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3 September 2012

Downton Abbey: An interview with Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith Crawley)

Lady Edith Crawley
(Laura Carmichael)
© ITV
In the Downton Abbey Christmas episode we saw Lady Edith revisit what Laura Carmichael calls, “the Strallan idea.” In spite of what her father thinks of his age, Sir Anthony Strallan is marriage material. He has to be: Edith isn’t in the mood for any more dilly-dallying.

“The war was awful but it gave her independence and freedom and now she has new confidence,” says Carmichael. “And also, now both her sisters are married, or on their way, she is determined. He’s a nice chap Sir Anthony, I think she does love him and they would be very happy together. They are both intelligent and thoughtful people and he sees her in a way that her family don’t. That is so appealing to Edith. All in all it just seems like a good idea. So she’s going to follow it through.”

As ever with Edith, driving all of this is her relationship with her sisters, fractious as ever.

“She has this feeling that both her sisters are going to leave her and have an independent existence. She doesn’t want to be stuck on the shelf and she doesn’t want to be stuck living with her parents for the rest of her life. So many men of her generation were killed in the war that the fact Sir Anthony is older seems neither here not there. And she strikes me as somebody that has always wanted to be at the adult’s table, so to speak: she likes to be the mature one, the one that tells everybody off for being silly. It suits her. So I think she really does love Sir Anthony and thinks it will make her very happy.”

Robert, naturally, thinks this is all a terrible idea. But it becomes Edith’s prime focus – because in truth, Carmichael says, she’s bored. She misses the war.

“She had a purpose all of a sudden and an activity. She learnt that practical side of being a woman who had a job and a brain and was capable.”

Edith wants to do more, in short, and it will take her outside Downton Abbey for the first time.

“It’s exciting stuff – I get to go to London! It’s like a completely different job.”

Carmichael says that what she admires about Julian Fellowes’s writing is his ability to keep so many plot strands in play. So the Grantham sisters’ past clashes continue to fester.

“What I love about Julian is that he doesn’t forget about the sibling rivalry - the bickering carries on. It’s softened because during the war they have to find a way to exist together. Deep down they fight because they know each other very well. It’s hard living in another person’s shadow and that’s formed Edith in to a bit of a know it all, who tells Mary off and complains and moans. They’re always going to annoy each other. I think it’s great because that’s just how family is. And we really enjoy playing it – it brings some humour and some reality to it, a good sibling rivalry!”

This year Carmichael has had a chance to enjoy Downton Abbey’s growing global reputation. In May she and Michelle Dockery went to New York for the Met Ball, the fashion industry’s ‘night of nights’.

“It was crazy. It was like Madame Tussauds - every famous face you’ve ever known was there. They were all smiling at us and talking to us about… our show! Edward Norton came up to us in a restaurant and said he liked Downton. Mark Ruffalo, who’s awesome, came over, Brooke Shields, Mick Jagger… it was insane. And lots of fashion people too, designers, talking about how they love it and the costumes. So it’s been really exciting. Plus we’ve got about eight different spoofs on American chat shows – that’s how you know you’ve arrived!”

And yet, she says, it was a phenomenon that none of the cast expected. “For myself it was my first TV role. To be in such good company, and the fact that people like it, and they talk about it, it’s just an added bonus. I just can’t get over how kind people are – the big stars want to help you. They share stories, and make you laugh all day long. It’s a really good discipline for us younger ones to see that there’s absolutely no need to behave like a diva because we work with the best and they’re not like that.”

She needs little prompting to recall this season’s highlight.

“When Shirley [MacLaine] pulled up at the house and she gets out of the car, Brian [Percival, Director] had to come up to me, Jess and Michelle and say, ‘Girls, close your mouths. She’s your grandmother – she’s not Shirley MacLaine. Just try and chill out a bit.’ We were just going, ‘SHIRLEY MACLAINE!!’ It was hard to remember you were acting when you were completely in awe.”

1 comment:

  1. Very disappointed in the episode with Sir Anthony and his jilting of Lady Edith at the altar. It is also very difficult to believe a man of his stature would ever do this to begin with. I could believe he would change his mind, but only well before wedding plans were made. I cannot believe a man with his integrity would do this to a woman. What are the writers in this script doing? If Maggie had interfered forcefully, the character of Sir Anthony would cancel the wedding, but he wouldn't have just walked out like that. This was a horrible show, and the only saving grace at all that came out of it was that Laura Carmichael really gave a stunning performance!

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