We interview Downton Abbey stars Phyllis Logan and Jim Carter about their reaction to hearing about the film and their characters’ dynamic.
The Downton Abbey film was not only a welcome return to beloved characters, it was also a financial success. But while fans wait to find out if a sequel will arrive sooner rather than later, they can watch the Blu-ray or DVD and enjoy the comforts of semi-retirement along with Carson. Actor Jim Carter and Phyllis Logan, who plays his wife Mrs. Hughes, sat down with Screen Rant to chat about how the couple handled Carson’s return to work and the chemistry they’ve build up over the years on the show.
Pleasure to meet you guys, first and foremost, it’s an honor. And I want to thank you guys, mainly for the Blu-ray extras. You guys do a recap of all the seasons of Downton Abbey, which I think is brilliant. I don’t know if you guys knew that was on there. Unlike my colleagues, I actually saw the movie before I saw the show. And the movie stands up brilliantly; it’s a well told story where you see everybody’s motivations.
First question I have is: when you knew that the series was going to become a film, what was your initial reaction?
Jim Carter: I think we were delighted, because there was a delay. I mean, it had been in the air as we were coming towards the end of the TV series, but only in general terms. And we’re both experienced enough not to believe any rumors until there’s a script. Show me a script, then we can talk.
Phyllis Logan: Or until you’re on the set on the first day of filming.
Jim Carter: So, it took a long time to materialize, really. And then when we got the script, with this visit [from] the royal family, that’s good because it keeps us in the house. It keeps it about that, which is what the fans love. They love us being in Downton Abbey; the regular characters all being involved.
Phyllis Logan: And they are all involved.
Jim Carter: Yeah, it seemed to be a very clever way of doing that. Personally, I was delighted that Mr. Carson came out of retirement. I should be rather upset that there’s a film and I’m not in it.
I think it sort of ticked all those boxes. And it’s great to hear you say, Joe, that you could see the film not having seen the series. And it worked for you.
Now I want to go back and see every key moment because I got so invested in all the characters. It was brilliant. Now, the question is how has married life been treating the Carsons?
Jim Carter: I mean, we both have a different answer to this.
Phyllis Logan: I think, really, Mrs. Hughes or Mrs. Carson is quite happy with the arrangement as it is, at the moment. Although they did get on well at work together, I think she wishes that he’d find something more to do with his time rather than just growing vegetables.
Jim Carter: Mr. Carson, I mean he’s got no skills at all. I mean, he can open a bottle of wine and set a table. But he’d be hopeless; he’d be a bear with a sore head in retirement.
Phyllis Logan: I think he was.
Jim Carter: Because you’ve taken away his lifeblood, working. So, I think probably like a lot of men, absolutely hopeless. I bet you were delighted to go to work and leave me at home in my cavern.
Phyllis Logan: There is that, but also it was lovely for him to be asked back.
Jim Carter: Yeah. And although you sort of say, “Oh, Lady Mary trusts around you [them],” I think you knew it was good for me.
Phyllis Logan: I’m pleased, yeah.
Jim, I saw the movie twice, and the second time I watched it very specifically for your character. Mainly because I noticed, and I don’t know if this was a conscious decision, that your character Mr. Carson doesn’t really pick up or pour anything. Is that due to his medical condition? Was that a conscious decision that you made?
Jim Carter: No, I think it was a decision made probably in the script that the the medical condition had disappeared. I think there was a potential… It would have been quite interesting if it had come back just as he was about to pour a drink for the king. “Will he…? Oh, he makes it!”
But we never we sort of sidelined it for the film, really. Retirement had cured me. But very perceptive of you to think I was deliberately avoiding.
Phyllis Logan: All that gardening sorted you out.
Jim Carter: It was a great choice. Thank you, I’ll use that.
Do you think that, now that they’re married, that their work has affected their relationship at all when going back to Downton Abbey?
Phyllis Logan: I don’t think so. I thought it was nice this time, when you were all a bit sort of –
Jim Carter: “Can I do it?” And you bolstered my confidence.
Phyllis Logan: “You were born to do this. Now go ahead and serve your king.”
Jim Carter: I think it’s a lovely relationship because, in reality, the butler and the housekeeper would never have married. They were single people. So, for us to get together – the two lonely people getting together like this. Who else could they get together with? Carson couldn’t get together with an aristocrat or a housemaid? You couldn’t get together with an under-butler or –
Phyllis Logan: Oh, my. Why not?
Jim Carter: That’s a story for the next film. So, that two lonely people should come together – because we worked and we’re a good team together – that comes over. Professionally, we’re a good team.
You guys have great chemistry, and you’ve built that up over the years. Talk to me about the key element of having great chemistry on camera.
Jim Carter: Well, in regards to the script, the great thing for me is Carson is such a figurehead of rectitude and old-fashioned values and routine. Then the moments with Mrs. Hughes is when you see behind the facade, you see the person behind the facade. And those are the moments as an actor that I fell on.
I think we both love doing those scenes together, where it’s just the two of us late at night. Everyone’s in bed; we have a little sherry together. They were great moments that you relish. And I think we admire each other. I admire Phyllis professionally, and she was a treat.
We do so many group scenes that when we get a quiet scene, you fall on them. And when your partner is batting the ball back so well, it’s a joy to do.
Phyllis Logan: When you get on with somebody, it’s obvious, really. If we couldn’t stand the sight of one another, I don’t know if it could work quite so well.
Jim Carter: I don’t think the relationship would have evolved in the same way in the writing. Because it evolved in the writing as Julian Fellowes saw the chemistry between us, I think.