Hayley Atwell’s been keeping the early 20th century alive even before starring in ‘Howards End’

The actress read the novel and knew she wanted letters and stationery for Margaret Schlegel’s rooms -- and Atwell keeps up with friends in honest-to-goodness mailed letters too.

In E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel “Howards End,” letters are an essential storytelling tool in the narrative about class struggles and social ethics among three families in Edwardian London.

After being cast as smart and idealistic Margaret Schlegel in the latest Hollywood rendering of the novel— a TV miniseries that just aired on Starz — Hayley Atwell said the art department inquired whether there were details in the book that she wanted incorporated into the set. Atwell decided she wanted letters, stationery, photographs and books.

“You really feel like you’re inhabiting the world,” Atwell said when she visited the L.A. Times video stage recently. “I’d open up desk drawers and find that the art department had written letters from, like, Margaret to Aunt Juley and Aunt Juley to Tibby. You can read them and they’re ... letters. They’re made up.”

It might seem a quaint idea in an era of emoji-filled text messages, but Atwell is helping to keep letter writing alive in the 21st century. In fact, she penned her most recent correspondence just the morning of this interview.


“I wrote a letter to my friend back in the UK because I am staying in a hotel and in the hotel drawer they give you really nice stationery,” Atwell said proudly. “So, although he’ll get it after I return, which I mentioned, it’s the thought that counts. And, also, one of my best friends who still lives in Kansas City, where my father’s side of the family are from, we’ve been writing each other letters since we were about 12. We still do — they’re less frequent than they were. But we have our whole lives mapped out in these letters to each other.”

You can watch the full conversation below. And, then, hey, maybe write a letter about it to a friend.

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Twitter: @villarrealy

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