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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Upstairs Downstairs – Keeley Hawes plays Lady Agnes Holland

What was it that appealed to you about working on Upstairs Downstairs?

I had never seen the original series. So it was actually like getting any other script and reading it and not having an idea of what was going to be inside. I didn't come to it with any baggage. One of the first things that appealed to me was that it is written by Heidi Thomas. She is just such a brilliant writer. The scripts were so easy to read, and I was thrilled. I just wanted to do it immediately.

Can you tell us about your character Lady Agnes Holland?

She's absolutely lovely! She's very ambitious – but she's probably more ambitious for her husband. She doesn't work and has a lot of time on her hands. She's come from a very posh family and has good breeding. But it's when she and Sir Hallam move back to London, having inherited money, she suddenly finds that she's in a world of material things that she's never had.

It's quite exciting for her really – but also quite difficult. She's not greedy at all – it's not just about having things. She's very excited at the prospect of everything that London has to offer them. And actually, this is all in place of the child that they've never been able to have. Sadly, she lost her first baby when she and Hallam were in America. So all her energy goes into her husband and her home – but there is a wonderful surprise for them when she discovers she is pregnant again. She doesn't want to believe that it might be true because it would be too heartbreaking if it were to happen again. And when the baby comes, it turns everything on its head.

Lady Agnes is very glamorous. Did you enjoy wearing the costumes?

It was absolutely brilliant! Amy Roberts, our costume designer, is a genius. And she made it very easy for me to feel comfortable as Lady Agnes. There was rarely a time when I didn't feel comfortable in the costume that she had chosen. When someone is as good at their job as she is it makes everything so much easier for you as an actor.

Did you enjoy inhabiting 165 Eaton Place?

The sets are amazing. They are the best sets I've seen anywhere! Eve Stewart – our production designer – has done an amazing job. Again, it just emphasises how we've had the best people we possibly could to make this such a special production. And that really does come across on screen. Along with the writing, of course!

There is a stellar cast line-up on this series. What was it like working with them?

We've got Dame Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh! I'd worked with Art Malik about 12 years ago. And I've also worked with Ed – I ended up murdering the person I thought his character was having an affair with! It was wonderful to have the history of Eileen and Jean. There is scene where Lady Agnes says to Rose: "Welcome home". Even now, it's heartbreaking. She was a young woman in the original. I know that she found a lot of it quite moving. For her more than anybody it was quite an emotional experience – a huge part of her life.

Do you think this new revival will appeal to a younger generation?

We cover all bases on that one! The range of cast is quite perfect – we go from birth to 76 years old. There is something for everyone and they are all such strong characters. You could have ended up filling that house with people and that could have watered things down.

In Upstairs Downstairs there's a perfect amount of time spent on each character. No one's storyline is diluted. You get to know every person.

There was also something for us as actors, too. There was always somebody lovely to chat with. I loved sitting with the older ladies. Or Ellie, or one of the younger ones. We were all thrown in together and it was a very nice set to work on.

How did you find filming in south Wales?

It was lovely. I stayed in Penarth, which was beautiful. The Welsh crew were great, and everyone is so very excited about the industry there at the moment.

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