

  • 11:55:32

    FELLOWESAnd we say, you've got to protect your own story because there's too much going on. There are too many scenes. There are too many characters for the director to be completely on top of every narrative. And they do take care of their own story. I mean...

  • 11:55:44

    REHMBut what do you mean, taking care of your own story?

  • 11:55:48

    FELLOWESWell, you may have a story which is about the fact, you see, you're in love with this woman, and she doesn't, you know, whatever. And then suddenly you see she's interested in you or whatever. And you're in a maybe a joint scene, you're in a kitchen scene, or you're in a upstairs in a dining table scene. And you've got to play that emotion even though maybe you've only got one line that serves your story. You have to play the emotion of your story so that whenever the camera cuts back to you, the audience is completely aware of what your narrative is in this episode.

  • 11:56:20

    FELLOWESAnd that, you know, requires a lot of concentration and analysis and, you know, for them to do a bit of work. But, I mean, that's their job. And good actors know how to do that. I mean, it is interesting that, you know, you've -- the -- Thomas or whoever takes something to carry it up to the dining room, and he walks up the stone steps in Healing, turns the corner at the top and appears in Highclere walking along with the same tray in the same costume, and it's maybe done two weeks later. And that is the trick of the show, really.

  • 11:56:50

    REHMWell, and I promise you we'll all be looking forward to the season four premiere on Sunday, Jan. 5 of "Downton Abbey." Julian Fellowes, Lesley Nicol, Laura Carmichael, Rob James-Collier, thank you all so much for joining me.

  • 11:57:16

    CARMICHAELThank you very much.

  • 11:57:16

    JAMES-COLLIERWell, my pleasure.

  • 11:57:17

    NICOLThank you.

  • 11:57:17

    FELLOWESThank you for inviting us.

  • 11:57:18

    REHMIt was great to be with you all. Congratulations. I look forward to Jan. 5. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

Related Links

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows

Revisiting The Decision To Drop The Bomb

Thursday, May 18 2023As President Biden's visit to Hiroshima dredges up memories of World War II, Diane talks to historian Evan Thomas about his new book, "Road to Surrender," the story of America's decision to drop the atomic bomb.