‘It was like taking on Roger Federer’: What it was like to join the Downton Abbey cast

Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery Laura Carmichael and Allen Leech attending the world premiere of Downton Abbey, held at the Cineworld Leicester Square, London. PA Photo.
Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery Laura Carmichael and Allen Leech attending the world premiere of Downton Abbey, held at the Cineworld Leicester Square, London. PA Photo.
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Imelda Staunton has compared joining the cast of the Downton Abbey movie with playing tennis against Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

The British actress, who takes on the role as Lady Maud Bagshaw, said she felt she had to live up to expectations because she is married to original cast member Jim Carter, who plays butler Carson. She said: “I have had Carson coming home every night for many years, I did feel at ease, but I hoped that I didn’t let the side down.

“You don’t want to come in under, you want to come in absolutely at a par and bring in more if you can.

“I would have got it in the neck from Carson at night if I hadn’t.”

Asked if she expected to have a role below stairs alongside her husband, Staunton said: “I got the script and I thought I would be downstairs, no doubt about it.

“I was quite surprised to be upstairs. Jim and I, we went to work together three days, a bit over excited I have to say.

“I would, of course, have liked to be downstairs giving Carson quite a hard time but not to be. But I was very happy being upstairs with Geraldine James’s company [who plays Queen Mary] and Maggie [Smith]. That is like being with Federer and Nadal.”

The film version follows six successful series on ITV and is also written by Julian Fellowes.

Michelle Dockery and Laura Carmichael, who reprise their roles of Lady Mary and Lady Edith respectively, said they were dazzled to be filming for a movie and felt a “real buzz” on set.

Dockery said: “It felt like we had never left. There was this real buzz because we were making a movie.

“It feels like such a privilege. We did the show for so long and now filming a movie, there was a lot of excitement, like we had never been away.”

She added: “In those first 20 minutes we were like ‘we are doing a film, our faces are going to be much bigger’, but we mustn’t treat it any different. It is an extension of the show, but turned up a notch.

“It was important that it didn’t feel too different.”

Actor Kevin Doyle said he had modelled an absurd curtsy he performs in the Downton Abbey film on former prime minster Theresa May.

The actor, who plays footman Joseph Molesley in the TV series and in the new big screen version, said: “I modelled the bow/curtsey on Theresa May.

“She was meeting some royal or another and it was such a preposterous curtsy I thought ‘I’m going to have that’.”

Doyle also spoke about the delay of bringing the film to the screen, saying: “It’s difficult to get 20-odd actors back together. It took a while to get everyone back together and get the script ready and the locations ready.”

Lesley Nicol, who plays cook Mrs Patmore, added: “And to give that many people something. In TV you can spread it out, but you haven’t got that in a film, it’s a bit masterly to make sure everyone features.”

Carmichael continued: “I had the initial nerves of being back and it’s a movie, how is that different? But that lasts about 20 minutes and we relaxed again, it feels like coming home, as cheesy as it sounds. It did feel like that.”

The big-screen plot centres on a royal visit by King George V and Queen Mary to the stately home of the Crawley family.

The film is set for release in the UK this Thursday.