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5 September 2012

Downton Abbey: An interview with Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates)

Anna Bates
(Joanne Froggatt)
© ITV
Should Julian Fellowes ever decide to write a spin-off series from Downton Abbey, Joanne Froggatt already has one idea.

“Anna Bates Investigates! Anna absolutely knows that Bates wouldn't have done something like kill his wife, and she sees it as her duty to make sure the truth comes out.”

At the beginning of the new series, Anna’s career is on the up, but her main concern is still dealing with the emotional anguish of having her husband in prison.

“We start off with her coming to terms with the fact that Mr Bates is incarcerated. She’s trying to just carry on with her own job, trying to be strong, but she’s also trying to find out more information and see if she can gather any evidence to prove his innocence.”

Not for a minute, says Froggatt, has Anna questioned her husband’s blamelessness. That makes her all the more determined to prove it to the rest of the world.

“Obviously she believes in him 100% which is the nice bit about it. So she sees it as her duty to make sure that the truth comes out.”

But standing up for her husband in the face of both hostility and indifference takes its toll.

“You see her become a bit more of a woman, because things get tough. You see her really struggle with the fact that Mr Bates is not around. And you see her almost lose her positivity a bit - which we’ve never seen before. I think it’s nice to see her really strained, actually - because that's how you'd be. That kind of positivity is difficult to keep up in the face of everything. She has to battle.”

Anna’s time in London, at the prison and on the trail of the truth has at least meant that Froggatt, who in her real life is a fashion fanatic, finally gets to wear something other than the same old pinny.

“It's nice to have a change, certainly. I do get to go out in my civvies, which is nice. Then again it’s still a lot of long skirts, a nice blouse, possibly a brown coat and often a hat – so not exactly pushing the boundaries! But at one point I do get to wear one of Lady Mary’s dresses for a special occasion.”

It’s the fashions that Froggatt would most like to teleport from the 1920s to modern life.

“Some of the clothes are really beautiful, I think. Not necessarily for below stairs characters, but I love the period for fashion, I think it's absolutely gorgeous. Fashion does seem to have a 20s comeback every few seasons, and I completely see why. It's a very feminine look, the fabrics and the shapes are very pretty and distinctive. It’s just a shame we girls below stairs don’t get to wear them more often!”

Froggatt has been to the US four times in the last year, so she’s had ample chance to sample the Downton Abbey effect as it has grown.

“I went over in February 2011 for some meetings and back then people in the industry had heard of it, although the first series was just being aired at that time. Even then there was a definite buzz about it. But about six months later I went out again and met people, and everybody seemed to have seen it. And then Michelle [Dockery] and I went out for the Emmys - and it was incredible. At all the pre-Emmy parties everybody was saying, ‘We love your show.’ I just wasn't expecting that. I was expecting people to go, ‘Oh, who are they, and what are they doing here?’ or just to feel like I was on the edge of things looking in. But we felt really accepted, and what’s more, accepted amongst our peers, which was really amazing.”

But of course Froggatt looked a little different at the awards ceremonies compared to her dowdy Downton Abbey look.

“People don't recognise me. When Michelle and I were out for the Emmys, people would come up and go, ‘Lady Mary!’ straight away. Then they'd look at me and go, ‘Oh, oh, you're... Anna?’ Mind you, if they’re saying that I look so different I suppose that’s a good thing.”

Filming Downton Abbey takes up a sizeable chunk of its stars’ year – series three took seven months. Even so, Froggatt has managed to squeeze in three film roles that could hardly be further from the 1920s or Anna Bates.

“One's called UWantMe2KillHim, a British feature film, one’s called Filth with James McAvoy and Jamie Bell, and then I'm doing another one at the moment with Eddie Marsan called Still Life. What I will tell you is that only one of them involves me doing any investigating!

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