Phyllis Logan is undoubtedly known by most viewers in America for her role as Mrs. Hughes in the phenomenally popular TV series Downton Abbey. Now she takes on a totally different role in Kay Mellor’s Girlfriends, which will premiere on Acorn streaming service, acorn.tv, on January 29th, 2018.
The six-part drama spotlights three friends, Linda, played by Logan, Sue (Miranda Richardson, Churchill, Harry Potter franchise) and Gail (Zoe Wanamaker, Mr Selfridge, Harry Potter franchise).
When Linda’s husband Micky dies suddenly and dramatically, her childhood friends, Sue and Gail reunite to support her, even though they are having major problems of their own; Sue has just lost her high-powered job through age discrimination, and Gail’s son, Tom (Matthew Lewis, Harry Potter’s Neville Longbottom) has just returned from prison, a fact they both are attempting to keep secret.
Phyllis Logan came to the TV Critics Association to discuss her new series.
Without spoiling it, how soon do we find out how Micky died? And did you find it interesting that the talk about Linda’s possible role in his death made it look like she could actually be guilty?
Well, I don’t want to issue too many spoilers. But in episode one, we don’t know what’s happened to Micky, her husband, played by the wonderful Steve Evets. Throughout the series, things chop and change. Suspicion falls in various directions and then it gets cleared up and then it falls back.
So it’s not a simple answer without telling you the whole plot of the six episodes, so I’ve got to be careful about that. But, yes, there are certain things that get thrown up where suspicion may lie.
Does the series explain how the three women became friends and are there flashbacks over the decades?
We do have a flashback to when Linda got married. They’re at the wedding. They used look-a-like younger people for us. Although I was quite prepared to have all that done (a facelift) in order to play the young Linda, but, no, they didn’t accept that. W,e know that they met and they were in a band together. That’s mentioned as well on the cruise ship, to the captain.
Were you, Miranda and Zoe friends before doing this show?
No, I never met either of them before. I would like to think that we are friends now.
How did you get that great rapport that you have on screen?
Kay writes the characters so completely. This applies to all (shows), like Julian (Fellows) with Downton Abbey, you’ve got to start off with the writing, the characters. And Kay draws them so well (in Girlfriends).
We just had a couple of run-throughs on the set at the beginning of rehearsal. Slowly you develop a way of doing the scenes and it comes easy.
There’s no great trick to it, it all just comes from believable characters, good dialogue and interesting / dramatic / funny storylines.
What kind of input did you have on your character’s look? I wondered if you were going as far away from Mrs Hughes as you could.
It was quite different, which is nice to have this change of look. Kay had based Linda on a friend of hers, who I think is also called Linda, and she looks like that.
Her story has nothing to do with Linda’s story, but that’s her look. I don’t know if my character has a bit of arrested development, because she doesn’t seem to have moved on. Some people have a look in their youth and they never change it.
I think Linda is stuck a bit in the seventies. She still has the same garb and the same hair. I think it’s because she got married very young and had a family. She was probably feeling that she might have missed out a bit on her youth. So she’s clinging onto it.
Did you bring any of yourself to the character?
There’s always an element of you in whatever you do, I think; but saying too close to home, not really. I don’t have Linda’s experience in her marriage. I do have experience with having good long-term friendships with my girlfriends.
We still do girls’ nights out. So, yes, I do have that in common with Linda. You bring something of yourself (to the role), but it’s nice to challenge yourself with other people’s experiences and what they’re going through.
Does having been on Downton Abbey give you more clout?
I don’t know, I’d love to say yes. It means I can push the likes of these youngsters (like Matthew Lewis) around. (she laughs)
Could you talk a bit about your career transition after playing Mrs Hughes for several years on Downton Abbey, in a period piece like that? What’s it like to then turn things around and go to something that’s completely different?
It’s great. I never planned that I was going to be doing six years of Downton Abbey. None of us did. But as it transpired, I was happy that it did last that long. I love playing the character and I love working with the rest of them and we all had a fantastic time.
If they said to me, ‘Here’s a job and you’ll be in it for the next six years,’ I might have gone, ‘I’m not so sure about that.’
When (I) first embark upon (my) career, I thought I just want to do as many different things as I possibly can. I started off in rep where you played several characters throughout the season, old people, young blokes. I used to play a series of Shakespearean youths with penciled-on mustaches. That was all part of the deal that you just have an array of different characters and different jobs.
Having said that, I loved doing Downton Abbey for six years. But to do something like this, where it’s quite gritty but it’s funny as well as being quite dramatic, with twists and turns and a bit like a detective novel, is great. I’m very lucky.