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12 September 2012

Downton Abbey: An interview with Matt Milne (Alfred Nugent)

Alfred Nugent
(Matt Milne)
With the death of William Mason, Downton Abbey has been in need of a new footman for some time. He arrives at the beginning of series three in the form of Alfred, played by Matt Milne.

“Alfred’s O’Brien’s nephew – that’s how he got the job,” says Milne, with a wry smile that suggests that being O’Brien’s nephew might be a mixed blessing.

“His great aim is to be a cook, but he’s following his family’s wishes and doing what they want him to do. His mum wants him to be a butler so that’s where he’s headed.” It’s not an easy job, especially when you’re gawky, diffident and trying to come to terms with a below stairs culture that’s always fraught with manoeuvring.

“He’s trying as hard as he can. He was working in a hotel before he was given this job. But as he’s constantly reminded, the skills that he was taught to work in the hotel are nowhere near the sort of level that he needs to work in the house. He just doesn’t have the training - usually how it would happen is young lads would come in aged about 11 or 12 and be trained as hall boys. Then they would work their way up acquiring new skills over time. But Alfred has come in by a side route, so he’s always playing catch-up.”

It means that Alfred is not only resented for having got the job via O’Brien, but for potentially not being up to the job at all. And he has other problems, too.

“There’s this sort of bizarre kitchen love triangle because Daisy fancies Alfred but Alfred likes the look of the new girl, Ivy. And Ivy flirts with Alfred but the one she really likes is Jimmy.”

Hereford-born Milne, 21, has had a busy year – it began with him being “plucked from nothing” in his words, to appear in Steven Spielberg’s First World War epic War Horse.

“I was still studying drama at the University of East Anglia when that came up. Now this has come along I can’t believe it. It’s been an amazing twelve months or so.” But it does mean that he’s been spending a considerable amount of his early career living in the early 1900s.

“War Horse was all flat caps and thick trousers,” he says. “This is all starched collars and polished boots. But in many ways they’re closely interlinked: the changes that we’re seeing at Downton all come about because of the war. As a young man, whether you went to the front or whether you didn’t the effect was life-changing. You couldn’t just go back to being in service in the same way after that.”


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