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6 September 2012

Downton Abbey: An interview with Allen Leech (Tom Branson)

Tom Branson
(Allen Leech)
© ITV
Few characters in Downton Abbey have risen as far or as fast as Tom Branson. He began as the family chauffeur and yet by the end of last series he had married the Earl’s youngest daughter, Sybil. Does a glittering future await? Not according to Allen Leech, who plays Branson.

“Branson is living back in Ireland with Sybil, and they’re basically paupers. They’re living on Sybil’s money. Which obviously is not where Branson wants to be - he made the choice to leave, he’s become a journalist back in Ireland, and essentially he’s fighting for the Irish Republican cause, trying to educate people. But the problem is he’s not able to provide for his own wife, and now they’re expecting a baby. And then they come back for a big event, obviously, which is Matthew and Mary’s wedding.”

Branson finds himself with a foot in both camps, upstairs and downstairs, and it’s not a comfortable position.

“You see Branson completely lost in this world that he used to work in. No one below stairs wants him because they don’t know how to act with him. And certainly no one welcomes him upstairs so the only person he has to talk to or to confide in is his own wife. Essentially he is completely isolated from these two worlds, and it’s a very difficult place for him to be.”

Not only does Branson have to deal with the domestic politics at Downton Abbey, but politics of another sort also come to the fore.

“One of the worries that Lord Grantham has for Branson is that he’s getting more politically active this series. He finds himself in a very strange place because he rallies against the English in Ireland yet the one place he then looks for refuge is Downton Abbey.”

Leech is the only actor in the series who can claim to have crossed codes – going from taking orders to sitting at the table with those who are giving them out.

“I was used to just getting into my green uniform every day, and then I arrived this year, and the costume department said, ‘You know we’re going to have to get you some suits?’ Doing my first dining room scene, even as an actor I still felt like, ‘I shouldn’t be here.’ I didn't know what to do with the cutlery and whatnot – which of course is great for the character because he wouldn’t know what to do either. Little things kept happening during filming like I wouldn’t put my serviette down – and Jim [Carter, Carson] would have to come over and do it.”

As a character whose role has grown series by series, Leech says he is increasingly recognised by Downton Abbey fans.

“I get a lot of, ‘You look like that chauffeur from Downton Abbey...’ Which is funny. But the other thing is it’s always positive reaction – you get people coming up to you who just love the show, and that’s brilliant. It feels lovely to be part of something that people really enjoy watching.”

His favourite piece of fan mail? “You know those posters that are everywhere saying, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’? Someone sent me a sign that says, ‘Keep Calm And Bet On Branson.’ I’d love to get that put on a mug for my morning coffee.”

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