Like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, last week the cast of Downton Abbey (sadly, for the last time) flew in from Old Blighty to stage their annual British invasion and took New York by storm. They were everywhere: Stephen Colbert, The Talk, The View, Watch What Happens Live, GMA, Seth Meyers, photo-bombing random tourists, you name it, they were there. If you stayed up watching them on every chat show they were on you no doubt needed the weekend to recover! But best of all, they were at two preview screenings and live panel discussions for fans, held in midtown.
At the screening we got to see the first 50 minutes of the 90 minute Season 6 premiere episode. What can I tell you without posting a spoiler? It was funny and poignant (Mrs. Patmore shines and deserves an Emmy nod). It’s 1925 and change is accelerating. And as much fun as it will be to watch at home, watching it with a theater full of fans and hearing everyone’s reactions well and truly heightened the experience – so invite some friends over on January 3 and have a viewing party!
After the screening, the biggest cast contingent I’ve ever seen at one of these events (Phyllis Logan, Jim Carter, Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Allen Leech, Kevin Doyle, and producer Gareth Naeme) hit the stage for a great group interview. At the Tuesday night panel Julian Fellowes joined them as well. When you see them all together and feel their fantastic chemistry, you know why this ensemble was successful at bringing this story so seamlessly to life. The Tuesday night panel was recorded so I’m guessing it will pop up online somewhere, but I wish Monday night’s panel was recorded because I thought it brought out more tidbits I hadn’t heard before and also gave Kevin Doyle more chances to speak. Some interviewers overlooked him this week and that is too bad because he is a delight.
After the Tuesday night screening, some fans were able to join the cast for a meet and greet and that is where this happened (see above)! Forget about The Thrilla in Manilla: Mary vs Edith is the one to watch. Downton and cosplay fan Lorraine got this FABULOUS picture of herself with Michelle Dockery. Lorraine said, “when Michelle saw me, she yelled “Edith!” and immediately started chatting and posing, including her deciding to pretend cat fight with me, even asking for a photo on her phone. She is such a fun woman and amazing actress. I am not Mary’s biggest fan but I love Michelle!!!” If there was ever a contest for Downton Abbey fan pics, THIS one of Lorraine and Michelle would win! And here is one of the Downtonians who came to the taping (and then lucked into a standby ticket for one of the screenings later that night). Randall made the scene in his lovely violet and pink chapeau and pearls, holding a handmade sign that read ‘Thomas Barrow’s great nephew’. Who else would he be? Too bad Rob James Collier wasn’t here this year!
Get Ready to Party Like It’s 1925:
From December 31 through January 3 THIRTEEN will be broadcasting a 5-Season Downton Abbey Marathon leading up to the Season 6 premiere on Sunday, January 3 at 9pm. And last week, a bunch of fun-loving Downtonians answered the call THIRTEEN put out on social media and volunteered to help them tape some of the brief spots that will run in-between episodes during the marathon. In addition to us regular fans, we had Timothy Pigott Smith (AKA Sir Phillip Tapsell, that dastardly, imperious doctor who killed Lady Sybil) who is currently in town starring in the play Charles III on Broadway, and the United Kingdom’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Matthew Rycroft.
The Ambassador had some rather amazing statistics about the economic impact Downton Abbey and other British telly and culture has on the British economy (and not only tourism). You’ll have to watch the marathon to hear what they both had to say. Also there to be interviewed was Hope Dellon, one of the Editors of all those fabulous Downton Abbey books from St Martin’s Press – and it was my job to interview her! Even though I’ve been interviewed on TV many times and also conducted telephone interviews for print, this was the first time I ever had the opportunity to actually conduct an on-air TV interview myself. How can I describe the experience of reading off a teleprompter for the first time with a clock counting down the seconds right next to it? You know that I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel are on the candy assembly line? It was like that. But hopefully I did well enough that I get the chance to do it again sometime because it was tons of fun (and I am a kosher ham bone after all). Adding to the fun of these breaks, the Downton Abbey Cosplayers were in the house. If Edwardians did selfies, I dare say they’d look a bit like this.
Accent-tuate the Positive:
With game participants, Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville and Allen Leech, Stephen Colbert conducted a little experiment to see if Downton would be as good with American accents. You decide…
Another fun note: What you hear here in this clip is a tiny bit of the character Allen Leech did (at Michelle Dockery’s prodding) during the Monday night #DowntonPBS panel discussion. The character is a stylist that he used to do on set to entertain his coworkers. An American Downton? Nope. Allen Leech doing another show as The Stylist? Yes!
Seems like Lord Grantham and I have something in common. When I was a teenager I worked at a McDonald’s, and one of the things I remember about that experience is, after a shift you’d leave smelling like hamburgers, so if you encountered a stray dog they’d follow you home. In this brief video clip from The Talk, Hugh Bonneville discusses keeping sausages in his pockets to get his faithful Labrador companion to follow him down that grand staircase.
I adore Julian Fellowes (and not only because he created Downton Abbey). Listening to him speak at length about his creative process and his understanding of human and character motivation is fascinating. In discussing his upbringing as the poor relation of an aristocratic family you hear the unique perspective it gave him, and you also hear the seeds of the characters and world he created in Downton Abbey. If you haven’t watched this yet, do it now. This interview is a must see for any Downtonian – or any writer!
What’s Your Favorite Downton Scandal?: In this video clip, some of the actors from Downton share theirs:
It’s tough to pick just one, isn’t it? I think it would be easy to say Pamuk. That certain Turkish gentleman’s unexpected expiration, and the heavy shlepping that followed, has had such a ripple effect throughout all five seasons, it’s easy to forget he appeared in only one episode. But the chain of events Mr. Pamuk set in motion has cast a shadow over every Downton season since. That Secret allowed Vera to threaten Bates away from Anna, in the end (possibly) leading to her death and Bates’ imprisonment. It allowed Sir Rupert to have a hold over Mary, keeping her away from Matthew, causing his relationship with Lavinia to continue even though his heart was elsewhere, leading her to still be at Downton and exposed to the Spanish Flu, leading Reggie Swire to have no heirs, leading a big pile of loot to once again land in Robert’s lap to bail him out after he stupidly went all in on the B & O Railroad, and on and on. Even in Season 5, Mary said to Tony the Tiger that she had been soiled once and would not be soiled again (Though maybe she was referring to that time Matthew beckoned her for a kiss and she responded, “You’ll make me untidy.” Could be.)
But I think I might say my favorite (if I have to call it a favorite) scandal might be the potential scandal of Thomas being gay. To us here and now that’s not a scandal, but back then it was a potential scandal (and crime), that could lead to imprisonment and torture. It was a deep, dark, alienating scandal always waiting in the wings. The frustration of having to live in that fear of discovery and the wall it forced him to live behind may be what turned him into the bitter, scheming Thomas we know. Maybe there was something else that made him malevolent. We’ll never know. But even if it wasn’t what made him bitter, it was Thomas’ poorly attempted play for pretty Pamuk that gave Pamuk something to hold over him, leading Thomas to have to lead Pamuk to Lady Mary’s bedroom to get Pamuk to keep that secret to avoid ruin. And the rest is history. So it seems to me that all scandalous roads lead to Thomas and the injustice that society forced him, and everyone else like him, to live under. What do you think, Downtonians?
Before This Parade Passes By:
I know you Downtonians don’t need any more reasons to watch Season 6, but if you were (in some bizarre lapse of sense and judgment) wavering, Parade Magazine has five more reasons why you should. And speaking of parades, Downtonians will get a special treat on New Year’s Day when a new float celebrating the show debuts in the 127th Rose Parade® on January 1, 2016. The Crawley family estate has been painstakingly recreated for the float, complete with a magnificent landscape depicting English rose gardens and rolling green lawns and a 1919 Bentley driven by the family chauffeur.
E.T. Phone Home:
It seems Area 51 might actually be somewhere near Ripon. On Good Morning America, when the cast was asked about how Downton Abbey and its story lines will be tied up at the end (as if they were ever going to answer that), Hugh Bonneville dodged like a pro, “The great thing about ending with a spaceship is you can go back and forth in time. We can go anywhere really.” But I think the line of this interview, and maybe the whole week was this one from Jim Carter, “The generosity and the openness and the enthusiasm we’ve been met with over here has been remarkable.” As usual, Mr. Carson knows just what to say.