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4 September 2012

Downton Abbey: An interview with Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley)

Lady Mary Crawley
(Michelle Dockery)
© ITV
“The big difference for Lady Mary in this series,” says Michelle Dockery, “is that she’s very happy!”

After several series of scandal, strife and a long-running will-they-won’t they with Matthew Crawley, it looks like Mary is finally getting married. Dockery for one is a little relieved.

“As much as that angst between Matthew and Mary was enjoyable to play, I must say it’s lovely now to be finally settled in some ways. Of course, like all relationships it’s not completely perfect. Let’s just say they have quite a few problems to sort out.”

First though, there’s the wedding of the decade (with apologies to a certain royal couple). Episode one is all about the nuptials, which means Michelle Dockery possibly gets to wear the second most anticipated wedding dress of the last few years.

“It’s an absolutely stunning design,” she says. “Caroline McCall [Downton Abbey’s series 3 costume designer] did such an extraordinary job. She’s really talented. She worked with Susannah Buxton [series 1 & 2 Costume Designer] – the master! – for two years so inevitably she’s just as brilliant. It’s a truly stunning dress. I'm sure that people will maybe make some comparisons with the Royal wedding. The crowds as we arrived at the church and stepped out of the carriage were just amazing, with all these supporting artists cheering us on.”

Once wedding fever abates though, it’s time for Lady Mary to settle down and take stock.

“I guess she becomes a woman in the third series. The way it’s written it feels that even though Mary maintains that pragmatic side to her – which can be quite bossy at times - she’s really grown up. That’s highlighted in Edith and Mary’s relationship. I think it’s fair to say that things have softened between them. They look out for each other a little more. Of course, they still disagree on things, like sisters do. But Mary is a little more mature now.”

Dockery has been over to America several times since Downton Abbey became a hit there. She says that fans on the other side of the Atlantic are much more effusive than in her native Britain.

“We’re approached far more in America. I wonder whether that’s to do with Americans generally being more confident at approaching someone. But the reception that we get over there is so warm that it’s wonderful. And it’s rare that this kind of response happens. I feel incredibly lucky to be part of it.”

Does she think that the nature of the show – a portrait of the English aristocracy – is part of its distinctive international appeal?

“Maybe. For Americans it’s a different effect – this world is unfamiliar to them whereas for our country you see a lot more period dramas. They have this fascination with the aristocracy and the Royal family, a part of history that they don’t have. So I guess the effect is even stronger than over here.”

She does say that people who approach her abroad are surprised that, “I’m not that posh at all. Me and Dan [Stevens] get that all the time. None of the cast are really!”

People’s reactions to Mary have changed here too, she says. Mary, in short, has become easier to like, or at least to empathise with.

“In the first few episodes people loved to hate her. She was very cold, she had this icy exterior and she was vile to her sister. Then, half way through the first series, after the incident with Pamuk [the Turkish diplomat who died in Lady Mary’s bed], she began to soften. Then in the second series you see the heart of the character much more because of course we were at war - every time she saw Matthew could have been the last. And I’ve loved that arc that Julian has written for her. Even in the third series it’s changing.”

The main change, she says, is in Lady Mary’s attitude to her family home.

“In the first series it was like she was fighting against it. She shied away – she just wanted to go off and meet someone rich. This series, the thought of leaving Downton or Downton falling in to trouble is unthinkable to her. Because this is her legacy with Matthew: now it’s in her hands. And she feels the weight of that legacy more than ever before.”

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