Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora is written for Inside THIRTEEN by Deborah Gilbert, a British television maven and editor of the E20 Chronicles, a free, weekly Eastenders e-newsletter, and an Eastenders column in the Union Jack Newspaper. Check back for updates.
Last Sunday, as the ladies took shelter downstairs and Pritchard walked off into the air raid darkened London night, we saw the finale of Upstairs Downstairs’ Season 2 and it sure left us hanging, didn’t it? If you’re like me, when the credits suddenly rolled, you were left with a lot of thoughts; the utmost being, ‘What happens next?!?!’ It seems that they ended Season 2 with definite plans for a Season 3. There have to be. We have to know what happens to all our friends at 165 Eaton Place. Will Johnny and Spargo make it back from the war? Will Blanche save more Jews from the Nazis? Will Sir Hallam and Lady Agnes reconcile? Will Miss Buck return? Will 165 Eaton Place be hit in the Blitz? Will Lady Persie haunt the place and trip people down the stairs? So many questions… the kinds of questions you’re left with when the story, the performances and the production as a whole are so satisfying. Not surprising that Upstairs Downstairs and Call the Midwife are both written by the same brilliant writer, Heidi Thomas.
So what about Season 3? Of course PBS will want it, but will our friends across the pond produce it? Right now, it seems the answer is no. While Upstairs Downstairs was a big success, it seems that wasn’t enough, and so, as of now, the BBC hasn’t commissioned Season 3. How nuts is that? Ah well. I suppose that for the moment we will have to make do with my interview with Michael Landes, the actor who played one of the two major catalysts for drama in Lady Agnes and Sir Hallam’s marriage this season, Caspar Landry.
Landry, the wealthy and dashing, self-made American who steals Lady Agnes’ neglected heart, is played by Landes, a Bronx-born actor. His long list of credits include other British productions that are PBS staples such as Miranda, New Tricks and Miss Marple. He now lives in Los Angeles with his wife Wendy and their two children. I interviewed him during a break from filming his latest project – a new NBC sitcom, where we chatted about one of my favorite topics: British telly! Enjoy the interview.
DG: How did you make the leap across the pond to start doing programs there?
ML: It’s so funny, because my father-in-law Harry [photojournalist Harry Benson] is from Scotland, so my wife is a UK passport holder. I had gotten hired to do a play in 2004 in the West End, and then when we went over there I realized that I could get the equivalent of a green card. I was then offered a role in Miss Marple, and I ended up doing that, and then I did a series for the BBC called Love Soup, a great show in which I starred with Tamsin Greig. One job just led to the next and I just kept picking up all these great roles as “the American guy”. I love working over there. I genuinely love going there any chance I get. A couple of years ago I did a David Mamet play there and while I was doing the play I did Miranda, which was awesome because she’s so great. She’s really genuinely a funny woman. Then just last year they called and offered me Upstairs Downstairs.
DG: Do they have a different style of working over there than here?
ML: Yes, definitely. We have a lot of corporate companies that own our networks and TV shows here. There’s a lot of scrutiny, a lot of eyes, a lot cooks in the kitchen. And it makes sense because there’s also probably a lot more money at stake. But over there the BBC funds projects at a very reasonable budget and they actually let artists be artists. So Heidi (Heidi Thomas, creator and writer for Upstairs Downstairs) writes these scripts, you get them a month ahead, there really aren’t any rewrites, so you have a lot more time to prepare. Then when you film the show the costume people are actually artists that collaborate with you and research this period. We have great people here, but there they let everybody do their thing. There’s not anybody hovering over you, and it actually is quite freeing. So you may not make the money you can make in America, but you are paid infinitely in the work experience and the creative experience of it all.
DG: Was it daunting to be cast in such a storied franchise as Upstairs Downstairs?
ML: It was exciting because I knew they were doing a newer take on it. With this one, the production values are so great. I think it looks like a movie. I thought it was definitely well made. Not only do they do great costumes and historical things over in the UK — at the BBC, but you are working in real locations. The outside sets aren’t fake. I mean, they built the inside of the house on a stage in Cardiff, Wales, but when you’re on the streets, it’s real. And for an actor to stand in that environment when everything around you seems like it’s of the time, a lot of that does the work for you and you just have to surrender to the material at that point. Because you’re in these great costumes, you’re getting out of these amazing cars, you’re on streets that are that old. It’s very easy to just land in that.
DG: When you did the scenes on that boardwalk in episode 4, where was that?
ML: That was supposed to be Brighton, which is South London, but because they filmed a lot of it in Wales, there was a very charming little town called Penarth, which is right around the harbor from Cardiff. It was that patina green — they didn’t do any touching up. That’s exactly what it looks like. The problem was, we were playing the summer but filming in the middle of January so we were freezing! Because I was in it, I can see we had frozen faces, and we we’re sniffling. Other scenes were shot in Bristol, which is very beautiful. So where we danced and where my factory was located was actually in Bristol.
DG: That was the part that was supposed to be the East End?
ML: Yes, exactly.
DG: What do you think Caspar’s motivation is? Is he a good guy or is he a little dangerous?
ML: What I loved was that Heidi actually made Caspar a gentleman. At the end of it all, did they have a chemistry? I think they had a connection with each other and hopefully you want them to fall in love. Maybe they shouldn’t have danced. Maybe that was inappropriate, but I don’t think he did anything inappropriate. He would have let her make that move. Heidi also created a guy that was actually a decent human being. It’s so funny, the Americans represent someone who’s so confident, and you have to walk that fine line of being smarmy or having an agenda. So we tried to make sure that he didn’t; that he was present and happy and confident. But then I think they couldn’t help it; They fell for each other a little bit. And also what Heidi did very well, particularly in episode 6, was she wrote a scene where the dialogue is saying one thing, but the two people are actually saying something else. I thought that was really nice. That kind of echoed throughout the whole series.
DG: Do you spend part of the year living over there or do you just go when you get jobs?
ML: I’ve been very fortunate that every year for the last eight years I’ve gone over for a chunk of time. So we’ve ended up getting paid holidays. The only trick now is I have two kids in school, an eight and five year old, so with Upstairs Downstairs I worked a couple of weeks, came home for a couple of weeks, and then went back. But to be there for any long period of time is harder now with the kids. You can’t really pull them out of school. Thus I’m very grateful to be working on a show in LA at the moment.
DG: What is it you’re working on now?
ML: I’m doing a new comedy for NBC — Save Me, coming this winter, with Anne Heche, who’s amazing. It’s a romantic comedy about a couple trying to save their marriage.
DG: I looked at your Wikipedia page and saw you have a long list of credits and I’ve probably seen you in other things and…
ML: …and not known? Right, I’m pushing that ball up the hill! I’m trying! (laughs) What I love about having Harry as a father-in-law is he’s lived my life and already won. Acting is similar to photography. You finish a job and you don’t know what your next job is, but you keep fighting and keep your chin up. He has great life advice for me, so I’m very fortunate. He always says, ‘Opportunity strikes like an express train. So you’ve just got to be ready.’ Whenever you’re down and out, something can turn, so you’ve just got to rest and get ready. So far I’ve been very fortunate, but it never ends. You finish a job and you go back to the end of the line.
DG: It seems that the British actors I’ve interviewed, even the highly successful ones, have that attitude that they are working actors as opposed to stars.
ML: They have a good attitude about that. You’re a jobber. Actually, I think that makes you a colorful person. I think you can fall into the trap of being a star if you get success very quickly. I’ve been doing it for 24 years, so I’ve gotten a taste of it, and of humble pie. But it’s what I love so you just go where it takes you.
DG: Yes, it’s an adventure.
ML: Yes it is. Sometimes it’s a scary adventure when you’re trying to put two kids through school!
DG: I know that Upstairs Downstairs hasn’t been renewed for a third season.
ML: The problem is, because Downton Abbey was so successful, the press made so many comparisons to Upstairs Downstairs that we never really got a fair shot, although it did very well in the ratings over there. But because Downton Abbey is such a monster, I think ultimately the BBC didn’t want to be constantly compared to it.
DG: It’s such a shame. Do you think there’s any chance they’ll come back with a third season?
ML: I don’t know. It’s funny over there because sometimes they’ll do a one-off Christmas special. Heidi Thomas, who wrote Upstairs Downstairs, also wrote Call the Midwife, which is their biggest hit. And her whole argument was – you can have ten reality shows but you can’t have two costume dramas? One of them was during World War I and one was during World War II – and she had great stories broken for the next series. So I don’t know they were all set to get a green light, and they didn’t. But anything is kind-of possible with the BBC.
Who knows what we’d see during a Season 3 of Upstairs Downstairs: Will Caspar Landry lead the Bundles for Britain brigade here in the US? There certainly would be no shortage of stories to tell during WWII London, so let’s all hope that the ‘anything is possible’ happens! In case you missed it, watch Masterpiece’s Upstairs Downstairs on Thirteen.org through Dec. 12.
Boys Rule, Girls Drool: It isn’t just the women of Downton Abbey who are gracing the pages of fashion magazines in luscious photo spreads. The men take a turn in the December issue of GQ UK. Even Bates takes off the hair shirt for a stylist turn.
Call the Midwife: Are you missing the ladies of Nonnatus House already? After the finale episode, I sent a tweet out into the Twitosphere that said, ‘Please say there is a Season 2!’ And I got a response tweet back from none other than Cliff Parisi (@CliffParisi) who plays Fred the handyman (as well as Minty on EastEnders), saying, ‘We are shooting it now and you may have it by Christmas.’ So stay tuned! Watch Call the Midwife on Thirteen.org through early Dec.
Attention Downtonians: Between now and that long anticipated day on January 6 when Season 3 of Downton Abbey begins, there will be a flurry of activity at THIRTEEN. For starters, on Sunday, Nov. 25 at 9pm THIRTEEN will air Downton Abbey Revisited, a special 90 minute program that gives you a glimpse into Season 3. And for our long suffering and (and misguided) friends who haven’t yet watched Downton Abbey, it looks back at the first two seasons, allowing them to get up to speed!