Downton Abbey, Season 4 - TCA press conference: Phyllis Logan and Sophie McShera discuss the fourth season of the hit drama ©2013 PBS

Although half the world has already seen the fourth season of the phenomenally successful period drama Downton Abbey, which spotlights the country estate of the Crawley family and their servants, viewers in the US have had to wait until January 5th for the season to premiere here.

Phyllis Logan, who plays housekeeper  Mrs Hughes, and Sophie McShera, who portrays Daisy, the assistant cook, met with the TV Critics Association to talk about their roles in Downton Abbey Season 4 one of the most popular shows to ever appear on PBS.

Have either of you done personal research into this period for your roles?

Downton Abbey Series 4 Special – Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) ©2013 Carnival Films, photo by Nick Briggs

Phyllis: As far as personal research goes, we have a wonderful historical advisor called Alastair, who knows everything about everything and has been a constant on the show.

He keeps us right about the most seemingly insignificant points, [like] how you place a table knife next to the butter knife. It’s got to be three and a half inches apart or something.

My grandfather had been killed in the First World War, and just knowing the family history, and the family folklore, that practically whole villages were wiped out, we did very well at Downton to only have a couple of [deaths]. (Looking at Sophie) Sorry, your husband [was one of them].

Sophie: She’s so insensitive. (they both laugh)

Phyllis: I loved that whole war [story]. Well, I didn’t love it, but I thought it was done very well, and it was quite pertinent and relevant to a lot of people, not excluding me and my family.

Downton Abbey, 404 – Daisy (Sophie McShera) and Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nicol) ©2013 Carnival Films, photo by Nick Briggs

Sophie: I’m pretty much the same. We get a talk from Alastair at the beginning of every series, which is brilliant. He just tells us everything we could ever need to know.

I probably ask him a question every time I shoot a scene, and I was getting a bit beyond myself bossing people around in the kitchen because I’m an assistant cook now.

And then a maid came in and I was bossing the maid around. And Alastair came in, and he said, ‘No, you can’t boss the maids around. They are way above you.’

Do you feel Mrs Hughes is the heart of the show, as she shows such compassion for everyone upstairs and downstairs?

Phyllis: It’s lovely to think that. I think she’s a bit of a busybody, really, secretly masquerading as this stern but nice woman. She’s into everything. She does show her compassion for the underdog, I suppose. Even in spite of herself, she can’t help but show compassion to people when they are going through a rough time.

Daisy has had quite a journey over the three years. What do you think the biggest difference is now from when she started, and what hasn’t changed at all for her?

Downton Abbey, 404 – Mrs Alfred (Matt Milne) and Daisy (Sophie McShera) ©2013 Carnival Films, photo by Nick Briggs

Sophie: What hasn’t changed at all? You know what I’m going to say, it would be my outfit. It has a bit, I’ve got a drop-waist now. It’s great.

She’s growing up. Someone asked me how old she was now and how old she was when we began, and I couldn’t work it out.

Phyllis: She said, ‘About five.’ (they both laugh)

Sophie: She’s had such a journey, even during her terrible teens which she is still in a bit. She’s been a bit of a jealous girl with Ivy. I love having the opportunity to [play a role] a long time, because you can grow up on screen which is always exciting.

Mrs Hughes had a really emotional story line last season with the cancer scare.

Downton Abbey Series 4 Special – Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and Mr Carson (Jim Carter) ©2013 Carnival Films, photo by Nick Briggs

Phyllis: What I liked about that story line is it brought Mrs Patmore and Mrs Hughes more together as opposed to being at loggerheads with each other all the time.

They’ve obviously come to a point where they realize that they are both women of a certain age and of a certain background and situation, so let’s join forces and be allies here rather than rivals. I like that.

Do you feel sympathy for Daisy the way the audience does?

Sophie: Yeah, I’m always on Daisy’s side. When I was doing the scenes with Matt Milne, who plays Alfred, I was like, ‘Why doesn’t he fancy her? She’s great.’ And everyone went really quiet, like, ‘It’s really obvious, Ivy is way prettier.’ I’m like, ‘No, she’s amazing,’ so I’m as delusional as her.

And she loved Thomas, but that never was going to happen. Mrs Patmore tried to tell her Thomas was gay, but it was like talking to a brick wall. She is so naive.

Is this finally the year that Mrs Hughes and Mr Carson are going to get together?

Phyllis: No, no. We still have a very nice working relationship. We still have occasional spats here and there.

We still have a lot of respect for one another, and we occasionally get to drink a glass of sherry together. Not as often as I would like; sometimes middle-aged love is rather interesting for a lot of middle-aged people.

After the panel Sophie was asked if she ever gets recognized by fans of the show as she looks so different in person. Click here to listen to her reply.

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Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.