‘Au­di­ences didn’t want Down­ton Abbey to end ... I think that’s why talk of the movie is just end­less’

Ac­tress Michelle Dock­ery talks to Gerard Gilbert about tak­ing on some very un-gen­teel roles

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - INTERVIEW -

Af­ter I read it I rang my agent and said ‘I have to play this woman’

It must have come as a shock to fans of Michelle Dock­ery’s Lady Mary Craw­ley in Down­ton Abbey — or per­haps as a sneak­ing sat­is­fac­tion to those who thought the haughty aris­to­crat verg­ing on the in­suf­fer­able — to have wit­nessed the ac­tress’s fol­low-up tele­vi­sion role in the Amer­i­can drama Good Be­hav­ior.

The es­tab­lish­ing shots of Dock­ery’s char­ac­ter, a paroled junkie grifter called Letty Raines, see her flip­ping burg­ers and clean­ing a lava­tory pan in a scuzzy diner and knee­ing a would-be rapist in the groin. It al­most feels like some form of self-abas­ing penance — the type that me­dieval no­bil­ity might prac­tise — for all those years play­ing the im­pe­ri­ous Lady M.

“I wasn’t ac­tively out to do some­thing so vastly dif­fer­ent,” says Dock­ery, back in the UK af­ter a long sum­mer shoot­ing the sec­ond sea­son of Good Be­hav­ior in North Carolina. “I loved Mary, I loved that char­ac­ter so much, so I would be do­ing a dis­ser­vice to go ‘eugh, I want to do some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent’. But then most of the Bri­tish peo­ple watch­ing the show, the last thing they would have seen me in was Down­ton, so there’s no deny­ing that will draw peo­ple to see­ing Lady Mary clean­ing the toi­let.”

In Good Be­hav­ior, con­woman Letty is des­per­ate to be re­united with her young son af­ter a spell in prison, team­ing up with a hit­man called Javier (played by Ar­gen­tinian actor Juan Diego Botto). It was a role that came her way not en­tirely on the mer­its of Down­ton Abbey.

“I did an episode of Wak­ing the Dead a long time ago — I must have been 24 or some­thing — and I played this char­ac­ter Gemma who was a rape vic­tim who then goes out to avenge her at­tack­ers,” says Dock­ery, who is now 35. “She is the clos­est to Letty ac­tu­ally of all the char­ac­ters I’ve played and it was on my showreel, and the pro­duc­ers had seen it. You never know what job is go­ing to lead to the next part in the next 10 years.”

It also helped that Good Be­hav­ior’s writer, for­mer Way­ward Pines showrun­ner Chad Hodge, was “a Down­ton Abbey devo­tee” — but Dock­ery still couldn’t be­lieve her luck in be­ing of­fered the part. “I loved the pi­lot when I read it: this deeply flawed com­plex woman. You’re be­ing con­stantly sur­prised by her life — by the fact that she has a son, that she’s a con artist and a very good one. Af­ter I read it I rang my agent and said ‘I have to play this woman’.”

The new sea­son has a feel to it of The Amer­i­cans, the drama in which Soviet sleeper agents pre­tend to be an or­di­nary sub­ur­ban US fam­ily, as Letty and Javier try to live a nor­mal life with Letty’s son Ja­cob while both be­ing hunted by the FBI. “The first three episodes of the sec­ond sea­son are very funny be­cause you’re see­ing this hit­man and this thief try­ing to be nor­mal and Letty can­not help her­self,” says Dock­ery. “She’ll go to a store and will steal her son’s school clothes rather than pay for them.”

Film­ing took place in Wilm­ing­ton, North Carolina, with 16-hour shoot­ing days as op­posed to the 12 hours on Down­ton Abbey. “Plus you got weeks off on Down­ton when they filmed the ser­vants quar­ters,” says Dock­ery. “But this show, Letty’s in just about ev­ery scene, and you’re like this ham­ster on a wheel.

“Wilm­ing­ton is a won­der­ful place to work though be­cause you have down­town, which is re­ally cool and hip, and then the beach. But even then my week­ends re­ally were filled out with just rest­ing or learn­ing my lines. I’m con­stantly learn­ing lines.”

Dock­ery had a di­alect coach to help with Letty’s “gen­eral Amer­i­can” ac­cent. “It takes a while to get into the move­ment of it,” she says. “With Amer­i­can, you’re us­ing dif­fer­ent mus­cles, with my ac­cent as well. My Es­sex twang is still there and it’s a lit­tle lazy at times, so the Amer­i­can ac­cent is rhotic, you’re pro­nounc­ing all your rs.”

In per­son, the Rom­ford-raised Dock­ery sounds noth­ing like Lady Mary, al­though she says the es­tu­ar­ine ac­cent has soft­ened over the years — ex­cept when she’s had a few drinks. She won’t be need­ing English English for quite a while how­ever as she firmly es­tab­lishes her­self across the At­lantic, most re­cently in New Mex­ico shoot­ing God­less for Net­flix, a lim­ited-se­ries cow­girl drama be­ing dubbed “a fem­i­nist western”.

“That’s what peo­ple are call­ing it,” says Dock­ery. “I’ve cer­tainly never seen a western

be­fore with that many fe­male char­ac­ters. The premise is Frank Griffins, played by Jeff Daniels, and his gang of out­laws are on this mis­sion of re­venge against Roy Good, played by Jack O’Connell, who’s a son-like pro­tege who be­trays him. So while Roy’s on the run he seeks refuge on my char­ac­ter’s ranch, and this re­la­tion­ship de­vel­ops be­tween them, if you want to call it a re­la­tion­ship.”

Her char­ac­ter, Alice, whom Dock­ery de­scribes as a “hard­ened widow and out­cast”, lives in a town gov­erned mainly by women as a re­sult of a min­ing ac­ci­dent; all the men were killed. And in what sounds like a fem­i­nist High Noon, the women must come to­gether to pro­tect them­selves against the out­laws — Dock­ery learn­ing how to han­dle a gun in prepa­ra­tion for her role.

“The first thing we all did when we ar­rived on set was to go to cow­boy camp,” she re­cently told Vogue. “I re­mem­ber when I shot a gun — the adren­a­line was crazy. On Down­ton Abbey we had the shoot­ing par­ties, but the women just stood back and wore a nice out­fit and as­sisted the men.”

“Alice was an­other char­ac­ter I was mad about and I put my­self on tape for it when I was in North Carolina,” she says. “I just loved her. Then I was of­fered it and nearly fell off my chair.”

Dock­ery won’t be able to park her Amer­i­can ac­cent quite yet — she makes her home­com­ing stage ap­pear­ance at Lon­don’s Na­tional The­atre later this au­tumn, in Lee Hall’s adap­ta­tion of Paddy Chayef­sky’s Os­car-win­ning screen­play for the 1976 movie Net­work. Directed by Ivo van Hove, Break­ing Bad’s Bryan Cranston takes the Peter Finch role of the mes­sianic news an­chor Howard Beale, while Dock­ery takes the part played by Faye Du­n­away, that of Beale’s ruth­less pro­ducer Di­ana Chris­tensen.

“We start re­hearsals in a cou­ple of weeks and I’m so ex­cited by the op­por­tu­nity to be back at the Na­tional and work­ing with Bryan Cranston,” she says. “The tim­ing is great be­cause I’ve felt a real urge to be home again, and in the strong­est sense it’s kind of hap­pened be­cause I feel like I’m go­ing back to my roots. The Na­tional was my first job out of drama school (in His Dark Ma­te­ri­als in 2004), so it’s a won­der­ful feel­ing to be back home.”

In­deed it’s easy to for­get that Dock­ery was fore­most a stage ac­tress be­fore Down­ton Abbey whisked her ca­reer off in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. She was twice nom­i­nated for an Ian Charleson Award, in 2006 and 2008, and once for an Olivier Award, for her part in the Rus­sian drama Burnt by the Sun. She was also Ophe­lia to John Simm’s Ham­let at the Sh­effield Cru­cible in 2010, “de­scend­ing mov­ingly into mad­ness”, ac­cord­ing to The In­de­pen­dent’s the­atre critic.

How­ever, Down­ton fans need not de­spair of ever see­ing her again as Lady Mary. Ac­cord­ing to the pres­i­dent of NBC Uni­ver­sal, Michael Edel­stein, a script is be­ing writ­ten for the long-mooted Down­ton Abbey movie and a bud­get has been set. “Yeah, the phan­tom script — no­body knows. We’ ll see,” says Dock­ery. “End­ing Down­ton was very bit­ter­sweet for ev­ery­one, it did feel like some­thing that would go on for­ever and felt like the au­di­ence didn’t want it to end. I think that’s why talk of the movie is just end­less.

“I’m pos­i­tive some­thing will hap­pen at some stage. But it is prov­ing dif­fi­cult to get to­gether a big en­sem­ble cast like ours, so we’ll just have to see. But I’m not bored of Mary.”

Sea­son 2 of Good Be­hav­ior is on Vir­gin TV from Oc­to­ber 16; God­less is on Net­flix from Novem­ber 22; Net­work is at the Na­tional The­atre from Novem­ber 4

VERSATILE: ac­tress Michelle Dock­ery. Be­low from left: as Letty Raines in Good Be­hav­ior and Lady Mary in Down­ton Abbey with Elizabeth McGovern who plays Cora, Count­ess of Gran­tham

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.