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2 September 2012

Downton Abbey: An interview with Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil Crawley)

Lady Sybil Crawley
(Jessica Brown Findlay)
© ITV
A prosthetic pregnant belly proved the most entertaining prop for Jessica Brown Findlay while filming series three of Downton Abbey.

“Endless amusement!” she says. “Once I had my pregnant belly on Allen [Leech, who plays her husband Branson] kept trying to tell everyone that I hadn’t got it on - so they’d just think I was fat.”

Sybil’s impending baby is just one of several seismic changes to her life. Yet according to Brown Findlay, they’ve all been for the better:

“A lot has changed for Sybil but we find her incredibly happy and settled. She’s been able to find her identity. She’s spent these months in Ireland with Branson, she’s had the joy of work, she’s felt an independence and she’s completely accepted there. She’s just really content. I think she’s still hoping for some sort of reconciliation between her husband and her family, but in general it’s the happiest and most content we’ve seen her. And of course she’s pregnant – so she’s preparing for her own little family, too.”

In historical terms, however, the so-called Irish Question now looms large over Downton Abbey, and Sybil and Branson find themselves in the eye of the storm.

“A big concern is the Irish Problem: her involvement in that and what it will mean in terms of the freedoms they will or will not have to come back and forth to the house. She’s in a quite tricky position. She needs to come back because her family demands it but she also needs to not take too much of an English stance on Ireland. She’s caught between two worlds in a way.”

Inevitably it all leads to changes in her relationships with her two sisters, Edith and Mary: Sybil may be the youngest but she’s also the first of the three to be married and pregnant.

“She’s treated far more like a grown up now. I don’t think her opinions and the things she’s doing are quite so laughable any more – because she’s followed through with them. She’s not just a flippant teenager doing things to bait them. Her sisters in particular see her as much more worldly now. She can relate to them in many ways but I think they all relate to each other now because they’ve had a bit more life experience.”

It’s not as if Sybil has ever been at loggerheads with her siblings:

“Sybil’s always had the love of the two of them. She’s never really had trouble – it’s a different relationship to that between Edith and Mary, definitely. Sybil and Mary will have heated discussions but they’re quite similar in a way. They take things quite seriously. Sybil’s relationship with Edith is interesting because she sees a lot of herself in Edith – such as never feeling like she quite fits in. Neither Sybil nor Edith have quite fitted the mould of a lady in the way their parents expected.”

For Brown Findlay, Downton Abbey, her first major role, has kick-started a promising film career, including a lead role in last year’s Albatross, playing a tearaway teen with some – but not many- parallels with Lady Sybil.

“Just the fact I’ve been able to do this job means that when I go to an audition I’ve got something to talk about. It’s meant that a lot of people have been very positive towards me: they only ever have positive things to say about Downton Abbey. Of course, you don’t want to be known for just one role but undoubtedly it’s allowed me to go off and do other things which is really exciting.”

And if she could take one thing she’s sampled in the 1920s and transport it forward to the present day?

“Easy: the amazing fancy dress parties. People held mad parties then.”

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