A change is coming for Downton Abbey’s Edith says Laura Carmichael
In four seasons of hit period drama Downton Abbey, Laura Carmichael’s character, Lady Edith Crawley, has been variously termed ugly Edith, obnoxious Edith, unlucky-inlove Edith and poor Edith.
English actor Carmichael doesn’t have a problem with that. The fact she can transform from drab Lady Edith to dropdead gorgeous glamazon and elicit reactions ranging from disbelief to total non-recognition amuses her.
And as the long-delayed fifth
season of Downton arrives on Australian screens, she says Lady Edith may transform yet again.
Our interview takes place in Los Angeles, days after the Golden Globes at which Joanne Froggatt has won the best supporting actress gong for her role as lady’s maid Anna Bates on Downton.
Downton Abbey’s luck was in at the Globes, but as season five begins, Lady Edith’s is not. She’s had a tough time since Downton began. She’s lost one man to war, been jilted at the altar, then fell pregnant to a magazine editor who went missing in Germany, and hatched a plan to have the baby in secret.
Every time she seems on the verge of happiness, it goes pearshaped. Surely she’s due for some luck?
“You’d think so,” Carmichael laughingly concedes, revealing
Downton writer Julian Fellowes finds it “hilarious” that he gets letters from fans begging him to please let Edith be happy.
But as season five begins, it’s still looking pretty grim.
Edith has installed her daughter at a neighbouring farm, fighting a battle on two fronts — the irresistible maternal pull clashing with the desperate need to keep her a secret or bring shame on the whole Crawley clan.
It doesn’t help that nobody knows, so you can see the family silently wondering why the heck she’s not over her disappearing lover yet.
“It’s been incredibly difficult for Edith. She is living with a kind of knife above her head … fearing discovery of what in those times was a devastating secret that could severely damage her status and her family,” Carmichael says.
“I think your heart will really go out to Edith.
“The struggle to keep that secret clearly takes a heavy toll.”
“Poor Edith” is still omnipresent, yet Carmichael never tires of her.
“It’s so interesting to have a character that so many things have happened to,” she says.
“She has grown through it, and she picks herself up and she gets on with things. As an actor it’s a delight to play.”
The bulk of fans when they first met Edith disliked her. Over time, Carmichael has enjoyed seeing them come over to her side, to the point they wish for her happiness.
“It’s been a lovely thing as you start to understand why she went there, what happened to her to make her like that,” Carmichael says.
And she despairs of Edith’s situation in which social convention means she can’t be with her daughter.
“As a modern woman it seems a cruel thing,” she says.
“But it was interesting to think about how it affected Edith. In her world there’s no bigger disaster in their world than to be caught out in this way and it really would have affected every single character in the show.
“It would affect the hall boys, the foot men … because they would be working at that house, where that lady is.
“And I think that’s the thing it’s so hard to get your head around. There are moments when you see them (Edith and her daughter) together where you realise she has been undeniably blessed, whatever the situation.”
Carmichael gives an ironic laugh. “Often that’s followed by her being pulled away, but hey …” she says.
There may not be many laughs for Edith but for Carmichael, a sceptical sense of humour means she can revel in her many masks on and off camera.
There is no chance of confusing Carmichael with her character — they look totally different, and while she loves the period costumes, off-screen, “if anything feels Downton I won’t wear it”.
She finds the fact she can go unrecognised “interesting”.
“It’s funny when people really genuinely don’t know who you are,” she says.
“I think it’s the hair thing, really. I’m normally just a messy blonde, rather than this person with perfectly coiffed hair,” she says.
She’s also amused by the reactions fans have to the actors who play the aristocrats as opposed to those who reside “downstairs” at Downton.
“Jim (Carter, who plays butler Mr Carson) and Michelle (Dockery, who plays Lady Mary) are the two most instantly recognisable offset,” she says. “Fans are really chummy with Jim, while with Michelle it’s like a real princess is in the room.
“I get invited to things like horse riding and croquet. And I don’t know how to ride horses — except for acting.
“It’s quite funny because that’s not my normal mode of transport.
“In real life I’d be more comfortable downstairs, I think. Downstairs they know what’s going on. Upstairs is unaware that they are all talking about them downstairs.”
“In real life I’d be more comfortable downstairs, I think” LAURA CARMICHAEL ON BEING UPSTAIRS
has no problem transforming into Lady Edity Crawley in Downton Abbey.