“We have a word for it in England, gobsmacked,” said Hugh Bonneville who plays the likable uppercrust Robert, Earl of Grantham, who is the lord of Downton Abbey. Bonneville was trying to express to a room full of journalists just how overwhelmed he feels about the 16 Emmy nominations for the PBS show that is in contention for best drama series. And Bonneville himself is nominated for best actor. “It’s a tremendous honor. To have the show embraced so wholeheartedly byAmerica is very special to us.”
In his role, Bonneville is a benevolent aristocrat. “I’m not sure he is an ideal man, but he is determined to fulfill his destiny, which was predetermined,” he told me. “He was born to hand over this estate to the next generation. That’s been the sole driving force in his life.” And that has made for great storytelling centered around all the drama, upstairs and downstairs at Downton Abbey.
Many of his castmates have also been acknowledged, and some of them gathered, along with Julian Fellows, creator-writer of the phenomenal show, and executive producers Gareth Neame and Rebecca Eaton, to give TV writers a sneak peek of scenes from Downton Abbey, Season 3 on PBS’ Masterpiece Classic.
Shirley MacLaine was introduced as Martha Levinson, the American mother of Cora, Lady Grantham, played by Elizabeth McGovern. And fans of the show can look forward to their relationship being explored.
Talking about her character McGovern said, “I realized that for two years I was in a bit of a fog. But I think that there is a light that mothers hand onto their daughters, which I think Shirley (as Martha) gave Cora. The story that she (Martha) tells is one of great strength, humor, resilience, and flexibility.” McGovern said it became very clear to her that the journey Cora has taken, going from Martha Levinson’s privileged daughter, to the countess of Downton Abbey, is easier to understand when she sees Shirley MacLaine playing her mother. “I could not have picked a better mother,” she said.
As for seeing Lady Grantham as a role model, McGovern lamented, “I think that she’s a kind of icon that has gone out of fashion in the decade of the ’90s, because we started to love women who were towers of strength and in a very muscular sort of way. Cora is a more old-fashion idea of a woman’s strength, which is somebody who is extremely flexible and resilient. That is being strong in a quieter, more self-effacing way. It’s nice to resurrect that idea of female strength, because I think that has churned the wheels of history for many centuries. The quiet, strong woman that just sort of connects all the dots in the family. For me, that is Cora.”
She plays Lady Cora so well, with that quiet strength she emphasized, but McGovern says she doesn’t share any of those qualities with her. “It’s all an act. I’m a raving lunatic,” she joked.
A lot of that quiet strength is also seen in Cora’s daughter Lady Mary played by the beautiful Michelle Dockery who got an Emmy nod for best actress.
Downstairs in the servants’ quarters is lovely housemaid Anna played by Joanne Froggatt, who got a supporting actress nod. And up for supporting actor is Brendan Coyle as her troubled on-screen husband Mr. Bates, Lord Grantham’s valet.
Coyle was shocked when he got the script that revealed Mr. Bates was found guilty of murder. “When we got the scripts, I did not know what was going to happen. So when he was found guilty, there was a real thud in my chest. It was a very dramatic event in the script. And I thought, ‘Are they going to kill me?’”
The answer is no, Mr. Bates is alive and in jail, and his story will continue in the coming season, and he has supporters rallying for his release. At the end of the Downton Abbey interview session, Bonneville took off his shirt to reveal a “Free Bates” t-shirt, which was met with cheers. But we’ll have to wait for season three to see if the message was heard.