Her true self

Phyl­lis Lo­gan is noth­ing like her down­tonabbey char­ac­ter, Mrs Hughes.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TV - By Luaine Lee

De­spite 36 years in show busi­ness, it seems that ac­tress phyl­lis Lo­gan has never quite es­caped do­mes­tic ser­vice. Her first pay­ing role was that of a maid, for which she earned £37.

Here she is again, as the starchy Mrs Hughes in ser­vice at Down­ton Abbey, which re­turns for its new sea­son on DiVA Uni­ver­sal tonight.

When Lo­gan first read the part, she thought she’d have to as­sume a strange english ac­cent. Af­ter all, as Mrs Hughes is the se­nior house­keeper of the es­tate, and all the “down­stairs” peo­ple come from the blue col­lar area of north­ern eng­land.

But Lo­gan is a scot with a thick scot­tish brogue, rolling her R’s and stretch­ing out her vow­els. And a rev­o­lu­tion­ary thought oc­curred to her: Why not make Mrs Hughes a scot?

“so i read the part and looked at the scenes and i thought, ‘ Oh, this would also work quite well as a scot­tish char­ac­ter,” she says, look­ing noth­ing like Mrs Hughes in gray chif­fon with se­quins and ex­tin­guish­ing an elec­tronic cig­a­rette.

“so when i was there i went in and spoke to (the pro­ducer) and he said, ‘ Oh, you’ve got such a nice ac­cent, maybe we should try Mrs Hughes as scot­tish.’ i said, ‘ Well, fun­nily enough that you should say that, i was go­ing through and think­ing that the syn­tax of what she said, the type of per­son she was – i thought this could re­ally work as a scot­tish woman.’ they were de­lighted and said, ‘Yes, that’s fine.’”

While she may be deft with serv­ing trays and choos­ing the proper linen, her first meaty role was that of a lady of eng­land’s aris­toc­racy in the de­tec­tive se­ries, Love­joy with ian Mcshane. that fol­lowed with roles in al­most ev­ery pop­u­lar Bri­tish crime se­ries there is, in­clud­ing Wal­lan­der, Mike Leigh’s Se­crets & Lies and, of course, Down­ton Abbey.

though she par­tic­i­pated in school plays and joined the film club as a teen, the idea of act­ing for a liv­ing never oc­curred to her un­til a friend sug­gested she try out for drama school.

“Be­cause i came from a small town out­side Glas­gow no­body from my school had ever gone into the act­ing pro­fes­sion. it was just some­thing you didn’t do,” she shrugs.

“You joined the bank or be­came a teacher or what­ever you did. i sug­gested it to my ca­reers ad­viser who said, ‘No’ – ba­si­cally, ‘Why would you want to do that, you’ll never get the grades?’ He was talk­ing about be­ing a drama teacher and that’s not what i was talk­ing about.”

she ig­nored him, sent for a prospec­tus to drama school in Glas­gow and au­di­tioned her way in. Her par­ents thought she was a bit loony, she says.

“Not so my mum, but i think my dad just thought, ‘that’s not a job.’ sadly my fa­ther died be­fore i grad­u­ated so he didn’t see any of the suc­cess, at all. And my mum, bless her, who just died two years ago, she was very happy. i think she was proud of me.”

Lo­gan’s scot­tish ac­cent first in­truded when she was study­ing drama. “We were al­ways told we had to get rid of our scot­tish ac­cent. You need to start off with what they call Rp – Re­ceived pro­nun­ci­a­tion, that’s what they do on the BBC ... i didn’t re­ally buy that idea at all. so when i first did Love­joy and was play­ing a very up­per-class lady, i went to the in­ter­view and spoke like that and they gave me the part and i thought, ‘When am i go­ing to break it to them that tHis is how i sound?’

ex­cept for a very brief stint work­ing for tips as a hat-check girl, Lo­gan has never had another job, nor has she ever wanted to quit act­ing. “it’s true as a woman par­tic­u­larly, the older you get the parts get thin­ner on the ground and not quite as in­ter­est­ing, that’s for sure,” she sighs.

“peo­ple are try­ing and i think maybe the in­dus­try is wak­ing up to the fact that women can be funny in come­dies and can be in hit films.”

the death of her fa­ther when she was 20 af­fected her pro­foundly early in her ca­reer, she says.

“He was only 59 and i hadn’t even grad­u­ated, and my sis­ter had only just left univer­sity. My brother was out in the world. But it was a ter­ri­ble time, ac­tu­ally. i of­ten think, i won­der what would’ve hap­pened if my dad had sur­vived. it’s a bit like Slid­ing Doors, you don’t know how much your path would’ve shifted. i just don’t know. But i of­ten won­der if there would’ve been a dif­fer­ent shift. it af­fected us all, and my mother was wid­owed longer than she was mar­ried.”

Wed to ac­tor Kevin McNally ( The Pi­rates Of The Caribbean se­ries), Lo­gan says she never in­tended to marry an ac­tor, and they took their time about it.

“i’m the first to say i would never have had one in the house,” she says. “But you can’t leg­is­late love. We’ve been to­gether for 20 years. We met on a job, some tele­vi­sion thing years ago. But we didn’t re­ally get to­gether on the job, at all. We’d known each other, but i thought he was a bit of an ar­ro­gant twit, but there’s so much more to him,” she smiles.

they have a 17-year-old son, David. Moth­er­hood at 40 changed her, she says. “When some­body’s call­ing you mommy it’s a won­der­ful thing. But also to have that re­spon­si­bil­ity and to know that you and your part­ner have this lit­tle thing that’s to­tally re­ly­ing on you – and it made me, i sup­pose, less self­ish. Not that i was mega-self­ish to start with, but it’s lovely hav­ing that re­spon­si­bil­ity. it’s scary, but it’s great when you get used to the idea of hav­ing that re­spon­si­bil­ity and hav­ing that child that you have unadul­ter­ated love for and will do through­out their lives.” — McClatchy-tri­bune in­for­ma­tion ser­vices

Sea­son 4 of Down­ton Abbey pre­mieres on Feb 6 on DIVA Uni­ver­sal (Astro Ch702) at 8pm.

Proud to be Scot: Phyl­lis Lo­gan plays house­keeper Mrs Hughes in down­tonabbey which is re­turn­ing for a new sea­son on Feb 6. — MCT

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