Julian Fellowes is in the midst of wrapping up what he calls the seven year “adventure” of “Downton Abbey.” While the international hit hopes to score its fifth consecutive Emmy nomination next month, Fellowes is concentrating on finishing up the sixth and final season, which will debut in the U.K. later this year. After that, Fellowes will segue to another period drama, “The Gilded Age,” for NBC.
The Oscar-winning scribe tells Variety he has mixed emotions about ending “Downton,” but doesn’t regret the decision. But he does wish U.S. auds could have the chance to see the finale at the same time as fans across the Pond.
How are you feeling as you near the end of “Downton”?
You know, it’s almost strange. I’ve lived with these people for seven years now. They’ve taken me and all of us to the top of the mountain. We’ve had this incredible global phenomenon. Most people in this business, even those who have been very successful, never have something like that. It’s true for all the actors too. Some of them were unknown when we started and now they’re known from Nome to Tangier.
Each time I realize I’ve written the last line of a particular character, I feel rather sad. At the same time I don’t think we’ve done the wrong thing. I’ve never felt, “Oh my God, what are we doing? This is a mistake!”
It may be reborn as a movie or a play or a musical or a ballet. Who knows if we’ve seen the last of it? But we do know we’ve seen the last of the television series. This will be the ending.
U.S. audiences don’t see the “Downton” episodes until months after they air in the U.K. Do you think fans will be able to resist the urge to find out what happens in the finale?
If it was left to me, I would show them on the same day [in both countries]. The BBC with “Doctor Who” showed that was possible. The possibility of spoilers in the eight hours’ difference is obviously considerably less than three months’ difference. I think it’s hard for people to resist the spoilers, and I wish they didn’t have to.
We’re nearly at the era when there’s no such thing as scheduling, and they just say, “It’s out there,” and we all watch as much as we want whenever we want. Netflix and all the different iPlayers have so altered the pattern of viewing that in a sense this conversation will soon be a historical piece.
You’ve said you don’t want the show to overstay its welcome, but now that you’re filming the final episodes do you still feel the same?
I feel this about “Mad Men.” I love “Mad Men,” I absolutely adored it, and I’m really really sorry it’s over. I haven’t even seen the second half of the last series, which has only just come out over here, it’s not on DVD yet. Even in my sorrow that it’s finished, I know I’m pleased there never has to be any loss of standard or relaxing of style. I think Matthew Weiner has made exactly the right decision. In a sense I see his decision as an endorsement of my own.
Do you already know what you’ll miss about working on “Downton”?
In a funny way [“Downton”] has dominated my year. I’ll have a different kind of flavor in my life. Now I’m winding this up, I’ve got [the musical “School of Rock”] coming up on Broadway, I’ve got a three-parter [“Doctor Thorne”] happening at ITV, but when that all settles I start on “The Gilded Age.” Then I assume I’ll be consumed and occupied by “The Gilded Age” in much the same way, with different characters and different players and a different adventure. I think I’m very fortunate to be allowed that. To have an adventure in the stable snorting and ready for its exercise.
So you’re eager to jump back into another series?
It’s the same, but it’s not the same. It’s American-based, not British. It’s an American story, not British. Obviously I’m piggybacking on the success of “Downton” to be allowed an extraordinary opportunity on American television. For that, timing is all. One doesn’t want to hang around smelling the flowers for too long because then you go back in and everyone’s forgotten you exist. I am rather eager really. It’s another side of the same plate and it seems exciting to me.