“Downton Abbey” stars and exec producer Gareth Neame swapped stories and shared favorite moments from the series during a recent gathering in New York to promote the drama’s final season on PBS, which bows Jan. 3.
Here’s a rundown of memorable observations from the night:
Jim Carter (Mr. Carson) knew the show was for him when he noticed an intriguing line of stage direction in the script he’d been given for his audition. “It said ‘Carson sits there in his magnificence.’ I thought, ‘I could do that.’ If you want an actor to sit in magnificence, I’m your boy.”
Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary) went in to the audition thinking her character would be something like the one played by Kristin Scott Thomas in 2001’s “Gosford Park,” the Robert Altman-directed parlor mystery for which “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes earned a screenwriting Oscar. She realized that was not the case when she read the episode that involved her momentous dalliance with Mr. Pamuk. “She became so much more after that episode,” she said.
Dockery also had a good feeling about the show when she ran into Dan Stevens, who was to play her husband Matthew Crawley, at her audition for “Downton.” The two had just worked together on a BBC rendition of “Turn of the Screw.” “I thought, ‘That could work,’ ” Dockery said.
Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham) felt the same way when Elizabeth McGovern wound up in the role of his wife, Lady Crawley. “It’s the third time we’ve played husband and wife,” Bonneville noted, citing their unions in the British TV comedy series “Freezing” and TV movie “Thursday the 12th.” “Third time lucky,” he added.
Kevin Doyle (Joseph Molesley) found his audition for the role of the beleaguered valet-turned footman was “a bit of a nuisance.” He was opening in a play at the National Theatre on the same day as the audition. “I could have done without the audition, to be honest. I had to schlep all the way to Ealing and the theater director was screaming,” he said. Doyle initially expected the role to run three episodes at most, not six seasons. “I was happy for that,” he joked.
Allen Leech (Tom Branson) also was expecting a three-episode gig — he never had any conception that he would join the family. But he put a lot of effort into the role at the outset nonetheless. “Having worked for weeks on my Yorkshire accent, they came back to me and said ‘Why don’t you play Irish?’ I went ‘Noooo,” he said. “But I was just delighted for the work.”
Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes) was true to her character in citing the second season’s focus on WWI as her favorite period for the show. “I quite liked the war years,” she said. “It thew up different challenges for the household. It made us all feel a bit more useful.”
Elizabeth McGovern joked about what Lady Cora and Lord Grantham did and didn’t do in their many bedroom scenes when asked about what she’d miss most about the show. “I’m going to miss regularly reiterating the plot with Hugh Bonneville in bed every night,” McGovern said. “They never had any sex.”
By all accounts, the final days of shooting last August were emotional affairs for the “Downton” gang. Dockery handled the clapperboard for the final scene. Producer Chris Croucher gave an emotional speech and then ordered the cast and crew to the wrap party. “Now get your dancing shoes on and let’s party like it’s 1926,” Dockery recalled him saying.
Gareth Neame couldn’t resist dangling a bit of hope for a return to “Downton” at some point when pressed about the potential for spinoffs or sequels.
“I want to know what happens to Downton when baby George is now Lord Grantham in the 1960s,” Neame said, joking that he’d just planted the seeds “of our next commission.”