Saturday 08 Mar 2014
What memories did Upstairs Downstairs hold for you?
It was a watershed moment in TV. It felt like a corner was turned. It was something that was unlike anything that had come before. Upstairs Downstairs somehow bestrode the different genres that had come before it to create a new drama entity. I suppose that's one of the reasons why it became so instantly popular. It's clearly managed to achieve a place in the nation's heart.
What was it about the scripts that appealed to you?
I think the balance and scale of it are right. We are relatively intimate. We have a principal cast which feels like a nice size – it gives the viewer the opportunity to learn a fair amount about that character relatively quickly, and it gives the audience a chance to engage with that character.
What is it about your character that appealed to you?
I like characters that are conflicted. In Episode One, Hallam's conflict is not laid bare for all to see. In Episode Two the nature of him comes into focus more – he's having to struggle with ethical dilemmas, while balancing his life inside the house and his life outside the house. If it was a single word then it would be the 'complexity' of the character that attracted me to him. The more layers I have to play the happier I am – I enjoy the digging away to reveal what's below the surface.
Had you worked with any of the actors before?
I worked with Keeley about 10 years ago. The BBC did a number of TV films under the title Murder In Mind. And Keeley and I played boyfriend and girlfriend. She went around murdering people, and I was generally being a rubbish boyfriend to her.
How was it having Dame Eileen Atkins as your mother?
There are a number of actors in this show whom I have watched and admired over the years, and it goes without saying that Eileen was one of them. Before we started someone told me that Eileen will undoubtedly be the best actor you have ever worked with. She is quite remarkable. And of course in addition to that she is a wonderful person. She's exactly the type of person you want on a job like this. You want someone of her integrity, drive, conviction and good humour. Eileen obviously had to do a lot of research for Upstairs Downstairs initially, so she knows this world intimately. That also is a great encouragement for the actors working around her and gives you a great sense of security and support.
Did you do any research about the period before you started filming?
The scripts are certainly very rich, for which we were all hugely grateful. But I am a member of the London Library and on almost every single job I do there is some benefit to be had in going there and pulling two or three books off the shelves. On this occasion I pulled out the memoirs of people who worked in the diplomatic service and a couple of books on the Indian civil service. I wanted to get a flavour of the working world Hallam would have inhabited. And also a flavour of the world that his mother and father would have inhabited. I didn't buy a book on etiquette or anything of that nature, because I think there has to be a certain amount of trust that other people will have done their jobs well also to make these things work – knowing how one ties one's tie, what sort of cufflinks one would wear etc.
Do you think this revival will appeal to your non-traditional period drama viewer?
Undoubtedly. There is real feeling of modernity to it. It feels like a transitional period in 20th century history – socially and economically – the country was allowing itself to shrug off Edwardian and Victorian values and find something that 25 years later would result in rock'n'roll and The Beatles. The series deals with events and issues that will hopefully mean something very concrete to the audience – including the younger audience. I hope it appeals for a lot of reasons.
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