Joanne Froggatt had an 'incredible' time on 'Downton Abbey'

Wong Jia Min
(Photo: UIP Singapore)

SINGAPORE — After six seasons spanning over nearly a decade, it seemed inevitable that a Downton Abbey feature film would get made. It is one of the most successful period dramas to have come out of Britain in recent years, garnering millions of fans along the way who tuned in to the trials and tribulations of the Crawley family and the servants who wait on them.

The Downton Abbey movie premiered in Singapore at the Singapore International Film Festival last Friday (22 Nov), and Joanne Froggatt, who plays lady’s maid Anna Bates, was in town for the red carpet and premiere.

The movie sees Downton in a flurry of activity as the house and its people prepare for a royal visit from the King and Queen. While Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and his daughter Mary (Michelle Dockery) fuss over the finer details of the visit, Downton’s army of servants soon find themselves caught between their duty to the country and their professional pride when the royal household servants come in and usurp their places.

Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore spoke to Froggatt about the whole experience of being part of this television phenomenon before she was whisked away to the airport in the middle of a gruelling schedule.

Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt in ‘Downton Abbey’(Photo: UIP Singapore)

Downton Abbey has been a hugely successful show all over the globe. What did it feel like to be part of it?

It was an incredible journey and it was a wonderful experience. It was a great ride to be on.

Do you remember what the first day on set was like when you were shooting the first series?

I remember my first morning very vividly. My very first day filming was at the house, Highclere Castle. I’d never seen it before. My driver picked me up and we drove into the grounds of the house and as we came over the driveway, it comes up a little hill and a small incline, and the house just appears out of nowhere. It is a huge and majestic castle of a house, it takes your breath away really. And I thought wow, this could be very good! It was a very impressive first day 

I love that the house itself is almost like a character in Downton Abbey. Did it look as big as it did onscreen? And did you get lost while wandering around?

Oh, it’s enormous. It does look as big as it is on screen. It’s massive, it’s huge. We weren’t allowed to sort of wander the whole house, we didn’t have a free run of it. Some of the many bedrooms were in a state of disrepair when we first started, and they were preparing them one by one. So some rooms weren’t safe to go in. We weren’t allowed access to upstairs unless we had special permission.

What was it like to play the role of Anna for six seasons and then a movie over a period of so many years?

It’s been so fantastic and incredible. I love her. She’s a lovely character to return to. I loved playing her, and as an actress I was given some incredibly dramatic storylines and scenes to play. From a personal point of view I really like her as a character. She’s a nice person to return to, and I liked being in her head, or her being in my head. I’ve enjoyed visiting her again, it’s been a lovely experience.

Has a bit of Anna rubbed off onto you after so long?

I don’t know whether Anna’s rubbed off on me, there’s probably some of me in Anna.  We are different, I pride myself on being a decent person and I hope I’ve got as good a heart as Anna has and a good emotional strength. I have her kindness as well, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Robert James-Collier, Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville and Allen Leech in ‘Downton Abbey’. (Photo: UIP Singapore)

Was it an easy decision for you or the rest of the cast to come back for one last time?

Yeah, it was an easy decision. Also, when you know that everyone else is on board, you don’t want to be the only one not there! We’ve had an incredible time together and we’ve been on this incredible journey and worked together for such a long time, that you want to finish off what you started and being there from the very beginning, it would’ve felt very strange not to follow it through to the next and final stage. Or what might be the final stage, we’ll see!

Do you still keep in touch with any of the other cast members?

Yeah, pretty much everybody. All the central cast who have been there the whole time, yeah. We all keep in touch.

Was it emotional once filming wrapped on the movie?

No, I didn’t find it emotional when we wrapped the movie. It was emotional when we wrapped the TV series, for the final day. It was a really emotional moment. We all felt really blessed doing it and we’ve just enjoyed it. We knew that it was only for a finite amount of time, we knew that it was only about ten weeks or whatever, so you’re prepared for that. Whereas when something comes to end after six years, and you thought it might be one season, then three, you’ve sort of gone through so much that the end of that journey is kind of emotional. But for the movie, we just all kind of happy to be there and don’t think we felt sad. We felt very lucky to do that.

Do you feel like Anna and Bates’s story had a nice ending?

Yes, I think everyone wanted them to find happiness. As an actress I didn’t want them to, because it meant I would have really great dramatic scenes! But as a viewer I would’ve wanted them to. So it was lovely, and I very much enjoyed portraying the happiness and contentment, and it was lovely to visit them again and give them that.  

Laura Carmichael, Elizabeth McGovern and Michelle Dockery in ‘Downton Abbey’. (Photo: UIP Singapore)


Did you keep any of the props or costumes after filming was over?

No, we didn’t own any of it. A lot of the props were borrowed or bought, but all the props and sets were kept because they did have the idea to do the movie before we finished the series. Everything was kept and stored. The costumes went on their own tour around the world after.

I managed to catch the exhibition of the costumes from Downton Abbey when it stopped by in Singapore a while ago, and they were just amazing. Did you have a favourite costume?

Anna mostly wore the same thing, but there was one that Michelle (Dockery) had that she loved. It was an electric blue dress that might be from the last series that I thought was incredible. But all the costumes were just fantastic.

What’s next for you now that the movie’s premiered all around the world?

This year I’ve been really busy. I played the lead in a play in London, I did a second season of Liar. And then I went to Australia and did a new show there that I played the lead in, called The Commons. That’s an eight-part series on Stan, their streaming service over there.

The Commons is something I’m really excited about. It’s set seven years in the future so it’s very much the world we’re living in, but one where we may be in a few years’ time. The world is really fraying around the edges.  It’s about how climate change has changed the difficulties posed on people’s lives now, it’s about climate refugees and immigration issues, all of those things that are becoming more and more prevalent, and where we might be if we ignore what’s happening. And at the heart of it are these very human stories about relationships, loves and fear. There’s also lies and secrets. It’s a really ambitious project that’s been beautifully done, so I’m really excited about that coming out.

I realised that a lot of your roles have to do with women who are stuck in extremely difficult situations, and some of them are even traumatised. Is that something that you look for in a role, or did you just find yourself going down that path?

No, I think those roles stand out more for people, but I’ve had roles that people don’t pay as much attention to, like they probably don’t remember them in the same way. Without great conflict, there’s no great drama, so ultimately I just go by the scripts. If I love a script, then I’ll want to do it.

I’m not scared of a challenge. I like a challenge because I think putting yourself under a small amount of pressure is a really good thing, I think I work better that way. If something’s too easy then you can become blasé about it, and that’s not good. So it’s probably the conflicts that I go for, whether it’s a conflict in the situation, the character, that’s what makes great drama. If it hooks me into the story, then I want to be in it.