'Downton Abbey' Actresses On Recapturing Their TV Roles In New Film NPR's Melissa Block speaks with Michelle Dockery and Elizabeth McGovern from the movie "Downton Abbey," based on the award-winning series about the owners and workers at a great English estate.
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'Downton Abbey' Actresses On Recapturing Their TV Roles In New Film

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'Downton Abbey' Actresses On Recapturing Their TV Roles In New Film

'Downton Abbey' Actresses On Recapturing Their TV Roles In New Film

'Downton Abbey' Actresses On Recapturing Their TV Roles In New Film

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/763162113/763162114" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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NPR's Melissa Block speaks with Michelle Dockery and Elizabeth McGovern from the movie "Downton Abbey," based on the award-winning series about the owners and workers at a great English estate.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Those throbbing, insistent strings, the ting of the bell in the servants' quarters.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DOWNTON ABBEY")

PHYLLIS LOGAN: (As Mrs. Hughes) I want every surface to gleam and sparkle.

BLOCK: The crenellated towers of Highclere Castle - it can only mean one thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DOWNTON ABBEY")

ELIZABETH MCGOVERN: (As Cora Crawley) Welcome to Downton Abbey.

BLOCK: It's back - "Downton Abbey" the film picking up where the six seasons of the hugely popular television series left off. It's 1927 now, and Downton, both upstairs and downstairs, is in a tizzy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DOWNTON ABBEY")

HUGH BONNEVILLE: (As Robert Crawley) The king and queen are coming to Downton.

MICHELLE DOCKERY: (As Lady Mary Crawley) What?

BLOCK: That last voice is Lady Mary, played by Michelle Dockery, who joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

DOCKERY: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: And also with us is Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Mary's mother Cora, an American heiress who married into the English family and is the countess of Grantham. Elizabeth McGovern, welcome to you.

MCGOVERN: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: Let's talk about the royal visit. This is King George V and Queen Mary who are coming to Downton, and it is both exciting but also frightening to all of you, even to the blue bloods in the family.

MCGOVERN: Yes, it - the ramifications ripple upstairs and downstairs.

DOCKERY: It's wonderful because it involves every single character. They all have a role to play in this momentous occasion that's about to take place at Downton. So it really is a wonderful story. I mean, most of the people that will see the show are going to be our loyal fans. For us, it was like we never left, wasn't it? It's just - we just turned off, and it was like the three years had just flown by.

MCGOVERN: Indeed.

BLOCK: That's right. It's been three years since the series ended. And you say it was like you never left, but how do you step back into those roles and recapture who those characters are? And I wonder in particular how much of it is connected to costume and how much of it just comes naturally when you step into those amazing clothes.

MCGOVERN: It does a lot of the work for you. And in fact, being in "Downton Abbey" for me is just staying calm and not getting in the way of it. And the costumes, of course, put you right back into the period. But there's also the house, the other actors and - because I play a part that the most distinctive characteristic of my part is that she does nothing, on top of the fact that a lot of the work is done for you by these other elements. So for me, the biggest challenge of playing the part that I play is just calm down and do nothing.

BLOCK: Michelle Dockery, we have seen your character Mary evolve a lot over the 15 years from the start of the series in 1912 up till now in 1927. And you are now running Downton. You've come into your own. And I love the line that your grandmother Violet, played by Maggie Smith, says of you in this film - Mary could hammer in a tent peg with her teeth (laughter).

DOCKERY: With her teeth - me, too. I think that's one of my favorite.

MCGOVERN: She does quite a lot with the heel of her shoe in this. I won't say any more, but it's...

DOCKERY: Oh, yeah.

MCGOVERN: That's one of my favorite things.

DOCKERY: Yeah. I mean, she's an amazing character to play, and I've loved being on that journey with Mary for the past, you know, almost 10 years. You know, when I look back at her in the first series, she was this sort of spoiled teenager who was a bit of a rebel. And initially, I thought she would be more of the rebel than Sybil.

BLOCK: Her sister, yes.

DOCKERY: Yeah. And it's kind of - it sort of surprised me as time has gone on, but of course, you know, various things happened along the way. She lost her sister, you know, and then her husband. And you know, all of these things have kind of shaped her in the end. She's really kind of given in to her responsibility as the next, you know, future lady of the house, whereas originally, I remember that scene that Elizabeth and I did together with Cora and Mary in the first series when she was like, I'm not cut out for this; I'm not going to be in this house for the rest of my life. And of course, now, she's - I don't think she'll ever leave. I mean, it's - sort of the other love of her life, really, is Downton.

BLOCK: Elizabeth McGovern, I'd love to ask you about Cora's relationship with her daughter Mary because I'm thinking back to season 1 and - spoiler alert if folks have not watched the series - you bail her out of a horrible jam when a lover happens to die in Mary's bed. What about that bond between you as the mother and Michelle as the daughter?

MCGOVERN: I think Cora has always been slightly in awe of and frightened by Mary a little bit because Mary, in contrast to Cora, is such a take-charge character, such as sort of a brave go-getter. And of course, when she's young, that gets her into a bit of trouble. But when she's older, Cora has the grace to step back and let her take over. Cora has let Mary grow up.

DOCKERY: It's really - it's lovely to actually talk about it - isn't it? - because...

MCGOVERN: Yeah, we don't talk about it that much.

DOCKERY: We don't.

MCGOVERN: We just do it.

DOCKERY: We just do it.

MCGOVERN: We just literally just...

DOCKERY: And actually, you...

MCGOVERN: It just happens.

DOCKERY: You saying that - that they're living under the same roof - and I kind of forget that.

MCGOVERN: And of course, the singular thing about Cora and Mary is that they are from different cultures, and that's something that I experience with my own children - that they are different to me because they have been raised in a completely different way than I was raised.

BLOCK: And we should explain - you are married to an Englishman, film director Simon Curtis, and your children have been raised in England.

MCGOVERN: Yeah, so they talk at me in funny - in a funny accent.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: When you think about the impact that "Downton Abbey" has had - you know, the series for so many years and now the film and all of the crazy offshoots that have come from it - the tourism and the surge in, I think, sherry sales and all of this - the marketing that goes along with it - for you personally, what is the impact? What do you see as the lasting effect?

DOCKERY: It was a game changer for all of us, and of course, it's changed our lives. And what's really interesting is that when we go back onto set and we're all together, it's like nothing's changed, which I really - I loved that about the film - is that we all - like we did on every series, you go back, and then you all come back together and it's just how it always was. But everything else kind of happened around us.

BLOCK: Yeah.

MCGOVERN: There's not one cast member that it - sort of went mad with ego. I mean...

DOCKERY: Yeah.

MCGOVERN: ...It just didn't happen.

DOCKERY: There's still time.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGOVERN: Never say never.

BLOCK: Elizabeth McGovern and Michelle Dockery - they play mother and daughter Cora, the countess of Grantham, and Lady Mary in "Downton Abbey," the series and the film.

Thanks to you both.

DOCKERY: Thank you.

MCGOVERN: Thanks for having us.

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