This is­sue’s cover star Michelle Dock­ery tames a rear­ing steed, tends a snowy owl and trains a team of Samoyeds, all in the sea­son’s sleek­est cou­ture

Since her rise to international star­dom as the aris­to­cratic hero­ine of Down­ton Abbey, Michelle Dock­ery has trans­formed her­self, yet again, with chal­leng­ing roles on stage and screen. As she re­turns to the Na­tional Theatre, she talks to So­phie Elmhirst about the legacy of Lady Mary, and what lies ahead…

All prices through­out on re­quest, ex­cept where stated. This page: Michelle Dock­ery wears satin and vel­vet dress, Elie Saab Haute Cou­ture. White gold and di­a­mond ring (right hand), £10,740; white gold, ruby and di­a­mond ring, both Wil­liam & Son. Op­po­site: crys­tal-em­bel­lished gown; match­ing cape, both Zaeem Ja­mal

Taf­feta dress, Valentino Haute Cou­ture. White gold and di­a­mond tiara, Boo­dles

Ev­ery day, on her way to re­hearsals at the Na­tional Theatre, Michelle Dock­ery boards a bus near her home in north Lon­don. Dock­ery likes the bus. It’s bet­ter for peo­ple­watch­ing, and more re­laxed than the Tube. She’s never both­ered by any­one, rarely even recog­nised. ‘I don’t think any­one cares,’ she says, as we trun­dle across the city af­ter the photo-shoot for this ar­ti­cle. ‘I don’t think they ex­pect to see Lady Mary on a bus.’

Dock­ery has just spent the day pos­ing with a menagerie of crea­tures – white dogs, an owl and a ma­jes­tic white horse with whom she’d acted be­fore (she re­mem­bered him first). Now, she’s back in her jeans and boots, clutch­ing a sil­ver-foil-wrapped par­cel of cake as if it con­tained the se­cret to ex­is­tence. Dock­ery’s a lit­tle tired and needs a sugar hit, but wired, too, af­ter eight hours of per­form­ing for the cam­era in the fairy-tale ec­cen­tric­ity of Straw­berry Hill House in Twick­en­ham. Ear­lier, dressed in a floor-length gown and stand­ing by a win­dow in the neogothic li­brary, she had looked rather like Lady Mary again – the se­vere, vul­ner­a­ble, en­rag­ing and yet oddly lov­able char­ac­ter, if any­one needs re­mind­ing, that she por­trayed for six sea­sons in the tele­vi­sion jug­ger­naut Down­ton Abbey. Does she miss her? ‘I do, I do,’ says Dock­ery. ‘I loved play­ing her. I have gen­uine love for Mary.’

If you in­habit a char­ac­ter for that long, they be­come part of your life, part of your­self. As do the peo­ple you’re act­ing along­side. ‘Laura [Carmichael], Allen [Leech] – they’re still re­ally good friends… We’ve all moved on to do other things, but we’ll be part of each oth­ers’ lives for ever.’ Jim Carter, who played the but­ler Car­son, has taken to or­gan­is­ing an an­nual re­union for the Down­ton cast to catch up and keep in touch, like school-leavers who don’t quite want to let go. Dock­ery says that now it’s over, she finds her­self re­flect­ing on the show more and more. ‘Just tak­ing a step back and see­ing the enor­mity of it,’ she says. ‘When you’re film­ing, ev­ery­thing else around it – the suc­cess of the show, the trav­el­ling, the red carpets, the press and all of that – it all sort of hap­pens very, very fast and you’re caught up in it… We’ve all had an op­por­tu­nity to take a step back and see it as a spec­ta­tor – be­cause it’s still talked about in cul­ture.’ It cer­tainly is. Mostly, the dis­cus­sion re­volves around if and when there will be a movie. ‘I just don’t think the an­tic­i­pa­tion for the film is go­ing to go away un­til we do it,’ ad­mits Dock­ery. ‘So it’s re­ally just a ques­tion of time, and get­ting to­gether so many ac­tors. It’s tricky. I’m re­ally hope­ful that some­thing will hap­pen but maybe it’s not meant to be. We’ll see.’

Pin­ning down Dock­ery will prob­a­bly be the hard­est part. She’s now in pos­ses­sion of one of those fe­ro­cious transat­lantic sched­ules that means she’s con­stantly ei­ther film­ing or pro­mot­ing, or do­ing both at once, and there­fore liv­ing part-time on a plane. Her projects are mul­ti­ple and rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent, from each other and, most of all, from Down­ton. Dock­ery is in the midst of a rein­ven­tion, a dra­matic dis­card­ing of all those pearls and long dresses, all those months and years spent sit­ting del­i­cately on the edge of a sofa. As Diana in Lee Hall’s adap­ta­tion of Net­work at the Na­tional, she gets to play a hard-bit­ten, morally ques­tion­able TV ex­ec­u­tive op­po­site Bryan Cranston’s Howard Beale. As Letty Raines, the lead in the Amer­i­can series Good Be­hav­ior, she is a reck­less con-artist. And in God­less, a new seven-part Net­flix Western, she charges around with a gun. Lady Mary would be shocked, and prob­a­bly jeal­ous.

Per­haps naively, Dock­ery thought she might have a rest when Down­ton was over. But, she ad­mits, she’s not very good


This page: em­broi­dered silk dress, Ulyana Sergeenko Cou­ture. White gold and di­a­mond ear­rings, £7,500, Wil­liam & Son. Op­po­site: crys­tal-em­bel­lished gown; match­ing cape, both Zaeem Ja­mal

Bro­cade and pearl dress, £3,995, Emilia Wick­stead. Di­a­mond and pearl ring, £2,800, An­noushka. Leather dog leads, £30 each, Tag­if­fany

at hol­i­days. ‘I’m off for a week and then I want to work again,’ she says. Letty landed on her plate be­fore they’d even fin­ished film­ing the last sea­son – the show’s pro­duc­ers of­fered it to her straight up, hav­ing seen her play a sim­i­lar char­ac­ter years ago in the BBC show Wak­ing the Dead. ‘Im­me­di­ately you won­der, do they re­ally think I can do it?’ says Dock­ery. ‘Shall I con­vince them that I can do an Amer­i­can ac­cent be­fore they make their minds up?’ She’s not the kind of ac­tor who plots her next move, or strate­gises about the kinds of parts she should be aim­ing for. ‘I think there’s an as­sump­tion that we’d get type­cast af­ter Down­ton, but it seems to be the op­po­site.’ Letty is a step far out­side that role. She’s of­ten high, has fran­tic sex and is con­stantly chang­ing ap­pear­ance, ac­cent and per­son­al­ity as she hood­winks her vic­tims. She’s also try­ing to make good. ‘It’s the thing that makes her ex­tra­or­di­nary, all of her flaws and ad­dic­tions,’ says Dock­ery, who rel­ishes ev­ery ex­trem­ity. ‘I do like to push my­self. Some­times a bit too far.’

Dock­ery has al­ways liked to jump in deep. As a child, grow­ing up with her two sis­ters and par­ents in Es­sex, she used to im­merse her­self in dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters. ‘When I first saw [Baz Luhrmann’s] Romeo + Juliet my Mum said I spent a week try­ing to look like Claire Danes,’ she re­calls. Long white dresses, hair pulled back in that half pony­tail, an ex­pres­sion of im­pend­ing doom on her face – Dock­ery copied it all. She was al­ways pre­tend­ing to be some­one else, try­ing on dif­fer­ent guises for the hell of it. ‘I used to lie,’ she says now, smil­ing at her an­tics. ‘We’d be at a party with my Mum and Dad’s friends and I would in­tro­duce my­self to other kids and say, “Hello, I’m El­iz­a­beth.”’

Dock­ery came of age in the Nineties, and duly wore her share of ‘Doc Martens, long skirts, Ala­nis Moris­sette hair’. She’d go to Cam­den Mar­ket on a Satur­day, wan­der around try­ing to look cool and then go home again, plugged in the whole time to her Walk­man lis­ten­ing to songs she’d recorded from the ra­dio. It all seems ab­surdly re­mote, a hazy and in­no­cent pre-in­ter­net age. As does the idea of Dock­ery in her reg­u­lar Es­sex haunt, a club called Hol­ly­wood, which she went to re­li­giously ev­ery Mon­day for its grunge and heavy-metal night. Grunge and heavy metal? Dock­ery nods. ‘Slip­knot. And Green Day,’ she re­mem­bers fondly. ‘Peo­ple would mosh and stuff. I still like Me­tal­lica!’

Music plays a huge role in her life. For ev­ery part she un­der­takes, Dock­ery puts to­gether a playlist of songs that help her get into char­ac­ter. One of Letty’s theme tunes is ‘Drink to Get Drunk’ by San­der van Doorn (‘That’s just Letty’). God­less led her to blue­grass and coun­try; and for Diana in Net­work she lis­tens to a bit of Dolly Par­ton and James Brown (also ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll’ by Ian Dury & the Block­heads). She’s writ­ing her own stuff too – songs she’s been work­ing on for years, which might even make their way out into the world one day, though she’s coy about the de­tails of this new ven­ture. But you can tell she’s ex­cited from the grin on her face. ‘What I’d like to do is start gig­ging again,’ she says. ‘A few years ago I started do­ing some gigs and some jazz, but now I’m broad­en­ing

This page: or­ganza dress, £7,300, Al­berta Fer­retti Limited Edi­tion. Pearl and di­a­mond ear­rings, David Morris. Plat­inum and di­a­mond ring, £13,200, Boo­dles. Op­po­site: vel­vet and tulle gown; match­ing cape, both Elie Saab Haute Cou­ture. Leather boots, £800, Stu­art Weitz­man

Satin gown, Gaultier Paris. Plat­inum, white gold and di­a­mond tiara, Chaumet. See Stock­ists for de­tails. Hair by Earl Simms at Caren, us­ing Hair by Sam Mcknight. Make-up by Sharon Dowsett at CLM Hair and Make-up, us­ing Chanel. Man­i­cure by Ami Streets at LMC World­wide, us­ing Dior. Set de­sign by Matthew Duguid. Flower de­sign by Worm Lon­don. Stylist’s as­sis­tant: Rosie Arkell-palmer. Layla, Kyia, Kika and Anja the Samoyed dogs, and Dex­ter the owl cour­tesy of An­i­mals Work. Caspian the horse cour­tesy of AB Film Horses. Pho­tographed on lo­ca­tion at Straw­berry Hill House, Twick­en­ham (www. straw­ber­ry­hill house.org)

it a lit­tle bit. I don’t want to con­fine my­self to one mu­si­cal genre.’ She pauses, then dead­pans. ‘It’s hard-core rap.’ Cack­les. ‘That would be funny wouldn’t it? Lady Mary, rap­ping.’

Dock­ery is pro­tec­tive of her pri­vate life too – there are places, un­der­stand­ably, where we can’t go in our con­ver­sa­tion. Two years ago, her fi­ancé John Di­neen died of cancer. She never dis­cusses the loss, and there’s a sense in the af­ter­math of such a tragic event that she has thrown her­self ever more into her work, barely stop­ping be­tween jobs. ‘It’s like a re­laxed state, I feel my most com­fort­able when I’m act­ing,’ she says. She likes the ad­ven­ture of it, the con­stant shift of en­vi­ron­ment. In be­tween film­ing Good Be­hav­ior in North Carolina and God­less in New Mex­ico she trav­elled around Ari­zona and Colorado. ‘As much as I love Lon­don, I’m not a home bird,’ she says. ‘I do like mov­ing around. I en­joy meet­ing a new gang of peo­ple. That’s an­other thing that’s great about act­ing – you have these new fam­i­lies. And there are some peo­ple that you keep. From ev­ery job I’ve done there’s some­one I’ve be­come re­ally close to.’ But then comes the poignant part, when the film­ing is over. ‘What you get very good at is say­ing good­bye,’ she says mat­ter-of-factly. ‘In the be­gin­ning when I was younger I was prob­a­bly a bit more sen­ti­men­tal about hav­ing to move on but you get used to it.’

As she’s gained ex­pe­ri­ence – Dock­ery is now 35 – she’s also be­come san­guine about the un­pre­dictabil­ity of the pro­fes­sion. She still fully an­tic­i­pates a time when she’ll be out of work, and is quick to ex­press her grat­i­tude for the fact this hasn’t hap­pened yet. Her suc­cess is hard-won, role fol­low­ing role when she started out, the break of Down­ton not hap­pen­ing un­til she was in her late twen­ties. ‘In your twen­ties as a young ac­tress, you have this sort of im­pa­tience,’ she says. ‘When’s it my turn? Look­ing back, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Had I come out of drama school and had a mas­sive movie ca­reer im­me­di­ately, I’m not sure I’d have dealt with it that well… You have to get used to that not know­ing.’

Act­ing has been her life, but it’s not nec­es­sar­ily all she wants to do in the fu­ture. There’s music, but she’d also like to try her hand at di­rect­ing. ‘I think it comes down to be­ing on a set ev­ery day for seven months for these few years,’ she ex­plains. ‘I’ve re­ally started to learn a lot about pro­duc­tion… I’d also en­joy not be­ing on cam­era.’ Re­ally? Dock­ery al­ways creates the im­pres­sion of per­for­mance be­ing hard­wired into her sys­tem, a born showwoman. In con­ver­sa­tion she flips from ac­cent to ac­cent, song to joke. ‘Yeah,’ she says. ‘I think I’d en­joy that process, be­ing on the other side. I’ve loved watch­ing moments in Down­ton or Good Be­hav­ior when a di­rec­tor brings some­thing out of an­other ac­tor. The feel­ing of work­ing out the tone of the scene, and then get­ting to this place where you didn’t ex­pect the per­for­mance to come out in this way. I’d re­ally en­joy it.’

From what she de­scribes about her life off-screen, she’s cer­tainly got a knack for mar­shalling peo­ple into ac­tion. While mak­ing God­less, Dock­ery and her fel­low ac­tresses reg­u­larly colonised a bar in Santa Fe, got to know the man­ager who – ev­i­dently charmed – kept the place open for them on the week­ends. ‘And I would take over the Djing,’ she says, laugh­ing. This is stan­dard Dock­ery prac­tice. ‘My idea of the best night out is just danc­ing,’ she says. She’s deeply se­ri­ous about it, too. ‘Have a quick din­ner and then dance for four hours. I get re­ally im­pa­tient. If I’m on a night out and we don’t dance I get re­ally dis­ap­pointed.’ Even if they make it to the club, she’s un­stop­pable. ‘I can some­times get ir­ri­tated by DJS who aren’t play­ing a good set. I just want to get up there! I was at some­thing re­cently and I was bug­ging the DJ and say­ing, “Play Bey­oncé!” I think he got an­noyed with me in the end. He was like, “Just let me do my job!”’

For now, Dock­ery has her own job to get on with it – or mul­ti­ple jobs, as she takes to stage and screen si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Be­ing back in Lon­don, back on the bus and back at the Na­tional feels like a re­turn home. She was last there in 2009 in a pro­duc­tion of Burnt by the Sun – but she still knows her way around back­stage, the names and faces of peo­ple work­ing be­hind the scenes. Is she anx­ious about the ex­po­sure of the theatre af­ter the more pro­tected en­vi­ron­ment of tele­vi­sion? ‘It’s the same for me,’ she says. ‘Be­fore you do it you have these nerves about how it’s go­ing to be.’ For some­one who’s been act­ing for so long, and is now in de­mand all over the place, she still lacks a de­gree of self-as­sur­ance. A part comes along and her agents tell her it’s perfect for her. ‘And I say, is it? I don’t know! Some­times I feel peo­ple on the out­side are a step ahead.’ Ei­ther way, Dock­ery’s not about to slow down. ‘It’s my lifeblood,’ she says. ‘l’ll think, “Af­ter this part I’m go­ing to have a month off.” It takes me a week, and I’m like, “What’s next?”’ ‘Net­work’ is at the Lyt­tel­ton Theatre, Na­tional Theatre (www. na­tion­althe­atre.org.uk) un­til 24 March 2018. ‘God­less’ will air on Net­flix from 22 Novem­ber.


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