Julian Fellowes on Mary, Maggie Smith

The future looks hopeful for Downton Abbey.

After six seasons on television and one theatrical release (2019 Downton Abbey focuses on a royal visit to the mansion), the extended Grantham family above and below the stairs are now forced to move in time, as they were in 1928, for the current film sequel. in theaters, Downton Abbey: A New Era.

This happened in part through the arrival of a film crew, using their stately home as the setting for a silent film, only to discover that their mid-production had to incorporate acoustics. bar to compete with the new popularity of “talking machines”. Meanwhile, the Countess Dowager, whose fate is questioned at the end of the previous film, inherits a villa on the French Riviera from a mysterious old acquaintance, leading to her emotional trip abroad. some of her family.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Downton Writer and creator Julian Fellowes discussed the setting behind the creation of the second film in the series and where the future might bring these beloved characters back to film or television.

In the undisclosed chat below, Fellowes explains his long-standing decision behind Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary casting at center and Michelle Dockery’s centerpiece as the next matriarch. follower of the house, who will one day take over from Dame Maggie Smith’s formidable Countess Grantham. There is also the intriguing question of whether the American aristocracy has recently discovered in HBO’s Gilded Age (The Fellowes’ most recent period TV show) can be seen standing shoulder to shoulder with their British contemporaries at Downton?

Will this story always be a movie, or do you have any notions that perhaps there could be a return for a TV series or longer novel?

No, this is always a movie. It didn’t last until we knew there was going to be a second movie, because that didn’t happen right away. But the first film was very successful. And so the idea of ​​a second movie arose, and then we just explored the elements where we could get into it. Gareth [Neame, producer] I want to get at least some characters out of their comfort zone and I want a real invasion of the 20th century, not just a disagreement or someone with a different point of view, but a disruption. really from the 20th century. And Gareth was telling me about his grandfather going through an experience. It was exactly like this in 1928 when he was in a Hitchcock movie called Blackmail, a young Hitchcock directed it, and they had to make the same transition. And to me, that seems to be exactly what I was looking for, because it’s totally a 20th century culture that’s taking over, but also in a way that the house and Mary can both be together. organic part of what’s going on. You don’t want something that isn’t connected to Downton itself, and so all of that comes together.

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It was brewed for a while that Lady Mary would eventually become the new matriarch. That has always been on your mind, because while pedigree has something to do with it, have you ever considered any other characters who might be at the helm of the ship in the future?

That’s part of what I think, and part of Michelle’s performance that we went on. Mary starts off pretty strong, but pretty snobby and spoiled and tough and all that. And know that there’s a kind of pressure on her to be with Matthew [back in seasons two and three], for all obvious genealogical reasons and such. And she’s pretty stubborn about all of that. But over time, we see her mature and become a person who is aware of her responsibility and in this film what I hope people see is that she will be able to make adjustments as the century goes on. 20 collect steam in a way that her dad will have trouble with. When she takes on a job in the movie, and is called Lady Mary, she says “Please, it’s Mary”. And that’s the 20th-century thing to do. Robert wouldn’t say, “Robert, please.” No!

She might as well have a friendship with the producer, a romantic friendship, actually, amitie amoureuse as the French say, to a fairly ordinary, working, middle-class person who comes to the house for his own purposes. And she doesn’t have the social distance some people have. I know people now find it very difficult to make friends outside of their own social group. You can find them in any class of society. There are some people who are unduly challenged to be with people whose conditions are so different from theirs, and when you go into a position like the one Mary would have, essentially run the estate until George is old enough. at least share the job, which is a luxury she can’t afford. She must be able to get along with people and work with people. And you see it happening in the movies. So that way, yes, we’re pursuing that development. And if we’ve gone further – and only the gods know if we’ve made it – we’ll have gone even further.

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Penelope Wilton with Maggie Smith in ‘Downton Abbey: A New Era.’
Courtesy of Ben Blackall / Focus Features

When you’re writing anything to do with DowntonHave you always had in mind the Maggie Smith story you wanted to achieve?

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Part of the zinger is the line that I write. But that’s largely how she speaks. One must always remember that. The great thing about writing for really good actors is that they make your script sound so much better than it did when you wrote it. Always!

Maggie’s reaction to the continuation of Downton Abbey: A New Era when you first talked to her about it?

I think she was pretty active! She’s always been very, very supportive, and I always wonder if she has anything to thank us for, because she’s such a hugely successful actress with every big award no one has ever heard of. arrive Downton Abbey and everything I think we’ve done for her makes it really hard for her to shop. So I’m not sure how much of a blessing that is. But she’s always been great to us.

Have you outlined what could happen next for each character, if there are future spin-offs or series coming?

Well, my life is much more random than you seem to show there. I never know what will come on Tuesday, never mind in 10 years time! But I think, inevitably, you think if we go on with these people, with this situation, with this house, whatever it is, how are we going to do it? And there are many different options. There are many different directions. The problem with the characters is that when you’ve been with them for so long, it’s like a footnote on a real life because life goes on for a long time. And when you meet friends you haven’t seen in two or three years, as we are all doing now because of COVID, your first thing is to ask, “Is your mom still with us? Is your daughter married to that man? What happened to the job? What’s wrong with the house? “Having all of this to catch up on because, really, all you’ve done is one quirky phone call or one Christmas card for two and a half years. So there is no reason to believe that there is a finite, natural moment to these things. As long as there’s an audience, there’s definitely something to say.

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Do you want to make a crossover between Downton and Age of wealth the world in some way?

Of course, Gilded Age happening 30 years ago Downton beginning, so the only thing you can really see is little Violet (Dame Maggie Smith’s character) – well, no, not that young, actually, because her son is going to grow up and have kids. Her son and daughter -law will be married in about six years. So I assume he is about 20 years old and she is about 13 years old. But I’m not sure what to do with that. But I suppose we might as well see Cora’s mother, a pretty lively character, if you remember. I haven’t made a decision on that yet, but it’s another world. Gilded Age It’s a much harsher world. Larger shares. The people there are tougher. The battles are more difficult. So you don’t just sit there with a bottle of red wine toasting your toes while you partake in it. They are stronger and I think interesting in a different way. I think again, we’ve been very lucky with our cast. I think all of them are absolutely magical – Carrie [Coon]and Morgan [Spector]Christine (Baranski) and Cynthia [Nixon] all were absolutely amazing, as was the young cast, Louisa [Jacobson] and Denee [Benton] and everyone. I really couldn’t be happier with all of them.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity. Downton Abbey: A New Era in theaters on Friday.

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