At the beginning of Season Three of Downton Abbey, The Great War is over and the long-awaited engagement between Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) is on. But all is not tranquil in the home, as Mr Bates (Brendan Coyle) remains in prison for murder, while his faithful wife Anna (Joanne Froggatt) awaits his fate.
I spoke with Brendan and Joanne at the TV press day for the phenomenally popular series.
Is this role in Downton Abbey the best part you’ve ever had?
Brendan: Yes it is, and it’s the first part I’ve ever had that was written for me. I didn’t realize that until I joined the cast. [I was told], ‘It was written with you in mind.’ That’s never happened to me before.
How did it feel to be nominated for the Emmys?
Joanne: Brendan and I had shot half of a scene and then it was our lunch break, which was when the Emmys were announced. I was in the post office on my lunch break and ran back to my dressing room to get changed back into my costume.
I looked at my phone and had a text from Michelle saying, ‘Congratulations.’ I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ So I called Michelle. She said, ‘You were nominated, we’re all nominated. We got 16.’
Brendan and I didn’t see each other until we went back to finish the scene. So the first half of the scene he’s quite normal and calm.
Brendan: Pre-nominated. Second half, post-nominated. I wanted to see the rushes to see if there was any kind of glow.
I assumed that Bates would not be found guilty. Did you know the full plot arc at the beginning or were you surprised too?
Brendan: Just getting a script is a bit of an event in itself. We’re the last ones to receive the script. So when we get the scripts, it’s really a case of phones off, kettle on, sit down, it’s an event.
I read it as a fan of the show as well. But to answer your question, no, I did not know what was going to happen. And so when he was found guilty, there was a real thud in my chest.
Not just because I was going to lose the part, but it was a very dramatic event in the script. And I thought, ‘Are they going to kill me?’
So it was a fascinating read. I loved the fact that they might be bold enough to do that, but I didn’t think they would. I realized about seven pages later that they weren’t going to.
Joanne: The same with me. When I read the bit where Mr Bates gets sentenced to murder, I literally gasped. I was like, ‘No, no. What happens to us?’ It’s just as much a surprise to us, and that’s great.
It’s like opening a little Christmas present every time you get a script.
When you first start playing Bates, how did you get the hang of the limp?
Brendan: It was trying to figure out exactly what this injury was and how it would affect his movements. I had this strap which limited my movement so I couldn’t completely stretch my leg. We decided it’s a war wound that flares up every now and again.
I got a letter from a guy who had a disability. I’m not quite sure what it was, but all of his life he had these terrible nicknames thrown at him.
Now he’s being called ‘Mr Bates.’ So he wrote to thank me for giving him, at last, a cool nickname.