The new Downton Abbey film isn’t just a family affair for the Crawleys, the fictional British aristocrats who inhabit the titular stately home.
Joining the cast is Imelda Staunton, who received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination in 2005 for Vera Drake; you may also know here as Dolores Umbridge in a little movie called Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. She is also married in real life to Jim Carter, the stentorian actor who plays the Crawleys’ faithful butler, Mr. Carson.
“The big task is to make sure you don’t disappoint this audience,” she told Town & Country at the film’s premiere at Lincoln Center in New York City on Monday night. “I’m coming in and that’s very nice, but they want to see the people they’ve loved for six or seven years. So I’m happy to be just around the edges of that.”
Staunton plays a lady-in-waiting to Queen Mary, wife of King George V, whose visit to Downton drives the film’s plot. But she came to the project already with some very senior royal fans.
“I was very honored to be given a C.B.E. in 2015 by Prince William,” she said (C.B.E. is shorthand for “Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire,” an honor given to prominent British subjects).
“And he said,”—here she unconsciously mimicked the crisp royal accent—“'Oh, can I just say that my children enjoy The Gruffalo?’ Which is me reading a kids’ story.”
“He and Kate were listening to me in the car, with the kids, singing a funny children’s song. So that’s quite nice.”
Other cast members attending the premiere included Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern (Lord and Lady Grantham), Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith), Jim Carter (Mr. Carson), Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), Kevin Doyle (Molesley), Allen Leech (Branson), Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes), Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore), and Penelope Wilton (Cousin Isobel), as well as the show’s writer and creator, Julian Fellowes.
Max Brown joins the cast as Richard Ellis, valet to the King, who manages to start a romance while visiting Downton. He has also had an unusual real-life royal experience at Buckingham Palace.
“I played regular games of football with Freddie Windsor, who used to live out in L.A.,” he said. (Translation: He played soccer with Lord Frederick Windsor, heir to Prince Michael of Kent, who is the Queen’s first cousin.)
“After we all moved back to London and he said, ‘do you want to come and play football? It’s at the Palace.’ I said, ‘what?’ And he said, ‘just come in the back entrance, and we’ll play on the palace fields.’ So we played football against the palace staff, and I met all the real life versions of my character.”
Were any other members of the royal family on his team? “There weren’t any of the princes, but other toffs were there, and the likes of me,” he said. “The staff were much better than us.”
In what won’t be a spoiler to anyone who’s seen the movie trailer, Brown’s character enjoys a below-stairs smooch with Mr. Barrow, the villainous gay servant who connived his way through six seasons of the show.
“My top tips for loving an evil butler?” Brown said, rhetorically. “I think you need to go deeper than the surface. Or maybe not, in his case.”
Downton Abbey hits theaters in the U.S. this Friday. Get Tickets
Watch the trailer here:
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