Nine years after winning an Oscar for writing Robert Altman’s acclaimed “Gosford Park” in 2002, Julian Fellowes found himself up for multiple Emmy awards for his first ongoing series: “Downton Abbey.” The U.K. smash was just in its infancy (and competing as a miniseries) when Fellowes claimed two wins. He’s been nominated six times since. With “Downton” now a part of the TV history books, Fellowes (who is also eligible for Amazon’s mini “Doctor Thorne”) says the honor never gets old.
Do you remember the moment they called your name?
The first category we got to that evening was writing. They run at you with these cameras and you want to avoid looking crestfallen when they read out another name. You’re poised to start applauding the lucky winner. I was geared to accept I hadn’t won, and then I had. I nearly jumped out of my skin because I had been so sure, and indeed told, that this wasn’t going to happen. I went up on stage trying desperately to remember who I had to thank. I was trying to assemble them in my addled brain.
What did it mean after already having won an Oscar?
I feel very privileged, really, that the Americans have given me these prizes. When you first have your lucky moment you don’t want to be a one-trick pony, you don’t want to be that person who won something and was never seen again. It’s an incredible reassurance when you win for something else. It stops you from being a one-trick pony and you become a pony of many tricks. That night was a moment when I thought “Gosford Park” isn’t the only thing I’m going to have done on this level of approval.
Where do you keep your Emmys?
I put all the awards together in the billiard room, which is also where I work at home. My glory is visible to me from behind my own desk, it’s a reinforcement to my ego. Of course there are people out there who have done work that is far better than what I’m doing and in many cases they’re not appreciated. With all that said, there is something very nice in being recognized by your peers and your own industry, saying you’ve done good. There’s nothing quite like it. You really do walk on air.
Do you recall any special encounters on Emmy night?
It was either that night or the next year I remember Julianna Margulies came up and praised the show. Over the years various other very famous people have praised the show and complimented it. It’s thrilling, it never stops being exciting meeting these people. I think the day it stops you should quit. It’s very nice to feel part of the industry. If Britain is the heart of theater, I think America and LA specifically is the heart of television and film. To feel that we were part of that community, that we were members was very nice, very reassuring. Half of our lives is spent trying to feel we’ve achieved anything and on those nights you’re allowed to feel you have.
It’s rare for a British series to achieve such acclaim in the U.S.
We do have an American character, but the nature of this show and the feeling is very British, but the structure owes a lot to American television. American television went through that incredible reinvention in the last years of the 20th century and early years of this century. It became the main thing everyone got excited about and it was very thrilling to feel we were part of that. That kind of narrative — funny-sad, when all the stories are interlocking, and you have to attend all the time because the scenes are telling different stories all the time. Even though they’re all walking around in long frocks and white tie, the actual narrative structure of the show owes quite a lot to American television.