As “Downton Abbey” residents gathered in Gotham Tuesday to toast the drama’s fourth-season premiere on PBS next month, cast members reflected on what the success of the show has meant to their careers.
Michelle Dockery, who plays the flinty Lady Mary, has seen her star rise in features. She’s also been able to pursue her interest in singing thanks to the platform provided by the show — and with encouragement from castmate and fellow thrush Elizabeth McGovern.
“It’s opened avenues in the States because the show has been so successful here,” Dockery said during the photo call at Manhattan’s Millennium Hotel.
“I just finished shooting a film called ‘Non Stop’ with Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore, and a film called ‘Selfless’ with Ben Kingsley and Ryan Reynolds,” she said.
And she’s been moonlighting as a jazz singer here and there. McGovern’s role as the head of band Sadie and the Hotheads has been something of an inspiration for Dockery.
“The music side of my career is something I want to embrace at some point,” Dockery said. “Elizabeth is doing so much of it at the moment, so we’ll see.”
“Downton” creator/exec producer Julian Fellowes is also set to turn his attention to a new series project for NBC, “Gilded Age,” which will keep him in familiar period territory albeit in a different setting.
The project “is about that time in New York, in the post-Civil War economy, when the old families – the Stuyvesants and Winthrops – were being challenged by the new money – the Astors and the Rockefellers,” Fellowes said. “In showbiz you’re kind of as good as your next job – not even your last job – so you have to ring the bell every so often. ‘Downton’ has helped me do that, so I’m very, very grateful.”
But even as he tackles “Gilded Age,” Fellowes will still be spinning stories from upstairs and downstairs in Downton. The series is already renewed for a fifth season on ITV/PBS. Cast members say they remain deeply engaged with their characters and are gratified by the response from viewers on both sides of the Pond. “Downton’s” fourth season notched strong ratings in the U.K. earlier this year and is expected to buoy PBS when it bows Jan. 5.
“Perhaps because it’s true to its own world, and aspires to be authentic about that world,” said Hugh Bonneville, who plays family patriach Lord Grantham. “Even though it’s a fictional one, that’s what audiences have really latched on to.”
Allen Leech, who plays Lord Grantham’s chaffeur-cum-son-in-law Branson, was confident in the show’s potential from season one.
“We knew we had a great script, great characters and great actors to portray the roles,” he said. “While there is a hierarchy, within the house there’s no hierarchy as to how the story is told.”