Downton Abbey, Masterpiece’s highly acclaimed series on PBS, returns for a second season on January 8; it is also the subject of a new, behind-the-scenes, companion book, The World of Downton Abbey, published by St. Martin’s Press.
We talked to Joanne Froggatt, who plays Anna, the head housemaid, and Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary Crawley, the oldest daughter, about one of the most popular crossover series in years.
ELLE: Why do you think “Downton Abbey” is so popular everywhere?
Joanne Froggatt: If I knew exactly what it was, I would bottle it and sell it. Julian Fellowes (writer and creator of the series) has this knack for creating a world that’s familiar yet distant. Every character has a moral dilemma in some shape or form, and every character has light and shade. It’s almost like a cross-section of a community within the house—every viewer can watch it and identify with somebody in the show. It kind of feels classic, but modern in a way. It seems to be a worldwide thing, it’s being shown in over 100 territories. It’s the top show in Spain, the second top show in Australia, it’s literally all over the world, it’s incredible.
Michelle Dockery: It’s in the writing, Julian’s ability to write such rich characters and a narrative storyline that weaves in and out, above and below stairs. It engages people so much because it’s not an adaptation of a Dickens novel or an Austen novel, they don’t know what’s coming at the end of each episode, but it feels familiar, it’s a comfort that people enjoy. I think people like that it’s classic and simple.
ELLE: How has your character changed from the first to the second season?
JF: The nice thing about Anna when we meet her in season one, she’s actually very developed. She’s got a very strong moral code, she’s a genuinely decent person. Her relationship with Bates changes a great deal in the second season. Their relationship certainly moves forward, it’s a rollercoaster. She has quite a hard time in season two, her life changes, but ultimately she doesn’t change as a human being.
MD: Mary’s far less selfish, far less judgmental, she becomes a much broader person in the second series. There’s a war going on, there’s far more at stake, there are more important things than just worrying about what necklace to wear at dinner, what suitor she should bring home. She’s heartbroken, she learns very quickly Matthew’s engaged to somebody else, you see it’s plainly obvious that she is still in love with him, so she moves on and she meets Sir Richard Carlisle, who is a media mogul. It’s a very convenient partnership, he’s in the right social circles in London. She’s not very happy. The thing about Mary is she doesn’t follow her heart, she doesn’t really say what she means. The characters below stairs do.
ELLE: What has been your biggest challenge with your role?
JF: To make her a great character, but not make her annoyingly good. I wanted her to be real, not too sweet and sickly.
MD: Learning to ride sidesaddle.
ELLE: What’s next for you?
JF: In January I’m doing Filth, a feature film that’s an adaptation of a Welsh novel by the author of Trainspotting. James McAvoy will play the lead in that. And then I’m back on season three of Downton.
MD: I just did Anna Karenina, directed by Joe Wright with Keira Knightley playing Anna Karenina, I play one of the princesses. I’m also a singer, and that’s something that’s very different from what I do as an actress. I sang at the London jazz festival, which is in October. I like to do old standards really.