'Downton Abbey' insider Jessica Fellowes shares her behind-the-scenes take
Fellowes, author of 'The World of Downton Abbey' and 'The Chronicles of Downton Abbey' and niece of 'Downton' creator Julian Fellowes, discusses how the sets keep master and servants separated, why American and British audiences aren't that different, and more.
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There was a really funny thing about the cookbook – in those days, obviously, when you owned a copy of "Mrs. Beaton's Household Recipes," you owned a new copy. But if you put a new copy of a book in a period drama, people think it's wrong. They like it to look kind of dirty. I mean, that book did come out in the 1860s or something, I think, so you could get away with it being an older book, but it's just funny – you can't use anything that looks too new.Skip to next paragraph
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She's an interesting character because you have this hierarchy downstairs. [Butler] Carson and [housekeeper] Mrs. Hughes are almost a mirror reflection of Lord and Lady Grantham upstairs. You have these little dominions within kingdoms, where everybody's just trying to master what they've got. If anything, upstairs, it's more fluid than that.
Q: With other seasons coming up, would you consider writing another book on "Downton"?
A: I don't know – I think they are thinking about another book, which I will be involved in in some way, but I'm so committed to other projects at the moment... [But] I'm still very interested in keeping to the period. It's a period that I've always been interested in. All my favorite authors are from that time.
Q: What are a few of those authors?
A: Evelyn Waugh. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Graham Greene, a couple of Ernest Hemingways. Antonia White is the latest discovery from that time – those are my comfort authors. They're always by my bed.
Q: What do you think appeals to people about "Downton"?
A: I think it's a combination of factors. It is a beautiful program and it's so well-written, obviously.
It has great actors of a caliber as well as unknowns, which I think is quite important, because you don't project anything onto them. We're able to meet them all for the first time. But then there's someone like Maggie Smith – you know who she is, and she's almost a reassuring figure and authoritative.
I think it's absolutely gorgeous to look at. You've got a real treat in store for the third season coming up, with the 1920s clothes. I think the fact that it goes out on a Sunday night is a masterstroke because it's when the whole family sits down together. You're in that kind of relaxed mood and ready to escape a little bit.
And then I think what's really clever is there's just a wide range of characters. It's very important to Julian and the producers that everyone be given equal treatment, equal weight, when it comes to story lines, whether they're above stairs or below stairs, it doesn't matter as to how they're treated on the show. I think because of that, whoever you are, you'll find somebody who you recognize. And nobody is black-and-white. There's a lot of shades in their characters, so you can find some sort of sympathy.