Original-Cin Q&A: Downton Abbey's 'Downstairs staff,' Phyllis Logan and Lesley Nicol talk Imelda Staunton, Thomas Barrow's sexuality and seeing themselves on an IMAX screen

The highly-anticipated Downton Abbey movie, based on the Emmy-winning hit series about the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, is getting rave reviews from fans and critics. 

Read our review of Downton Abbey

The film is set in 1927, more than a year after the events of the series finale, and centers around the family and staff preparing for a royal visit from King George V and Queen Mary

The show which aired on PBS for six seasons has become a cultural phenomenon, and, to the delight of fans worldwide, creator/writer Julian Fellowes wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to these characters. 

Phyllis Logan and Lesley Nicol

Phyllis Logan and Lesley Nicol

Our own Downton Abbey  fangirl, Bonnie Laufer, was thrilled to to chat with two of the Downton-Downstairs ladies, Phyllis Logan who plays housekeeper Mrs. Hughes and Lesley Nicol who plays Mrs. Patmore the cook. 

ORIGINAL-CIN: As a loyal and devoted Downton Abbey fan, I personally would like to thank you for thank you for bringing this to the big screen.

LESLEY NICOL: “You are most welcome.” 

OC:  Now that you've been to a few premieres and have seen this saga continued as a film, what is it like to see yourselves and these characters on a big screen?

PHYLLIS LOGAN: Well the  IMAX in London was a bit too much for me it's about the size of a building. But you know I think it absolutely warrants it. The whole thing just looks at home on that big screen because the series was always very cinematic looking anyway. However, to actually see it up there was pretty glorious. 

LN: “They've just upped the level of it with a bit more money and a bit more scale so, you've got bigger scenes than we could ever have done for television.  It really does look luscious and blissful. And when you hear that famous music it doesn't disappoint. I don’t know about you, but I literally burst into tears when the music started playing in the beginning of the film.  I loved it.” 

OC: Oh, trust me. I got goosebumps! So what is it about these characters and the story of these people both upstairs and downstairs that have made Downton Abbey into such a worldwide phenomenon? 

LN: “There's some magic ingredients apart from the obvious things, which would be the quality of the writing and  a cast that happened to gel well together. It's got a terrific art and costume  departments, but there's something that makes us struggle to give you a great answer because nobody really knows!”

PL: “What it is, is that we all made it something unique. Some might say it's like an over dramatic soap with people wearing nice frocks. And there are elements to that. But we have found that people can relate to all the characters in some way on a familial level.” 

 LN: “This film seems to come at a perfect time because of what's going on in the world and how kind of cutthroat and unpleasant it's got. People are looking for an escape.  This is a film about kindness and loyalty and respect and decency and all those things that actually most of us really do want to be surrounded with.” 

Dame Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley being led to greet royalty.

Dame Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley being led to greet royalty.

OC We know that the  Crawleys, who live “Upstairs,” are a family by blood. However all of the Downstairs characters are pretty much a family in their own right as well. 

PL: “There is no doubt about that.  We may have our own hierarchy but we all stick together like glue.” 

OC: I would think that this extends beyond the show  and that many of you have formed lasting friendships outside of work. 

LN: “We totally did and still do. For example, my relationship with Sophie McShera who plays Daisy was just my good luck. I mean maybe it's both our good luck but when we first met we got on instantly. 

“Now you can never predict that kind of chemistry and it could have gone horribly wrong. We could have loathed each other. But because we get on so well and because of who our characters were, we developed a kind of rapport and a relationship.

“They were a bit mother-and-daughter and Julian Fellowes is a clever writer and he spotted it immediately.  So he developed that relationship.”

PL: “I agree. And it was the exact same way with me and Jim Carter who of course plays Mr. Carson.  If I had suddenly looked at the script and thought, ‘I've got to kiss him?  I can't stand that man,’ that would have been awful  but the fact is we  all love him to bits and he was really the best scene partner I could have ever asked for.” 

OC: Speaking of Jim Carter, we get to meet some new characters in the movie, one played brilliantly by Jim’s real life wife Imelda Staunton. Phyllis, did she give you any kissing tips?  

PL: (Laughs)  “No, but I did suggest that we do a husband swap for a few days!” 

LN: “Jim was actually so surprised when Imelda told him that she got a part in a new movie and it was in Downton Abbey! She came in well prepared having lived with Jim’s stories for the past six years.  It was wonderful to have her on board.” 

OC: One of my favorite characters has always been Thomas Barrow played brilliantly by Robert James Collier. His character has evolved over so much over the years, with him starting out as pretty mean and awful. And by the time of the film, we feel so much empathy for him. I think it was bold and important of Julian Fellowes to address Barrow’s homosexuality during that time period. 

LN: “I couldn’t agree more, it was very important. Amongst all that pageantry, the ball and the beautiful stuff, Julian made certain that he included issues that really matter and that people should be reminded of that.  

“It was important to Julian and others affiliated with Downton Abbey that they deal with the fact that that these men were treated like dirt and were made to feel terrible about being themselves. 

“I personally think Rob's never been better I think he's absolutely wonderful in the film.  Leave it to Julian to have woven that storyline into the grand Royal Visit that is the center of the film and make it work beautifully. “

PL: “Julian has said that he most enjoys writing for characters when he can present you with something and then go right ahead and do something to change their circumstances. 

“Which is exactly what he's done with Thomas Barrow. It makes the audience  think that maybe he's not such an ‘arsehole’ and makes us now  understand why he behaved like he did.  Julian is just brilliant in that way.” 

OC: Well, my time is up and  I wish I could talk to you ladies for another hour and a half but I want to thank you for your time and this movie. I just hope Julian is busy behind his desk writing the next movie installment for us! 

PL: “So do we!” 

LN: “We’d like nothing better! We all need to make sure he’s getting busy on that.”