Be­hind The Scenes At Down­ton Abbey

Ac­tor, Rob James-col­lier, re­veals all about the beloved show’s fi­nal sea­son.

No. 1 Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - With thanks to Bill Gibb at the Sun­day Post

As Down­ton Abbey ap­proaches it’s fi­nal few episodes ac­tor, Rob James-col­lier, talks about the tri­als and tribu­la­tions faced by his long suf­fer­ing char­ac­ter, Thomas Bar­row.

Would you say there are any sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween you and your char­ac­ter?

I don’t think I am like him at all, I look like him and I’m the same height, that’s where it ends.

What is this se­ries all about for Thomas?

This se­ries is about Thomas find­ing out who he is for good or bad, un­lock­ing the real him which you may or may not like.

What was your re­ac­tion when you found out what your sto­ry­line was go­ing to be?

My re­ac­tion was, ‘Oh nice one, I’ve got some scenes that re­quire act­ing.’ It’s a bit of a chal­lenge. When there is some emo­tional stuff, it’s great as an ac­tor to play that.

Your char­ac­ter very much varies in pop­u­lar­ity with the view­ers...

Ju­lian (Fel­lowes, Down­ton creator) said to me af­ter the read through, “I hope you’re ready to play the tragic hero.” But he does say that at the end of most sen­tences. So we see Thomas, he’s never truly been happy with him­self and Down­ton Abbey and that’s why he’s so con­flicted and nasty, he’s not happy with him­self. He’s never re­solved that and that’s what it’s all about this year – can he re­solve that? And if he can’t, what will hap­pen to him?

Does Thomas have a happy ever af­ter?

There isn’t un­for­tu­nately, he’s too in­volved and pre­oc­cu­pied with him­self. He was nearly ex­posed a few times, now it’s once bit­ten, twice shy. You are go­ing to see Thomas right at the brink, lots of pathos there and hope­fully it’ll be quite pow­er­ful stuff, or as pow­er­ful as Down­ton can get. This se­ries, he deals with that tragic jour­ney. He’s been worn down by years and years of so­ci­ety say­ing you can’t be who you are. He’s at the end of his tether.

How do you act those dif­fi­cult scenes?

You nor­mally try to use a past ex­pe­ri­ence, but be­cause we’re worlds apart, I’ve spo­ken to gay friends about how would you feel, and then I tried to put it in Ed­war­dian con­text, but I had to sub­sti­tute and make up my own story in the end. If I can play those scenes – they are chal­leng­ing to play – then the au­di­ence has to warm to it. It gives you the key to who he’s been for six years, peo­ple will say, ‘I get it now, that’s why he’s nasty’. And you’d hope, if we ever do one of th­ese again, which we prob­a­bly won’t, it’ll be the de­fin­i­tive an­swer to ex­plain why he is who he is. It’ll be un­locked at the end of this se­ries for good or bad.

Is it hard to shake off those emo­tional scenes?

Not hard to shake off, but get­ting into the zone be­fore it, that’s the hard bit. Ev­ery­one is quiet but it’s a busy set and you know in any sec­ond it’ll be on you to de­liver that level of emo­tion in that scene and there’s a pres­sure that comes with that, that’s where the hard work is, try­ing not to peak too soon. Af­ter­wards you just switch off and leave it. When I was younger, I’d beat my­self up and say, “couldn’t I have done this or that?” now I just do my best and leave it. It’s ‘See you later, let’s go home, have some tea and a bis­cuit and watch the Great Bri­tish Bake Off’.

What has been your favourite scenes?

Thomas hav­ing his hand shot off was quite a pow­er­ful one, then when he trashed the shed in se­ries two. They are dif­fer­ent types of scenes, one phys­i­cal, one more emo­tional.

Do you ever sneak fam­ily and friends into cameo roles?

A lot of the crew have been there for a long time, so they are in some scenes.

What has been your Down­ton high­light?

Danc­ing with Dame Mag­gie Smith. She’s an icon, so to take her out to waltz and stand on her foot (not on pur­pose) was an epic mo­ment. I would love to go out with Mag­gie, but I never have, we hang around be­tween takes though. She’s Mag­gie, she’s not Dame Mag­gie. She al­ways says, and I love this about her, she started in act­ing as Mag­gie and she’ll end it as Mag­gie. Some­times we play bananagrams, tell anec­dotes, but she raises the anec­dote bar way up. The lady has anec­dotes about Mont­gomery Cliff, proper stars. I can’t com­pete with that!

Would you like to see a Down­ton Abbey movie?

I’d be in­volved in a Down­ton movie.

Would you like to see Mrs O’brien make a come back?

She’d be great, but I’m sure she’s gone to New York and opened the first gay bar!

“I’d love to go out with Dame Mag­gie, but we never have. We hang around be­tween takes and play bananagrams”

Rob’s char­ac­ter, Thomas, was dubbed a tragic hero by Down­ton creator, Ju­lian Fel­lowes.

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