As Downton Abbey Series 5 begins on January 4th, Laura Carmichael and Joanne Froggatt spoke with members of the TV Critics Association about their continuing journey on the most successful show in PBS history.
When Series 4 of the uber-popular PBS series Downton Abbey ended last year, Lady Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael) had given birth to an illigitemate child and downstairs Lady’s Maid Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) had been raped, and her attacker, Mr Green (Nigel Harman) had been killed on a street in London.
Did you know about the rape storyline before Series 4 began?
Joanne: I actually asked for a meeting with Gareth Neame before the season started, as I was itching to know what my storyline would be. And Gareth said, ‘I can’t really tell you because it’s not fair for you to know before the other actors know they they’re doing. You will have to read it in the script.’ I said, ‘But I really want to know,’ and he said, ‘Well, there’s something really big.’
I was very surprised when I read the script. As an actress, my first thought was, ‘Oh, this is a huge responsibility for me, and I need to make sure I put more than a hundred percent, if that’s possible, into this.
I just wanted the viewer that may be watching it, that’s been through that experience, or a similar experience in their own lives, to know that I’ve taken this more seriously than anything else I could possibly have done, and that I have really put my soul and heart into making this an honest performance as possible.
Your character is often sidelined as the less attractive sister, which I totally don’t agree with. How do you deal with that as an actor?
Laura: It’s just a character you play. And the relationship within the sisters, that’s how it was defined, she was the overlooked one. And particularly in the beginning, she wasn’t soft or kind or attractive in that way. So it’s always very weird to respond to it. I don’t feel targeted. People always say, ‘They make you look awful.’ And I’m like, ‘I think they work quite hard in the morning making me up.’ They really do.
So I don’t feel weird about that. And it’s part of your job to play and inhabit the character. Edith has been less fortunate. The rest is for other people to comment on.
What is Edith and Mary’s relationship like this season?
Laura: I’m more annoyed with her moping around. It’s a real annoyance because it take up attention, really, doesn’t it? We never shy away from being awful to each other.
How does the relationship between Bates and Anna move forward this season, as it’s been indicated that Bates might be a murderer.
Joanne: How dare you! (she laughs) I think Anna goes into Season 5 changed by what’s happened to her. And there are a lot of questions for Anna and Bates still. They’re both keeping secrets from each other in order to protect the other person. So it comes from a place of love and respect, but still there’s this thing between them that they both know they’re not quite being honest with each other, and they can sense it.
I think in Anna’s heart of hearts, she really does feel that Mr. Bates hasn’t done this thing because she doesn’t think that Mr Bates knows that it was Mr. Green who raped her. However, she has this doubt, and it just doesn’t leave her. It’s something that haunts her in Season 5.
There is an internet rumor that Lady Edith is Lady Roamund’s child. Did you know of that theory?
Laura: I have heard the theory. I love it. It’s so lovely that there is that kind of questioning as to how that was played. But I think it comes from those moments when Edith says, ‘You won’t understand, Rosamund, because you’re not a mother.’ And the pain that Sam Bond played in that moment, I think, is she’s a childless woman and so she cares for Edith in that way. But it’s very interesting that people have interpreted [it in that way].
I think they’re definitely close, and Rosamund has stepped up to take care of Edith in this very difficult time. I think Rosamund and myself represent the not brunette gang of the Crawley family.