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6 September 2012

Downton Abbey: An interview with Rob James-Collier (Thomas Barrow)

Thomas Barrow
(Rob James-Collier)
Unlikely as it may seem, this could be the series when viewers learn to love first footman Thomas Barrow, Downton Abbey’s ultimate villain. Or at least Rob James-Collier thinks so.

“At the end of the last series he lost everything on the black market. People saw a moment of vulnerability in him. Yes it was his own fault - he was doing something illegal – but some viewers felt sorry for him. This series he’s horribly misled, he lets someone in to his heart and his life is hugely affected. When he goes on this journey I hope that people will empathise with him – perhaps even feel a little sympathy with him.”

It might mean that James-Collier finally gets a kinder reception from the public. Playing Thomas – the man we love to hate - has meant that he’s been the recipient of several passing comments.

“Obviously in this country you get recognised and you have that kind of ‘boo hiss’ banter with the public. If they come up to you and they’re not nice that’s not the greatest – but there’s always someone, isn’t there? But 99% of the time it’s from a great place and it’s part and parcel of it. The reason I'm an actor and am trying to make my way in drama is to move people, to affect people, to gain a response – so these people who come up to you in the street are your audience. If you haven't got time for them and can’t be genuinely pleased by the fact that they’ve bought in to the show then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.”

After two series of skulduggery in partnership with the fiendish lady’s maid O’Brien, this time round Thomas finds himself at odds with her.

“O’Brien’s nephew Alfred comes on the scene. He’s young, he gets the job and he’s promoted to footman straight away. Thomas sees that as a threat - he sees him as getting the special treatment that he, Thomas, has never had in life. Or at least that’s what’s in his head, because he’s always been an outsider and a loner with his sexuality.”

O’Brien has done everything to get her nephew in the house - and all of a sudden this woman who was always on his side is now helping someone else. Thomas gets jealous, and we should know by now that hell hath no fury like a footman scorned.

“He thought he and O’Brien had a special relationship. He works out everything was fine until the nephew comes along so he tries what he tried with Bates in series one – eliminate the problem by hook or by crook.”

It sets off a vicious circle.

“O’Brien works out what Thomas is up to and thinks, ‘Okay, if you're coming for my family then I’m coming for you.’”

The irony is that off camera James-Collier and Siobhan Finneran, who plays O’Brien, are close friends. But on screen their mutual conniving is about to turn in to a rancorous spat. And James-Collier is under no illusions about which character possesses the greater resources.

“Oh, she’s always the cleverest. Always. All through series one and two anything they did that was mischievous was O’Brien’s idea. He goes up against her and that’s a big mistake – he’s not as clever as her and he never will be.”

But for James-Collier it gives him some of his best scenes yet.

O’Brien and Thomas at loggerheads is genuinely brilliant.


Dan Wainman is not affiliated or associated with any broadcaster, programme maker, production team or television personality, unless stated or if advertising Free Audience Tickets on Lost In TV's behalf. All other materials are general press releases, news statements or public content, shared with any followers of this blog. Any personal opinions are those of the blog posts author.