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13 September 2012

Downton Abbey: An interview with Lesley Nicol (Mrs Patmore)

Mrs Patmore
(Lesley Nicol)
© ITV
Downton Abbey is all about change and its consequences. That goes as much for Mrs Patmore, the house cook, as it does for Lord Grantham.

“Things have changed in the house,” says Lesley Nicol, who plays Patmore. “We have new people coming into the kitchen, so I have a new maid, Ivy. Mrs Patmore sees it as part of her job to get her in and up to speed. But what complicates it is that she doesn’t tolerate bullying - though people may say she is one herself. So if she sees elements of that happening from Daisy or anybody else towards Ivy she will stamp on it. I think she is very protective of her little gang. It is only her that is allowed to shout!”

Nicol says she particularly enjoyed a plotline involving scenes with Phyllis Logan, who plays Mrs Hughes. It got her out of the kitchen, for a start.

“You see Mrs Hughes and Mrs Patmore more in a relationship than they have been before. They started a bit at loggerheads and yet she becomes her mate really. To have scenes with somebody of a similar age is different, yes. It is nice to play. That’s what is lovely about Julian’s writing. He recognises that people are more than one thing and he develops them, gives them lots of layers, like we all have.”

Nicol’s cooking skills are, she says, on a par with those of her on-screen maid Sophie McShera. Which is to say non-existent.

“I’ve learnt absolutely nothing. I’m terrible. We make sure that I try and look like I know what I’m doing. That’s the art - there’s a trick of making it look like I know how to cook. But I don’t.”

Away from the studios the highlight of the last few months for Nicol has been being photographed by Bruce Weber for German Vogue.

“He said that Mrs Patmore is his favourite character! He is one of the best photographers in the world. I was thinking on the way in to the shoot, ‘God help us, what’s this going to be like,’ because I’m not a model. I mean German Vogue?”

Yet Weber put Nicol at her ease.

“I don’t comfortably wear dresses because I don’t think they look very good on me – yet he put me in a dress. The other thing I would not be happy with is dancing unless I am in a show - yet he had me dancing outside in a dress in front of people because he put some music on and said, ‘Hey come on let’s do this.’ It was like you were doing a show. It was divine. And it’s all because of Downton Abbey. The show has just had an amazing knock-on effect.”

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