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Cast reveals how ‘Downton Abbey’ came back for a bigger, bolder serving

LAT-EL-Downton Abbey
“Downton Abbey” actors Kevin Doyle and Joanne Froggatt, with composer John Lunn spoke at an Envelope Live screening of the film at the Montalbán Theatre.
(Michael Owen Baker/For The Times)

The stars of the “Downton Abbey” movie served up some on-set dish in an Envelope Live Screening Series Q&A with The Times’ Yvonne Villarreal.

The Envelope welcomes a select audience of Hollywood guild members and awards voters during the season to consider some of the year’s most talked-about films, followed by Q&As with cast and filmmakers, moderated by journalists from The Times. For videos of these sessions, please visit latimes.com/screenings. Actors Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates), Kevin Doyle (Mr. Molesley) and Michael Fox (Andy Parker) and composer John Lunn talked with Villarreal at the Montalbán in Hollywood on Nov. 12 about the possibility of another big-screen sequel, the similarities between serving and performing, and returning to the world of the show three years later for the movie.

Michael Fox, Kevin Doyle and Joanne Froggatt felt like “going back to school after holidays” when returning to “Downton Abbey.”

“I think everyone felt, well I certainly did, quite nervous — like going back to school after some holidays or something,” said Fox. “But after 30 seconds, you get back into the swing of it.”

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Froggatt said, “It was such a surreal but lovely, nerve-wracking feeling. You want to do the movie justice and elevate things from what were done before.”

Michael Fox and Kevin Doyle of “Downton Abbey” see similarities between acting and serving.

When Villarreal asked if there were similarities between acting and what these on-screen servants have to do for the people they work for, Doyle said, “Our historical advisor always says it’s a performance we’re giving. When you’re in service, the best service is — though it’s meant to be invisible — it is a performance nevertheless. You’re showing off the house to its best. So in that respect, it’s sort of quite similar.”

The actress was glad for her character to have happy moments “without that dark cloud” over her.

Froggatt, having played the long-suffering Anna for the show’s entire run, was happy for her character to have happiness without “that dark cloud hanging over them.”

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This “Downton Abbey” movie might not be the only one.

Lunn spilled that they were “already talking about” a sequel to the film.

Doyle said, “There’s always been an appetite for another season and, now, another movie. And that’s wonderful. And that’s an appetite that’s never going to be fulfilled, I suspect.”

Composer John Lunn knows what he thinks of when he hears that famous theme.

Villarreal asked Lunn, “What comes to mind when you hear those opening notes” of the familiar theme he composed.

After shooting back, “Money,” to laughter from the crowd, Lunn recalled with pride that the film’s opening relies on his score without dialogue.

“You have five minutes of gorgeous music broken up by Michael’s first words, ‘Blimey!’ The director and I talked about it beforehand, I knew it was coming. I knew the first five minutes was basically gonna be music. The idea was we’d hold off on the familiar theme as long as we possibly can.”

The actors saw telltale signs they were doing a movie, not a TV show.

The show was known for its high production values — it collected many honors for its art direction, costume design and other aspects. But Doyle said it was instantly apparent that the film would raise that bar.

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“I knew it was different when we got fittings for our uniforms. We normally don’t get fittings for our uniforms. ‘Yeah, just wear that,’ ” he said, to laughter.

“The first indication for me it was different was, very early on in the shoot, it was that wonderful scene with the king and his troop. It was on our third day of shooting and we’d all been told to go onto this field. It said in the script, ‘The troop parade in front of the king,’ it’s just a line of script. We turned up in this big field … and we were sort of chatting away … and the Earth started to sort of rumble. In the far distance, all these horses started to come around the corner, with cannons. ‘OK, we’re doing a movie.’

“‘Downton’ has always been very lavish in terms of its production values, but then you could see, to use the immortal phrase from ‘Spinal Tap,’ it had been shoved ‘up to 11.’ ”


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