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3 September 2012

Downton Abbey: An interview with Jim Carter (Mr Carson)

Mr Carson
(Jim Carter)
The overriding concern of Mr Carson, Downton Abbey’s butler, has always been to keep things exactly as they have always been. Which means that after the turmoil of the First World War, his first priority is to try and turn back the clock.

“With the house being taken over as a convalescent home it was pretty chaotic so now I am trying to re-staff it with proper footmen and the proper amount of maids and everything. However, these are slightly more economically straitened times after the war. Some of the younger staff are all trying to say, ‘Well, do we really have to go back to the old ways?’ I insist that we have to.”

Carson, Carter says, sees himself as the “standard bearer of the right thing to do.” The honour of the house, its way of life, are what he exists to uphold.

“Carson is a constant. He's like the house: he is always there and he never changes or he tries not to. Of course, circumstances force changes on the house and on him. But his generation, people of his age, can't change, can they?”

This, he says, is as true today as it was then. “My mother is still clinically incapable of buying any foodstuff that costs more than £3.26, you know! It is just not going to happen. So, yes, he is fighting a lonely and sometimes losing battle. Even Mrs Hughes is not completely sympathetic.”

Carson’s insistence on a right and a wrong way of doing things means that he is always keeping up appearances. Insights in to the man behind the mask are rare.

“We tend to always see Carson on duty, always buttoned up and we don't see behind that a lot. I would be slightly interested to know a little bit more. In the first series we found out about this mysterious past where he had been on the music hall stage. It may be nice to dig up a few more little bits like that.”

But in the meantime, Carson will remain Carson - the model of good order. Jim Carter says that playing a man who is almost always stony-faced requires that he stays fairly serious himself on set.

“Although the atmosphere is a bit more unbuttoned downstairs, that is just not my working method really. I tend to stay reasonably quiet. I don't think I am gloomy but I tend to remain fairly focussed.”

And so having spent several years inhabiting a world more than a century behind us, is there one thing he would like to see brought forward to the present day?

“I am quite a fan of good manners. And a life without mobile phones would be nice. In fact filming at Highclere Castle is great because I certainly can't get a signal - so you just leave the thing and forget about it. Which is rather lovely.”


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