“Downton Abbey” has been a cultural phenomenon, appealing to young and old alike. Even those who usually skip PBS for other channels have been tuning in. With the American premiere of the third season just around the corner, the cast and crew of “Downton Abbey” were on hand to discuss the show and answer some fan questions.
The last time we were with the cast of “Downton Abbey” there was some good news and some bad news. The third season picks up right where the second season of “Downton Abbey” left off, focusing on the two main storylines, the marriage of Lady Mary Crawley and Matthew Crawley and the imprisonment of John Bates.
Fans at the “Downton Abbey” Q&A in New York got a glimpse of the first 20 minutes of the season three premiere. The scene starts off with Daisy as she walks through the town into Matthew and Lady Mary's wedding rehearsal. From there, many favorite characters return, offering glimpses of what to expect from the new season, including witty exchanges by the excellent Maggie Smith between her character, the Lady Dowager, and Isobel Crawley, played by Penelope Wilton.
Thomas Barrow, played by Rob James-Collier, is his usual self, up to no good and stirring up trouble. The preview also included much talk about Lady Sybil Crawley and her possible return for the wedding, the house and servants buzzing with activity as they make preparations for the wedding feast.
Most importantly, there could be a big change facing the estate of Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham. There could be some hard times ahead for the residents of “Downtown Abbey” and the noble family. While Mr. Bates is in jail, Anna does offer him a glimmer of hope, in the form of a diary from his late wife.
Sadly, there was not more footage shown, but the fan questions offered plenty of insight into the world of “Downton Abbey,” including its creation and the actors behind the roles. What is most apparent is the love and respect the fans have for the characters of “Downton Abbey.” There is an immediate and lasting connection formed by the fans, and everyone has their favorites.
In New York, Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham), Jim Carter (Mr. Carson), Joanne Froggatt (Anna Smith), James-Collier and Sophie McShera (Daisy Robinson) were on hand to answer fan questions. During their time in New York, they got plenty of recognition as they went to the theater and to a New York Knicks game. Each of the actors marveled at how much attention they got while in New York.
When a fan asked the actors, “If your character could change one thing, what would it be?” The actors playing the servants, Daisy, Anna, Mr. Carson, and Thomas, were unanimous in their agreement; they would move upstairs and James-Collier chimed in, “It'd be one giant sleepover.”
Each season of “Downton Abbey” takes six months of vigorous shooting. Each episode can take up to two weeks to complete. Carter praised the staff and production crew for their efforts in keeping the show running smoothly. Carter noted how, in each dinner scene, all the food, which is real, has to be set up again and served, the drinks have to be leveled and everything has to be how it was before the take. With so many dinner scenes, it can be a laborious process.
When asked “How has life changed?” Bonneville answered, “We get to go to Knicks games,” while James-Collier said, “I've got a new car,” with a shrug while Carter said, “I got a new bike.”
For Christmas, Thomas would want a boyfriend, “Thomas has needs!” quipped James-Collier. While Anna would want a baby Gates and Lord Grantham would want a new dog bowl for Isis.
While fantasy scenarios for the character of “Downton Abbey” were popular, there were many questions about the technical aspects of the show. The biggest was why it takes so long to get “Downton Abbey” on American televisions. In the UK, they have to set everything up for ITV and get it ready to air. For PBS, January and February is a good time slot since there is not much competition. There are no new fall dramas, no big specials, no mid-season replacements. Instead, January gives “Downton Abbey” the biggest audience possible. Piracy and spoilers could lead to a shorter gap between the British and American broadcasts, notes Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of “Downton Abbey.”
To whet fans' appetites even further, the actors gave some tantalizing hints about what to expect from season three of “Downton Abbey.” Expect Thomas' sexuality to be a central storyline, and you may feel sorry for the guy. Shirley MacLaine, playing Cora's mother, and the Lady Dowager exchange some sharp barbs and the focus of the story returns to the house. Carter also notes that things slow down a bit for the characters.
Speaking of MacLaine, James-Collier shared a story of meeting her for the first time. When MacLaine arrived on site, she had a theory about all the characters. When she came up to James-Collier, she pointed at him saying, “It's You! The evil one. Why are you so evil?” to which James-Collier replied, “Hello Shirley, nice hat.”
"Downton Abbey" returns to PBS on Jan. 6, 2013.