Downton Abbey Movie ~ Is It Too Late?

I’m a self-confessed fan of the popular ITV series Downton Abbey, to the point of fan-girling, checking out the fandom activity and feeling fairly bereft when the Abbey closed its doors at Christmas back in 2015. News of a movie to enable Downton’s enthusiastic following to take another peek into the upstairs and downstairs goings on was met excitedly, by me and by fellow fans of the Fellowes drama.

However, as the years have rolled by with (from what we mere members of the public could tell) not so much as a sniff of a script and longstanding cast members almost continuously cagey when asked questions about a possible movie by the media, the question mark over the potential movie hovered precariously. As a blogger who predominantly covers theatre I was delighted to discover so many of my favourite actors from the drama series treading the boards. Phyllis Logan toured with Noel Coward’s ‘Present Laughter’ which in turn offered a superb opportunity I might not otherwise have had.  I took a trip to Chiswick to carry out an interview and enjoyed coffee and croissants with Ms Logan while I was at it, she’s an actor who has been high on my radar since she played Lady Jane in Lovejoy. Her colleague, Lesley Nicol opened my eyes to fantastic and extremely worthy charities, so I was over the moon (bears!) to interview her for my blog, too. With the vast majority of the show’s famous faces being kept busy in various ‘jobs’ (just check out the credits that Lily James who played Lady Rose has wracked up!) the movie seemed a distant and not so urgent thought.

Phyllis Logan appeared in the UK tour of Noel Coward’s Present Laughter in 2016.

When the announcement of impending filming broke, not so long ago, and just over 2 1/2 years after the festive finale, my initial reaction wasn’t to jump for joy. What year are they planning on setting it in was top of my list of queries. Are we picking up straight after their new year celebrations therefore following Mr Carson’s (Jim Carter) journey of enforced retirement or will we pick it up long after life has changed for Downton’s inhabitants? I’m the first to admit that my over-active imagination already sees the Carsons living a different life and has Mrs Patmore paired off with widowed hanger-on, Mr Mason (Paul Copley).

With the Downton Abbey film’s release date now set for 20th September 2019, my humble opinion of a movie following long after momentum has been lost has shifted. I think it was the Instagram post from Michelle Dockery (the ever-popular Lady Mary – follow her: https://www.instagram.com/theladydockers/ to check out the post I’m referring to) that not only cemented in my mind that this IS happening, but also transported me back to the good old days when social media buzzed with anticipation of the next series of Downton Abbey. I recalled the Duchess of Cambridge visiting the set while the final series was in production, the excitement surrounding that was palpable. So maybe regaining some of that old Downton Abbey-inspired joy will be just the ticket for 2019?

One thing’s for sure, I’ve moved from sceptic to eagerly awaiting and hope beyond hope that Fellowes won’t let us down! In fact, I have one plea to make – do what you will with all of the characters but please let Mrs Patmore be happy!! Back in the day I would have begged for Lady Edith’s (Laura Carmichael) happiness, however unless a curve ball is coming our way, it seems that her future was looking rosy by the time we bid au revoir to the Crawley family.

Bring on 20th September 2019, then…

 

Photo Credits: ITV & Nobby Clark 

 

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Spotlight On… Actor, Director and Producer, Nigel Harman

Nigel Harman has become a familiar name and face following his popular appearance in EastEnders as Dennis, the Son of Dirty Den. Since then he has gone on to appear on stage and screen as well as turn his hand to Directing and Producing. He has just finished a short run at Birmingham Repertory Theatre in What’s In A Name and Break A Leg caught up with him to chat about the play, his varied career and what his next ventures are going to be.

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Nigel as Vincent in What’s In A Name

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, Nigel, tell me about What’s In A Name and what you think the strengths of the production are.

It’s basically a play about a family getting together and sharing a few too many home truths. We’ve all been at that dinner party where a little bit too much wine is consumed and that thing that you shouldn’t say, you end up saying and it leads to a whole myriad of discoveries. The strengths of it are that is incredibly funny in places, I think most people come along and recognise the characters, they feel like they know them and that they have a friend like them. I also think that the structure of the play is brilliant, so we’re always climbing up a mountain until we reach the end and get to the top.

What sort of audience reaction have you had to the piece?

Really warm, the Birmingham experience has been brilliant. From the moment we started it wasn’t a case of the audience sitting back and judging whether this is funny, they have come to enjoy themselves. Some nights people in the audience are laughing so much that they lose it and we have to wait before we continue. The whole experience at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre itself including the audience themselves has been a warm and supportive experience.

What challenges present themselves when playing a central character like Vincent?

He never leaves the stage, so when you’re on you’re on and you’ve got nowhere to hide if it’s all going wrong.  All of the actors at some point drive the play but Vincent does a lot of driving. You just have a good time and put all that aside once you’re out there. I set the scene for the audience which is quite nerve-wracking if I’m honest. All five of us have responsibility in the play so it doesn’t make it feel like I’m on my own.

Moving to your television career, what are your highlights from your days in EastEnders?

I remember when Les Grantham came back and we did a week of special episodes, there was me, Les, Letitia Dean and Scarlett Johnson who played my sister, that was a highlight because it was an important piece of story telling at the time. I’m proud of the reaction that the show got and my character got at the time, too. Although when I won spectacle wearer of the year and I pointed out that I had never worn spectacles I started to think that things were a little bit weird. It was a mad and crazy time, nothing has come close to that kind of intensity, because you’re there all the time and you’re on the telly all the time. It’s nice that the character is respected and loved, it makes walking down the street a lot easier!

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Nigel as Mr Green in Downton Abbey, not such a loved character as Dennis in EastEnders!

Will there be any more series of Mount Pleasant in the future and was it as much fun to film as it looked?

We are doing a ninety minute special and then I think that will be it. I will be going off to film in two weeks’ time. I think we’re just doing a farewell. Is it as fun as it looks? Yes! hat’s because we all get on so well, we have a laugh and the scripts are really tight. The filming days are really long but we still find time to enjoy ourselves! It works as a show because we all respect and laugh with each other all the time, so when the cameras roll we just carry on doing that.

You’ve turned your hand to directing theatre productions, how does that compare to performing?

It’s a lot less stressful, you make the structure, you make the foundations and you make them as slick and tight as possible but ultimately you then hand over to your actors and say it’s over to you now. I love it, I love being part of the whole process, sometimes with acting I really want to be involved in the conversations that have nothing to do with me. Being a Director is brilliant in that you can shape something from the ground up and have your own vision, work with designers, lighting designers and sound teams to create a piece of work, I find it fascinating, very rewarding and it engages me in a level of conversation I don’t really get from acting. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about acting again as I have been doing more directing than acting the last year or two and I’ve enjoyed acting. I forgot what it was like to stand there before the first preview and think “why am I doing this?”.

What’s next for you after this play finishes?  

Well there will be the special one-off episode of Mount Pleasant which will be ninety minutes long. I might be directing a musical in London in the summer. I know for sure that we will be touring with Shrek again which opens in Edinburgh in the second week of December, it will be on national tour for a year. Taking that show out to people’s home towns is brilliant and when we did it a couple of years ago it went massive. It was so much a part of the local community in every place we visited – I loved it.

Thanks to Nigel for talking to Garry McWilliams (in the absence of Helen!) – we wish him every success with everything that’s coming up in the future. If What’s In A Name has another run, we highly recommend it.  

Photo Credits: Broadway World, ITV, Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Spotlight On… Actress, Raquel Cassidy

Raquel Cassidy is an actress I first became familiar with when she burst onto the scene in Teachers, the next television programme to bring her to my attention was Downton Abbey, some years later. Miss Baxter was one of my favourite characters and her blossoming friendship with Mr Molesley (Kevin Doyle) was one of my best loved story lines. Raquel has since gone on to star as the iconic Miss Hardbroom in The Worst Witch and has also appeared in Silent Witness. I was fortunate enough to chat with Raquel about her career to date and what might be her next venture.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 31/10/2016 - Programme Name: The Worst Witch - TX: n/a - Episode: First Look (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: **Strictly Embargoed until 00:00:01 31/10/2016** Miss Hardbroom (RAQUEL CASSIDY) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Matt Squires
Miss Hardbroom (RAQUEL CASSIDY) – (C) BBC – Photographer: Matt Squires

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, Raquel, I’d like to start by talking about The Worst Witch as it was my favourite childhood book. What was it like to play such an iconic character as Miss Hardbroom?

I’ve never had so much fun in anything, it’s the whole spirit of the story and the interplay with the Cackle sisters, the magic – being able to click your fingers and close doors is brilliant and being able to say to the wonderful art department “I don’t think she’d hold her own book or turn her own page”. I made sure I didn’t watch Diana Rigg as Miss Hardbroom, it wouldn’t have been Miss Hardbroom who was in my head it would have been Diana. I came quite fresh to the show and Jill Murphy who wrote the books was great, she came to the read-throughs, she gave me an idea of what her picture was but she was very much on board with me going for it and having fun. I think I was a bit nervous because I knew that I was taking on someone that a lot of people know so well from the stories and other productions of The Worst Witch.

As a character I think that she has a very true heart and ultimately wants the witches to be the best that they can be and there’s an awkwardness to her which is great fun to play as well. She’s made herself into this statue of a teacher and sometimes that gets a bit ruffled so it can be fun to be able to be a bit buffoon-like.

I’m going to move on to Downton Abbey now as it’s another favourite of mine, the movie rumours have been on-going for some time, is there an update?

At the moment it’s something that we would all like to do but there are a lot of people that are very much in demand, to get together at the same time and in the same place and I think that’s going to make it or break it. When a few of us met at the SAG awards you could tell that we would all very much like to do it if we can, partly because it would just be fun to get together again I think. However once people are out of contract and they have other contracts to honour it becomes very difficult.

What are your highlights from your Downton days?

They range from the very light to the very dark, there are light-hearted moments such as dancing below stairs and we’re all getting the steps wrong or once we’re off camera Kevin (Doyle) starts doing this crazy jig. Or there’s laughing at the back of the church when you’re not supposed to, also when we were just sitting around the table those hours could be very long or they could be very good fun. The darker moments I enjoyed were when Baxter was between a rock and a hard place, where the choice that the character was going to have to make was either going to damn her or damn someone else. That was a very human story line and Baxter had to test herself on what was the right course of action, should she take the easier path to save herself?

What did you think of the development in the friendship between Mr Molesley and Miss Baxter and would you like to see the relationship explored further if the movie happens?

The thing about movies is you’ve still got 20+ characters jostling for air time and as Miss Baxter and Mr Molesley take so long to do anything they would need a movie just for themselves. I think there’s more room for them to explore but as long as they have one another in their lives they probably don’t expect much else as characters.

Moving on to Silent Witness, you’ve recently done a couple of episodes, were you familiar with that show before you guest starred in it?

No not really, I did watch it years ago, it’s a great quality show and I have enormous respect for it now that I’ve done it as I’ve seen the amount of work that goes into it. There’s a lot of care and love that goes into it from the actors playing the main characters and after twenty years you’d think they’d be reigning it in a bit, but not at all, they’re really on it. I worked with David Caves and Emilia Fox and they question constantly, trying to find the truest way of telling the story. They were lovely to work with as well.

What led you into an acting career?

I think I wanted to do it from when I was about 4 years of age, I used to watch films with my mum a lot, there wasn’t an abundance of television shows when I was little so I watched old movies which were beautiful to look at. I loved watching things with my mum and I suppose I wanted to be in the movies, from as long as I can remember I always wanted to be an actor. I tried to join troops and go to Drama School and I was gently led back to a more sensible path. Eventually, many years later I finally woke up and said “ahh I’m a grown up, I can actually do this now if I want to” and I had a lot of support from my parents, actually.

I remember you starring in the television show, Teachers – would you say that it was one of your big breaks?

It was definitely my big break on TV and I auditioned for three big shows at the same time as Teachers. I couldn’t believe it and it was new so nobody was judging it. It was everything it looked like it was on screen, if you see what I mean? It was mad and we were young, having fun. Members of the cast were close friends off screen as well as on so the chemistry was there.

Finally then, what’s next for you?

I’m doing a little part in the final series of W1A so it will be great to see Hugh Bonneville again and I know some of the other actors on the show, too. Worst Witch also want to do another series so that will take me up to halfway through the year. After that, who knows, something new maybe? They need a new Doctor Who!

Huge thanks to Raquel for chatting to me, it was a privilege to be able to talk about some of her experience and I can’t wait to see another series of The Worst Witch.

Photo Credits: BBC and ITV

You can purchase the show on DVD here (click the image):

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spotlight On… Actress and Star of Present Laughter, Phyllis Logan

Present Laughter is a touring show stopping at:

Richmond Theatre – 1st – 6th August 2016

Theatre Royal, Brighton – 8th – 13th August 2016

Malvern Theatres – 15th – 21st August 2016

How do I possibly begin this one? Every so often I have the honour of meeting and interviewing one of my childhood heroes. Phyllis Logan needs no introduction whatsoever, I was first enraptured by her when she played Lady Jane in Lovejoy. I followed her career fairly avidly, thereafter and of course, I loved Downton Abbey. Her return to the stage is a welcome sight, I’ve already seen Present Laughter once (as a punter, not press) and I can tell anyone who intends to go and watch it that they won’t be disappointed. This lady is akin to the actress who inspires her! So, without further ado…

Phyllis, thank you so much for talking to Break A Leg, first of all, tell me what it’s like to be back on stage after a lengthy break.

A very lengthy break, indeed, yes, it’s been good fun, actually. It’s been a long time since I was on stage in a cross-arch theatre, as opposed to in a studio theatre where I was the last time I was on stage. So, it’s a different animal altogether appearing in a 600 seater cross-arch theatre, it is quite nerve-wracking. I do get a bubble of nerves before I go on, but once you’re on and you get your first laugh, hopefully it’s all plain sailing-ish!

What was your reaction to the script and do you feel that your character, Monica has changed much as you’ve rehearsed? Did the rehearsal process change our initial thoughts about Monica?

I had known the play before, anyway, I thought it was a very funny play and I thought that Monica was a fun part. I went through several avenues during rehearsal, but your initial reaction to a character is the right one for you. Although I did challenge myself to see if I thought my initial reaction was right for the part.

Have you based your portrayal of Monica on anyone in particular?

Not anybody in particular.  I’ve based her on types, I suppose, she is quite acerbic and she’s got a very, very dry sense of humour. You want to strike a balance where she’s not an out-and-out horror. She’s got wit, she’s got humour and she’s a match for Garry (Essendine, played by Samuel West). She’s loyal to him but she’s got his measure.

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Phyllis as Monica in Present Laughter

Going right back to the beginning, when you first went to Drama School, was there any particular ambition that you held for your career?

Not really, the only thing that mattered was keeping in work and you don’t really think beyond what your next job is. When I first started, theatre jobs cropped up, I didn’t have an agent in those early days, it was just word of mouth. My only ambition was that it would be a job that I could keep doing without having to worry about finding other work or having to find a new career. So, touch wood, I have been doing this job for nearly 40 years!

Is there anybody who inspires you as a performer?

Well, there’s Dame Judi Dench, she’s been an inspiration right from the word go, she’s so fabulous and she’s just got it all, really. She’s got the whole package. Also, John Hurt, I like the old school performers.

Moving on to your television career, what are your favourite memories from filming Lovejoy?

Oh, I loved Lovejoy, what I remember most is that the sun always seemed to be shining, I’m not sure if it really was always sunny, but that’s my memory of it. It was great to work with Dudley Sutton, such a character, and McShane of course. What was great about Lovejoy was we always had such fantastic guest appearances from different actors. It was just such a joy to do.

I absolutely loved Secrets and Lies, what a brilliant film. Do you feel that working differently i.e. using improvisation affected your future performances?

I suppose it did for a bit, I did rather resent having to be given a script to learn and having my character and everyone else’s character laid bare in front of you. I did think, no, improvisation is the way forward, I liked not knowing what everybody else is up to. So, during the Secrets and Lies process it came as a great shock to me when we eventually got around to doing some of the filming. When I was watching the cast and crew screening I thought “oh my god, that’s what happened!”. It was quite liberating not having to adhere to a script because you are the one that’s created this character, along with Mike Leigh. Obviously, he has a huge input into the way your character develops and he influences certain things your character might say. However, you take on the responsibility for creating to a large extent, this character. Afterwards, I did wonder if I was ever going to be able to revert back to the way I’m used to working. Of course you have to, don’t you, because you’re not going to get a Mike Leigh film every day of the week are you? Unless you’re Tim Spall!

Would you work with Mike Leigh again, if the opportunity came up?

I wouldn’t say no, but it’s hard, it really is quite tough, it’s not like being at the coal face of course but it’s quite challenging. It’s good to scare yourself every now and then so maybe I should give myself another scare. Although I’ve scared myself going back to the theatre, so maybe that’s enough for one year!

Of course you went on to work with Brenda Blethyn again in an episode of Vera

I did and we had great fun doing that, a friend of mine produced it. It was fun to-ing and fro-ing to Newcastle and working with Brenda again.

Was it easy to try to achieve a Geordie accent?

No! In fact I don’t think I even did that, I went for something else. I did do something years ago called And A Nightingale Sang where I had to be Geordie and I had to go to a voice coach for that. It’s not an easy accent to try to do, even though geographically Newcastle is so close to Scotland.

You appeared in Sondheim’s Follies as a one-off, playing the role of Phyllis. Would you be tempted to do musical theatre again?

That was for a charity thing in Glasgow. Talking about scaring yourself, that was for my lovely friend Pat Doyle who’s now an Oscar nominated film composer. I first knew him at Drama School, it was the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, then, it’s now called the Conservatoire. We didn’t cross-pollinate with the music students, particularly, but Pat did get to know all of the actors and he was great. Although he’d been at the music college, when he left he decided that he wanted to act. In the late 70’s we did a hilarious show together as part of the Slab Boys Trilogy by John Byrne and that was fantastic.

So, then a few years back he said to me come up and do this musical and I said “I can’t, Pat, it’s singing”, but he persuaded me and I said I would. So I found myself up in Glasgow with my tiny son who I dumped on my mum and my sister. Then after a minimal number of rehearsals we were in this great concert hall in Glasgow with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra behind us and the hallelujah chorus behind us, it was the scariest thing ever. On top of that it was a Sondheim musical! But, I did it!

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Mrs Hughes in Downton Abbey

So, we really have to get onto Downton, now don’t we? The chemistry and friendship that developed between Mrs Hughes, Mr Carson and Mrs Patmore as a trio, do you think that it was there from the start in the first series or did it evolve naturally as the show moved on?

I’m quite pleased that it seemed to be taken on board that we all got on well, on screen as well as off screen. If you remember, at the beginning, Mrs Hughes and Mrs Patmore were daggers drawn because Mrs Hughes had the keys to the cupboard. Which is ludicrous, really, but that’s the way it was. I think Mrs Hughes loosened her corsets as the series went on. I’m so glad that the relationship with Mrs Patmore did develop, because it makes sense with them being two women of the same age, from the same background. It didn’t make sense that they would be working together and constantly at loggerheads, although it was funny at the beginning. It established the characters really well, but it was nice during the third series where Mrs Hughes thought she might have had breast cancer and she consulted the only person she could, really, Mrs Patmore. Having gone to Mrs Patmore, who’s such a straight talking person, you wouldn’t want anyone else on your team, so that started off their relationship and by the end of it I’d say they were really close friends.

As far as Mr Carson goes, she was always taking the Mickey out of him for his stuffiness, but she obviously had a great fondness for him and a respect and likewise he felt he same for her. I think everyone we ever met prior to them used to say “when are they getting together?” and it used to shock me that anybody would be interested in these two old fuddy-duddies getting together. I think Julian Fellowes must have taken that on board and said let’s go for it.

Have you got a favourite scene or episode?

I don’t have a favourite episode, as it were, but I did enjoy those end of season scenes where you would have all the cast together, such as when there was a fete in the garden. I liked it when we were all together and then off set we’d be there playing bananagrams and do the crossword together, chew the fat and all that. I loved all the big set pieces where most of the cast were together.

If there is a movie, would we see Mrs Hughes ‘retired’ with Mr Carson? It wasn’t clear whether she would have to leave with him?

Oh, no, I think she’ll carry on until she’s shoved in a box! I don’t think she has to retire with him, I don’t think she’d want to be a housewife, and we’ve all seen what he’s like at home, haven’t we?

So, finally, going back to Present Laughter, what would you say to encourage potential audience members to come and see the show?

Noel Coward is very much a part of British theatre-going, an still is after all thee years which is amazing. If you haven’t seen a Noel Coward play before this is a good one to start with because it’s got an element of farce, it’s very funny, very witty, lots of great characters in it and if we do it properly you’ll have a good laugh.

I would like to extend further thanks to Phyllis for allowing me to take up her time, it was an honour, a privilege and beyond! I will be forever thankful, truly.

Photo Credits: United Agents, Theatre Royal, Bath and ITV

 

 

 

 

Spotlight On… Actress, Clare Calbraith

Clare Calbraith burst onto our screens in 1960’s drama heartbeat, she has skipped around a variety of periods, since then. Downton Abbey was her home for a short time and then she shot to fame in Home Fires. I caught up with Clare to ask her all about her illustrious career to date.

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, Clare. Starting with Home Fires, it was a wonderful series and I am a fan of the show, what are your favourite memories of filming it and what did you think of Steph?

 

I have only good memories of working on Home Fires. Genuinely the most extraordinary bunch of people I’ve ever worked with, we still spend an unhealthy amount of time together, even though the series is over!

And I loved Steph, chopping wood, shooting, driving tractors and barely ever having to wear painful high heels. The amazing Chris Coghill and Brian Fletcher in my Farrow family…dream job.

Any favourite scene that stands out?
Actually one of my favourite scenes was one I wasn’t in, when the village comes together to help with harvest. Against the backdrop of Samuel Sim’s wonderful music, I loved it, a may have shed a little tear.
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Clare appeared in Downton Abbey. Photo Credit: ITV

 

Moving on to Downton Abbey, did you have fun on the show?
I had a great time on Downton, it was already a massive hit when I joined so it was a little nerve wracking but Hugh Bonneville was a joy to work with, a privilege to play a tiny part in such a wonderful show.
Heartbeat, is one of my earliest memories of your appearances on screen, how did you like playing a Doctor and did you enjoy working in and around Goathland? Any particular memories you can share with me?
Oh gosh Heartbeat was pushing 20 years ago now, it was kind of my training ground, 12 hours a day, full on for 11 months of the year. I had a ball, met one of my best friends, we had amazing guest artists every week that were far more experienced than me, a real learning curve.
You’ve also notably appeared in Doctor Who audio dramas, how does working on an audio piece compare to on-screen? What are the main differences with the way you take on a character?
Audio is honestly a gift. Its playtime without all the vanity and insecurity than being on film brings. I don’t know any actor that doesn’t love it.
Are there any roles that you have a burning ambition to play in the future?
My ambitions change with every job. After TV I’m desperate to get back to theatre and vice versa. If I can keep working I’m happy. If I get bored (or I guess if people get bored of me) I’ll stop. You need to love it. Too many people would kill to make acting their job, if you don’t love it, move aside, because someone at least as good as you is probably waiting in the wings.
What’s next for you now that Home Fires has finished?
Next I’ll be on the new series of DCI Banks which I think airs in August or possibly a little later, a very different character for me so it was really great to get my teeth into. After that who knows, I’ll miss Home Fires of course but am excited to see what comes next.
I’m so grateful to Clare for a lovely interview and look forward to DCI Banks!
Images courtesy of ITV

Spotlight On… David Robb

He’s best known, these days for playing Dr Clarkson in the hugely popular Downton Abbey, but actor David Robb has had a varied career to date including theatre acting galore! David is currently appearing on stage in Alan Bennett’s Single Spies and I had a chat with him to find out what his memories of Downton Abbey are as well as his opinion on the play he’s currently starring in.

How are you enjoying your roles in Single Spies and have you performed any Alan Bennett material, before?

I’ve never done any Alan Bennett, before, this is my first time. I’ve found it enjoyable on a certain level, although he writes slightly waspishly. The duality of the piece has certainly been picked up on by the audience. I do feel that Bennett lets the Cambridge Spies off lightly.

It’s an intense evening when I kick off in the second act, during rehearsals I had been talking for such a length of time that I had to have a glug of water. I said, “I’ll have to have a drink of water at some point” and that was worked in.

Are there any roles in theatre that you have an ambition to play or any particular theatres that you’d like to tick off your list?

Not particularly, when one gets to my age you’re grateful to be in work.

I worked at The Old Vic years ago and that was special, on stage where Olivier performed. Otherwise the venue to me is just a space one performs in.

You were excellent as Dr. Clarkson in Downton Abbey, what are your favourite memories from the show and do you think it was the right time for the series to finish?

It was possibly the right time to finish the series, although there is a conflict between the UK and the USA, whereas the USA feel bereft about the decision to end it. Of course, it couldn’t have carried on with Dame Maggie Smith, she would have been 112 years old and it was becoming hard to retain people. Nobody could have foreseen the massive success that the show has become, hopefully people will carry on buying the box sets!

It didn’t matter who one was doing a scene with, everyone got on, that is unusual in a large cast. Part of the show’s appeal is that Julian Fellowes has gone back to the Hill Street Blues days, where you have a massive cast and kill someone off unexpectedly every now and then.

What led you to become an actor and were you influenced by anybody?

I was at school in Edinburgh in the 60’s, it was an extraordinary time, in the course of a couple of years jet travel came in and there was pop music. Anything was possible and careers that seemed exotic were possible. I was roped into doing school plays, realised I was good at it and at the age of 16 I thought I could do it as a career.

What’s your preferred medium between screen and stage acting?

I’m classically trained so I find that the discipline of theatre acting keeps one grounded, but I prefer to be in front of the camera. I like having done a scene and then being able to move on. For me, there comes a point in theatre when you feel you’re repeating yourself.

What’s next for you after Single Spies?

I don’t know yet, but there is a possibility of a bunch of the Downton Abbey cast (depending on who’s around) going over to America for a few weeks. It will be a show that goes on tour with Question and Answer sessions. It appeals to me to go back and see more of America and ‘bob around’.

 

I’d like to thank David for his time, it was a pleasure to interview him!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spotlight on… Lesley Nicol

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*** Spotlight On… Lesley Nicol ***

How do I introduce this ‘Spotlight On…’? This is an actress who has been on my interview wish list since before this blog-site was born and she has been one of my personal heroes for the past two decades at least (longer, probably!). Many of you will know her as ‘Mrs Patmore’ from the ridiculously successful ‘Downton Abbey’ – so, overwhelmingly, I give you my interview with Lesley Nicol!

Lesley, thank you so much for talking to Break A Leg Review, I first became a fan of yours when you starred as Mrs Beaver in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe for the BBC, but when did you feel that your career really started?

I don’t really think there was a time to be honest, there have been certain jobs that have been important, and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was one of them because it was filmed over several months, rather than quick TV. It felt like a significant thing to do.

I don’t ever think “oh, my career has taken off”, it’s all about the current job and whether it’s fun. There have been notable high spots which have been The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, East is East, Mamma Mia and Downton Abbey. They have all been things that make you go “oh blimey that was a bit special!”

When you became a actress, were there any roles that you had a particular ambition to play or still want to play?

No, I always struggle with that when people ask me this question. I did want to play Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers and I did play her, I loved that, that was a good fit but otherwise there isn’t anything I’m aware of that I want to do.

I saw you play Rosie in Mamma Mia three times and thought you were amazing, what are your best memories of that show?

It was surreal even auditioning for it, I actually auditioned for Bjorn. I was introduced to what felt like about twenty people so it didn’t even feel like a normal audition. I was walking along a long line of people and when I got to Bjorn, I curtsied! He didn’t quite understand the joke.

Then, I was singing Dancing Queen for him and I’m good at music but I’m not very good at remembering the words of songs so I was singing “doing the dancing queen” and he looked at me, very puzzled and said “no, no, no, it’s not “doing the dancing queen” it’s “digging the dancing queen!”. I said “oh yeah, sorry!” and thought “why didn’t I know that?!”.

But it was quite a surreal job because I was in it between 2000 and 2002 when it was a hot show, I’d look out into the audience and see Cher, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep – all the Americans were coming to see it. Of course, now we know why, because they made the film.

It was just glorious, though and my dad came to see it 35 times! He became a great fan of the show, he loved it.

Many people claim that Abba songs are notoriously difficult to sing, did you find that to be the case?

I think people who sing karaoke, for example, think it’s easy to just knock one out. We had the best musical team and they were very strict about what we did, it was very strictly organised and beautifully directed. I know we were given certain guidelines about how we were to sing the songs.

In fact I was in a tour of The Vagina Monologues with Linda Robson, we were in Worthing one night at a karaoke bar and the little minx got me up on stage to sing an Abba song, but all the words were wrong! That was really weird!

You’ve done many more musicals as well as Mamma Mia, would you be keen to perform in a musical again or indeed on stage in any capacity?

Yes, yes I would, I like to sing actually, I’m trying to get brave and follow my dear friends Annie Reid and Richard Dempsey, both of whom have done such brilliant cabarets. I’d love to have a go but I’m a bit scared, I’m trying to get my confidence together to do that.

I have to move onto Downton Abbey, the series finale was well worth waiting for, were you happy with how things turned out for Mrs Patmore? Did she have a good ‘send-off’?

I didn’t feel it was a ‘send-off’, because it didn’t feel like the end to me and it might not be the end, there might be a film, we don’t know. I didn’t feel like he’d put the final stamp on it, he did a bit with some characters, but I thought it was just a really good episode and very touching. It would have been nice if things had progressed a bit further with Mr Mason, but not everybody can have a happy ending because life isn’t like that.

I thought Mrs Patmore really got a chance to shine as a character in this series and I agree that she hasn’t had a storyline ‘ending’ as such, so if the rumoured movie does go ahead, what do you think we’d find the character doing in the future?

I have no idea, I wouldn’t even try to guess, I do know he’s got an idea for the movie and he’s always doing about five things at once, he’s a workaholic, so you never know!

The Downton Abbey Text Santa sketch for ITV was hilarious and easily lived up to expectations after the previous year’s effort featuring George Clooney, how many takes were needed to film it?

I think we did it a couple of times because I wasn’t sure how bonkers to be, really, but I just decided to be totally bonkers, I thought that was the way forward. Of course, Gordon Ramsay wasn’t actually there so I didn’t have anyone to shout at. But I got the best Christmas jumper, with a pudding on it! I’m glad you thought it was good because the George Clooney one was quite special wasn’t it.

As you’re a household name, you have been able to promote exceptionally worthwhile charities such as Animals Asia. How did they come to your attention?

I read about it on Twitter throughPeter Egan, Peter was a friend, not a close friend at that point, I didn’t know him very well but I was aware that Peter is very very involved with animal welfare. I remember clearly looking at a picture of a moon bear, about to investigate and read the article with it and said “oh god, Peter not another sad animal story”. I do follow him on Twitter, I read what he shares and it’s always sad, but on this occasion I didn’t think for one moment that it would grab my heart, which it did. Then I investigated the site and started reading about what bile bear farming is and I suppose interestingly when I look back, I was showing one of the videos to my niece here in America and my husband, just to show them and I started really sobbing and they looked at me like “what in god’s name is wrong with you?” and when I think about it, if I had been aware of it (which I wasn’t), that was probably a sign that I was totally hooked by the sadness and the tragedy of this.

Then I started to watch some of the films featuring Jill Robinson, there’s a very disturbing documentary called Cages of Shame which I watched, and I met her after that. Somewhere in the works somebody told me that 160 million people in China watch Downton Abbey, so I asked Jill if that meant I could be any help to her and she said “yes it would mean that and if you’re able to come out to China to visit us we could get the local press and use the fact that you’re here”. So I did and now I’ve been out four times because I’m totally and utterly besotted with Jill and the cause. To meet a moon bear is absolutely amazing and I’m totally up to my neck in it, I won’t ever be able to walk away from that.

The fact these bears can learn to trust humans again is something we can learn from, when all they’ve known is fear of pain and that a human has meant hurt to them – when you go out there you can hand feed them and they’re relaxed with you. You wonder how they’ve made that transition after twenty years stuffed in a cage.

Medical Detection Dogs is your other main charity, how did that one come to the fore?

I was at Chiswick Dog Show which is very close to where I live and I walked my dogs through the park and noticed these dogs with red jackets on and I heard someone say “go and find out about this, it’s amazing” so that got my interest and I went and listened to somebody and it was connected with things that I related to. I’ve had Cancer in the family and my husband has type 2 Diabetes, I love dogs and at this point they were quite a young charity, really not very well known at all. So I said “I think this is amazing and if there’s anything I can do”, I then watched a demonstration and met some of the dogs and the people, many of whom I’ve grown very attached to.

That is also not something I can walk away from, there are other ambassadors on board now and while I’m not in the country, that’s a good thing that other people are supporting and fundraising, but there place in my heart and always will be.

You recently filmed a piece for ITV’s This Morning reporting from Blue Cross  and Dogs Trust, I thought it was fantastic…

I want to know if Teddy from Blue Cross has been re-homed! He was so beautiful and people are scared of staffies and rotties, but in the right hands they’re completely people pleasing, easily trained dogs.

I give money to the Oakfield Oldies because we can’t have a dog where we currently live.

Oh do you! They were lovely and I can’t tell you how full of beans they were. There was a fabulous one called Chewbacca, he’s 13 and probably has many years left because they go into their twenties, that breed. He was a beautiful dog and all he wants is to sit next to you and have a cuddle.

Are you going to be doing any more of those films for This Morning?

I think the door might be open to do more, yes, they seemed to be pleased with it, they know I’ve got an interest in animal welfare so it could be something different next time.

Favourite Things (give me your first reaction to these questions):

Favourite time of year?

Spring.

Favourite memory from your career?

Seeing my dad dancing in the stalls at the Prince Edward Theatre, he was dancing to Waterloo.

Favourite Mrs Patmore line?

“Daisy, I said you could go for a drink of water, not a trip up the Nile”

and the other one which Sophie (McShera, who plays Daisy) and I laugh because we didn’t know what it meant:

“It’s you and me, Daisy, contra mundi”

Favourite way to spend your time off?

Walking the dogs on the beach.

Favourite holiday destination?

I’d like to go to Bali.

You can hear Lesley’s voice in ‘Goldie and Bear’ on Disney Junior – she plays the mad ‘Fairy Godmother’! I think I speak for many when I say I hope the ‘Downton Abbey’ film happens.

Also, ‘Teddy’ from ‘Blue Cross’ has been re-homed!!

Links to Animals Asia and Medical Detection Dogs can be found below:

http://www.animalsasia.com/uk/

http://medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

Spotlight On… Helen McWilliams

Here’s your opportunity to get to know me 🙂

*** Spotlight On… Helen McWilliams ***

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Why did you start ‘Break A Leg Review’?

I was contributing as a reviewer and interviewer to another online review site, I told one of my favourite actresses (during an interview) that I was considering setting up my own site, and she was very encouraging about it. I had been building up a network of contacts around the  West Midlands and wanted to continue to do that for ourselves, with Garry (my husband) in tow. Garry takes a backseat these days as his own career is taking a few exciting turns. I owe thanks to Tracey Childs who was the actress encouraging me to ‘go it alone’!

What piqued your interest in becoming a writer?

I was always interested in writing stories when I was a child. However entertainment journalism became a career goal due to the vast amount of theatre shows that my parents took me to see from a young age, coupled with the fact I was a little telly addict  (and still am), I was hugely inspired by many actors and actresses and the idea of being able to promote them via articles and interviews was appealing.

Who inspired you in your youth when you were first thinking about this career?

Judy Buxton, Tracey Childs, Felicity Dean, Sandra Huggett, Liz Robertson, Carol Royle and Cath Shipton were my real heroes when I was in my youth and all of them remain  my heroes. They’re my magnificent seven!

I was and still am hugely inspired by Robert Daws, Sylvester McCoy, Jeffrey Holland and Derek Thompson.

What is your ambition for the site?

My ambition for this year (2015) was to include interviews with authors as well as actors and other industry-related individuals. The new ‘Spotlight On…’ page has drawn in a few more excellent interviewees from many walks of the arts. Our links with London theatres have opened up this year and I hope to expand on that, which is a huge ambition for the site. I wanted to interview as many of my personal heroes as possible, as well. That is happening and overwhelming me, constantly!

What are you writing in your fictional ‘career’ at the moment?

I’m so busy with this site and working for ‘Union Times’, ‘Theatre and Performance Magazine’, I have let the fictional work take  a lower priority, for now…

What is your advice for budding writers?

Write about what you know, network with other writers and have your work read aloud to see if it works. It should always be an enjoyable experience, not a chore – and try your hand at a number of genres, you might surprise yourself!

Favourite Things (quick-fire questions):

Favourite Actor?

Oh, I love so many actors – I’m going to have to say Jeffrey Holland AND Robert Daws. Both appeared in hit television shows which were a big part of my youth. They’ve both gone on to great things, too!

Favourite Actress?

Nooooo, don’t ask me! Ok, Carol Royle AND Judy Buxton – I’ve loved them both since I was a little girl, seen them on television and in Judy’s case, I’ve seen her on stage many times. (I have a short list of ten favourite actresses, so this was hard!!!).

Favourite Television Programme?

Home Fires

Favourite Play?

This changes so often, this year (2015) my favourite play has been ‘Harvey’.

Favourite Musical?

Rocky Horror Show and Phantom of the Opera. I am hopeless at choosing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spotlight On… Jessica Fellowes

July’s Spotlight On……

*** Jessica Fellowes ***

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Hi Jessica, thank you for talking to ‘Break A Leg Review’, our first question is what inspired you to start writing and what drives you to continue as a writer?

Reading got me started as a writer – I was a ferocious reader as a child – but it wasn’t immediately obvious that I would write for a living and took until my mid-20s to realise that was what I wanted to do! Now I love it because in the modern world there’s a natural pairing with public speaking, which sorts out all my frustrated acting ambitions. So I have this great life in which half my time is spent quietly in the corner at my desk, and half is on the road, meeting people, on a stage, putting on a show!

Tell us about your new book ‘A Year In The Life of Downton Abbey’

It’s a look at how a house like Downton Abbey as well as Downton Abbey itself would have operated across the seasons in 1924. As well as revisiting some past episodes in which seasonal traditions were celebrated – whether Christmas or cricket – we have recipes and tips on how to do similar events yourself. With gorgeous photography throughout.

Did you have any idea that ‘Downton Abbey’ would be such a hit show for your Uncle?

I think if any of us had said that we thought this show would become a cultural reference point around the world, watched by over 330 million people, win hundreds of awards and be Britain’s most successful television export ever, someone would have telephoned for the doctor!

Who is your favourite character in the show and why?

Lady Edith – she always has been my favourite and it’s funny because when I first said this a few years ago, everyone thought I was very odd but now people adore Edith. The question Julian gets asked the most is if he will let her have a happy ending! But my interest in her was really about the fact that she represented a fascinating type of woman in that period – the one who had been brought up expecting a life that the war turned completely inside out. There were many fewer women than men by 1919 (nearly two million) and marriage was simply not on the cards. While this was of course heartbreaking, some women jumped the obstacles to find an arguably more interesting and fulfilling life – they went out and became not just teachers and nurses, now that they had to support themselves, but also scientists, doctors, pilots, business owners… They were the real forerunners of the female equality movement and we owe them a lot. I like that Edith of all the daughters probably wanted the least but has ended up achieving a life that is more varied and exciting than her peers, despite her share of heartbreak.

We hear that Rob-James Collier (Mr Barrow) can be a ‘trickster’ on set, have you ever been on the receiving end of his mischief?

Ha ha, he’s certainly nothing like his character – he’s very funny and mischievous but also very big-hearted. No tricks on me thank goodness but I’ve started to get involved with one of his favourite charities (the Chilterns MS Centre) – he ran the marathon for them this year and made a hilarious film on his phone to help fundraising that involved Brendan Coyle (Bates) stomping around the set in a huge cape.

We’re sure you cannot possibly divulge any of the forthcoming storylines for series six, but what would you personally like to see happen?

Now that I’ve actually read the scripts I’m afraid I can’t answer this question at all! I’m too nervous – it’s more than my life’s worth to even accidentally reveal a spoiler. I can tell you that fans will not be disappointed – it’s as rollicking a ride as all the previous seasons. They’re definitely going out with a bang.

What is your greatest ambition?

To be allowed to keep on doing what I’m doing, I’m having so much fun.

They say never meet your heroes, who are your heroes? Have you met them? Did they disappoint?

The person I would most like to meet is Sir Ken Robinson (see his TED talk on education). Somehow I feel he wouldn’t disappoint but I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Favourite Things (quick-fire questions):

Favourite television programme (apart from ‘Downton Abbey’)

Episodes

Favourite restaurant

The restaurant at Cliveden House.

Favourite time of year

Spring

Favourite Actor or Actress

James Stewart

Favourite quote

‘Man cannot live on bread alone, he needs his bit of crumpet.’

Link to Jessica’s website: https://jessicafellowes.wordpress.com/

 

 

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