Fans of "Downton Abbey" may want to sit down before reading this: In the opening scene of Michelle Dockery's new TNT series, "Good Behavior," the woman formerly known as Lady Mary Crawley scrubs a filthy toilet bowl. The stylish crime drama, created by Chad Hodge and Blake Crouch, follows Letty, a recovering meth addict, thief and con artist. Recently released from prison, she's attempting to stay straight.
But then she crosses paths with Javier, a devastatingly handsome hitman (Juan Diego Botto), and lots of very bad behavior ensues.
"To have the opportunity to do something so different wasn't something I expected so soon after 'Downton Abbey,' so I feel really fortunate," said the 34-year-old British actress, who also has a major role in the Netflix miniseries "Godless," due in 2017.
Coming out of "Downton Abbey," how did you decide what you'd do next? What were your creative priorities?
It's difficult to top something like "Downton." The writing is first and foremost. "Good Behavior" came about sort of midway through [the final season of "Downton Abbey"]. On first reading I thought, this is something I have to do. Letty is such an emotionally raw character. In the same way that Mary was a challenge for me, at the time, this was also a challenge.
Letty and Mary are, at least superficially, quite different. Do you see any similarities?
There's definitely parallels with these women, two very strong women who've been through a significant amount of trouble in their life. You do carry with you some of what you've gained from those other roles that you've played. I'll never forget Mary. She has a very special place in my heart.
Did you get lots of offers for costume dramas after "Downton Abbey"?
Surprisingly, no. What I've always hoped for is a varied career and different characters and times in history to learn about. [Being typecast in period roles] wasn't really something that I was too worried about. I'd already done a film, "Sense of an Ending," which is present day. "Godless," the Netflix miniseries that I'm shooting right now, is set in 1883. I have to say I loved going back to period clothes.
There were times during "Good Behavior" that I wondeed what the Dowager would say.
That's what all the headlines will say, I'm sure. It's wonderful to play a female role that is so, so strong and very honest and unapologetic. Letty doesn't behave in the way society tells you is good, but she doesn't apologize for that. She is who she is, but she is trying to be the best version of herself. It really is an exploration of what is good behavior. When you meet her, she's trying to get on the straight and narrow. The problem is that's really boring.
How did it feel to say goodbye to "Downton Abbey"?
We each had our own ending because not everyone wrapped at the same time. It was a strange feeling finishing something like that, that journey ending after six years. It felt like the right time but of course it was sad to leave it behind. Everyone's off doing their own things and we all try and stay in touch.
You got your start on the stage in England. Any plans to do Broadway?
Yeah, I'd love to. Theater full stop, I don't care where it is, actually. It's just a question of timing and the right thing. I do miss being onstage.
You shot "Good Behavior" in North Carolina and now you're in New Mexico for "Godless."
It's certainly an adjustment. Humidity to dry heat. The weather is one of the main things. I have to drink a lot more water than I normally would. Wilmington is a beautiful, beautiful place. I didn't really know what to expect and kind of fell in love with it. And the same with Santa Fe. I'm a bit of a Gypsy at the moment, but really enjoying it
What was the biggest challenge to this role?
The American accent. When I did the pilot, I kept up the accent for the first week or so while I was on set just to keep the feel of it constantly. I didn't have to do that so much going into the series because by that point I was really beginning to embody the character. Also, it's exhausting to do that constantly.
Accent aside, it must feel physically liberating to play someone like Letty after Mary.
That was part of the challenge of Mary for me, that stillness, that very subtle performance which was very different from this. Letty is much more expressive and physically much freer.
What helped you build this character?
Certain performances really were an inspiration to me. Edie Falco in "Nurse Jackie," a character who is struggling with addiction, for me that was a great source.
One of the best things I looked at was a documentary called "The Life and Times of Doris Payne," about this now-86-year-old woman who has been a thief her whole life. Like Letty, she would dress up as these characters, essentially, and walk into jewelry stores and pretend that she was this rich woman looking for a fabulous piece of jewelry. It's a fascinating documentary about the mind of a thief and why they do it. [It's] the high of actually doing it and getting away with it. That's why Letty does it, because it keeps her off of drugs and alcohol.
Have you practiced picking pockets?
The only thing I've ever stolen was penny sweets when I was a kid. I was a pretty good girl.