Among the revelations about “Downton Abbey,” producer Gareth Neame shared that a Hollywood exec “who shall remain very nameless,” predicted that the show would not find any takers in the U.S. when he was shopping it.
“It’s mind-boggling to me that now we have 16 million viewers in China,” chimed in cast member Joanne Froggatt (who plays the maid Anna) at a panel discussion Saturday on the Paramount lot hosted by the TV Academy.
Among their fans you can count Julia Roberts, who hugged showrunner Julian Fellowes at a party (“it’s the highlight of my life so far,” he joked); Mick Jagger, who told Laura Carmichael he loves the show, per Robert James-Collier (under-butler Thomas Barrow); and Jon Hamm, who thrilled Phyllis Logan (housekeeper Mrs. Hughes) by giving her a kiss.
Among the common folk, Fellowes related how a woman followed him at a Barnes and Noble and begged, “please make Lady Edith happy.”
“America was the beginning of me,” Fellowes said. “They gave me the Oscar (for writing ‘Gosford Park’) and this second wind is marvelous.”
Other points discussed were Anna’s shocking rape last season and how her husband, Mr. Bates, will take it.
Froggatt said she was told in advance that something big would happen to her character but not what it was. Her reason for keeping it quiet from the others and even her husband is rooted in the times. “It was an eye-opening experience,” she said. “But for a person of Anna’s status, her reputation is all she has and she wouldn’t want to lose her good name.”
Fellowes said of Bates, whose character he wrote with Brendan Coyle in mind, “We don’t know what he’s capable of, well I do, but you all don’t.”
Sophie McShera and Fellowes also discussed the unrequited love of her character Daisy, the kitchen maid, which she compared to an office romance. “The problem with a workplace romance is that it takes place in front of you,” Fellowes said. McShera, taking up on a suggestion from moderator Dave Karger, said she might lobby Fellowes for her own happy love affair. The problem, said James-Collier, both their characters fall for the wrong men.
And in answer to an audience member’s question about Michelle Dockery’s character dealing with a dead lover, Fellowes said, it was rooted in a real-life incident that was related to him long before he started writing “Downton.” “Unlike us, that generation kept its secrets.”
The event, which started with clips from season four, wrapped with a trailer from season five when wireless invades Downton.