Downton Abbey Dish #24

Deborah Gilbert | December 17, 2013

This past week New York City played host to a Downton Abbey-a-palooza, with the cast (and a gazillion cuppas of tea) taking the city by storm. Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham), Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith), Rob James-Collier (Thomas), Allen Leech (Tom Branson), Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes), Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore), Gareth Neame (Executive Producer), and Julian Fellowes (writer, producer and Grand Poobah) were all in town for a big press junket to promote Season 4, which premieres on THIRTEEN January 5th (if you don’t already know by now, where have you been??). And the Downton Abbey Tea Truck was parked all about the Isle of Manhattan all week dispensing free hot cups of Downton Abbey tea to a freeeeezing public. Did the tea truck bring the cold weather or did it appear as an apparition just as the weather turned bitter? Either way, who cares, it was perfect timing!

In case you missed the Tea Truck: On tea duty were footmen and housemaids (or at least they were dressed as footmen and housemaids), and whether one watched Downton Abbey or not, a free cup of tea (in a Downton Abbey cup) and a ginger biscuit was yours for the asking. And of course, lots of Downtonians stopped by to get their pictures taken in front of the truck, or Highclere Castle, holding one of the signs. Of course, with the weather being what it was, one person did remark that the down jackets worn by the housemaids weren’t historically accurate, but I think that on a day when the wind chill was 15 degrees, even Alastair Bruce would let that slide, don’t you? We’ll just call it a Down(ton) jacket. Forget about tea and sympathy: here’s some tea and housemaid attitude!

If you were channel surfing last week, you could have caught the Downton Abbey cast doing interviews on GMA, The View, Watch What Happens Live (which, I think, was the most fun interview because Andy Cohen is clearly a fan!), and numerous other places, or maybe you caught them sitting court side at the Knicks game (which looks like it has become an annual event!) And on top of all of their press calls, they held two screenings and live Q&A’s for press, PBS donors, and fans who won their tickets in Facebook contests sponsored by THIRTEEN and others. If you tried to win tickets and didn’t – next year, try again! There was a family behind me who won two sets of tickets. They had entered about 200 times. And the woman sitting next to me in the theater had won tickets for the second year in a row. Persistence pays off!

This was the second time PBS has held their Downton Abbey screening at The Times Center and it is the perfect venue for it. There is not a bad seat in the house and there’s plenty of room to mingle, sip wine and munch on nibblies. Before the event, as we were outside waiting on line to go in, in the bitter wind, the Tea Truck was there keeping everyone, if not warmed up, at least a bit better off than we would have been. Personally, I was wishing I could soak my numb toes in it – I was that cold! Though there was someone else who had to have been more freezing than me. As we were waiting, a fan turned up and made a quick change right out there on the sidewalk: A woman stood in front of the Tea Truck, took off her coat and put on what, at first, looked like a white shroud of some sort over her clothes. Then she did the contortionist clothes changing thing under it, and then I saw the cape and the curly blonde hair sticking out from under her knitted hat and I realized that she was dressed as the jilted Lady Edith in her wedding gown! Yes, that was it! Her name is Lorraine Rosenberg and later on when she stood to ask a question at the Q&A she got a big response. The cast looked entertained by the sight as well. She said she was a Lady Edith fan right from the start before she asked her question. Later on, when we all had the Meet & Greet, I took a picture of Edith and Edith together. Perfect symmetry, and Laura Carmichael was lovely chatting with her and asking her about her dress.

But before we get to the meet & greet, let’s not forget the screening: At the top, THIRTEEN’s President Neal Shapiro said a few words welcoming everyone and then, in speaking about the viewer support that makes Downton Abbey possible, he said something truer than true, “Watching Downton Abbey and not supporting PBS is something O’Brien would do.” Can I have an Amen to that?!

I really wish PBS could hold these screenings more often, to give more fans the opportunity to watch Downton Abbey in a theater because the show looks absolutely majestic on the big movie screen! It is beautiful. And I cannot even express how much fun it is watching something that you ordinarily watch at home alone, or with just a few people, in an audience full of hundreds of like-minded fans. It multiplies the entertainment factor many times over to hear everyone’s reactions; whether it’s laughing in unison at one of Violet’s remarks, or when Lady Mary shoots Lady Edith an icy-cold death stare, hearing the sound of a hundred people going ‘oooooooooooooh’ under their breath, then giggling quietly at the silly fraternity of it all. Simply fun!

After the screening, they all came out on stage for a lively Q&A session. First there were questions from Bill Carter, Telly Reporter for The New York Times, and then they opened up the floor to questions from the audience. The Q&A was live streamed online, and you can watch it here. It is definitely worth a watch. I had dozens of questions I could have asked but settled on two as the most burning for me, one about the relationship between Lady Edith and her family and the other about Highclere Castle. I figured I’d decide at the moment, if I got a chance to be passed the microphone. But I raised my hand a bunch of times and never got passed the mic. At one point near the end, Rob James-Collier looked at the woman with the microphone and pointed to me and said (something like), “You have to let this lady ask a question. She’s been raising her hand…”, at which point I was so geeked out I forgot my question! (Note to self: Must pledge for Dr. Daniel Amen’s Use Your Brain to Change Your Life package!) So with everyone now looking at me I had to come up with something quick, so I asked, “Now that you’re in the 1920’s are you glad to be rid of the corsets?” Stupid question (though my friend Lorenzo, a fashion blogger, assured me later that it was a good one), but at that frozen moment it was either that or, “I forgot my question”. Sigh. It did get an interesting answer but I thought, oh crap, now they think I’m a nitwit who raised her hand repeatedly to ask about corsets. Anyway, when the Q&A was over we adjoined to another room for the Meet & Greet.

At the Meet & Greet, the actors were each stationed at their own tables as fans lines up to get autographs or pictures, and I took a few pictures there, like this one of Rob James-Collier and the Ginger Hottie. Rob is very funny, and I heard him mention that he was a little disappointed that he plays a Gay character but didn’t have more guys coming up to him for pictures.

While the actors were doing the selfie thing, both Gareth Naeme and Julian Fellowes mingled with the crowd. When I saw a few people chatting with Julian, I thought now is my chance to ask him the question I wanted to ask earlier, but forgot – about Lady Edith: It seems that everyone in the family is so dismissive of Lady Edith, is it because they know that she was the source of the Pamuk rumor? We only ever saw Lady Mary speak to her about it – but did Mary tell everyone else, and that is why (Lord Grantham especially) is so dismissive of her? Lord Fellowes replied, “I don’t think so”. He went on to say that while everyone knows about the rumor, he didn’t think they know Edith was behind it. I thought this was a funny way for him to phrase it because if he didn’t know, who would? He then went on to say that he felt that in every family there is the one child who is the unlucky one and he wanted someone like that in this family. And so it was Lady Edith. I wish I had my tape recorder with me because his full answer was much more interesting and involved than the way I am relaying it to you, but you get the idea. I also spied ‘Lady Edith’ posing with her Papa, Lord Grantham. And note, here’s just what I was talking about; Lady Edith gets no respect! Horns, indeed!

Later on, both Lord Fellowes and Gareth Naeme were standing together and I asked the other question I had planned about Highclere Castle. I mentioned that I had visited there and thought at the time that it must be haunted, and I wondered if they had ever been there filming at night and encountered a ghost or anything odd. They both shook their heads and said no, but then Lord Fellowes remarked (laughing), “But I have stayed there and had to share a bathroom which I consider to be worse than a ghost.”

Brooklyn was in the house as well in these three teenage fans who all got some autographs and pictures with Allen Leech. Our Branson is a pro at the Selfie!

As Phyllis Logan was leaving, I said thank you and wished her a safe trip home, and someone who was with her asked me something that confused me, and I said ‘what?’, and he realized he had confused me with someone else. And I said, “no, I’m the one who asked the dumb question about the corsets – only because I went blank and couldn’t remember the question I had wanted to ask!” And they laughed, and Phyliss said, “What was your real question?” And so I asked her about the ghosts, and she said, “Actually, there’s supposedly a housemaid from way back when who haunts the downstairs. I like to think of her as Mrs. Hughes in a former life!” Lovely!

It was about that time that I was taking my leave as well. It was a great party with a great bunch of fans and the whole thing had a light, fun vibe to it. Have I overused the word ‘fun’ here? What can I say? It was! I even met someone there who lives in my building but never met before – it was like that Liza Minnelli song except no ringing bells! Kudos to the entire Downton Abbey cast who were personable and funny and charming despite the fact that, given the week they’d had, they had to have been absolutely exhausted! If you missed the boat in attending this event, make sure you enter the contests to get your tickets next year!

Til then, and if you missed the Season 3 marathon/open house running all day at THIRTEEN’s Lincoln Center studio the following day, you can sooth yourself with THIRTEEN’s Sunday night reruns of Season 3. After each, please check read my cheeky recaps on THIRTEEN’s website. Just click forward to read week after week. And starting January 5, it is Season 4!!! Hello! Can. Not. Wait!!!

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