Friday 13 Dec 2013
How would you describe Mr Pritchard?
He's exceptionally efficient and very good at his job. He's slightly anally retentive but I think that's probably not a bad thing. He takes great pride in getting things right and making sure that everything is as perfect as it could possibly be. I think he's a wise and fastidious person, and a lovely person with a genuine heart – and a rather clear moral code. He knows what right and wrong is, and what's proper and what's not.
How does it feel to be part of such an exciting project?
Everybody knows what Upstairs Downstairs is. It's quite extraordinary and overwhelming to be honest – particularly playing this character as I think he's a very important one in the series. He's such an important force downstairs. I've never done anything like this before. It's been a real thrill for me to get my teeth into something juicy. There is a great camaraderie on set and a great sense of team work. I think everyone fully appreciated and understood that, as characters and actors, we were all in this together. There was a real sense of community.
Did you watch the original series?
I did but I don't remember it terribly well – I was fairly young at the time. I remember it being something that the family gathered in front of. And my mum loved it! It was right up her street. One of the main things that I do remember is Gordon Jackson – I thought his character was slightly terrifying.
Had you worked with any of the cast before?
I've worked with Heidi and Eileen on Cranford. I've known Eileen for a very long time. We were at the National Theatre together and also worked on a series called Psychoville – she played my mother. It was wonderful to work with Heidi and Eileen again! One of the amazing things about Cranford is that it was full of the most delicious acting talent. And Upstairs Downstairs has that too. I have thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Heidi Thomas writes some of the best one-liners I've ever had. She knows exactly how to place comedy really well. I think she is very adept at giving you some very good lines, and still making it very full of character. She doesn't necessarily take the character out of the situation in order to make people smile. Her imagination and her stories, and the way she constructs a character, are just amazing.
Heidi has made the events of the time very dramatic. You get a real sense of what it was like to live then – how big and important those earth-shattering events were. She just handles it very beautifully.
Did you research the period at all before filming?
It's quite interesting actually, as I've spent a lot of time in the 1930s over the years – in my performing life that is. I came from a play in the National that was set in 1938 and did quite a lot of research for that. Prior to that I did a BBC drama called Into The Storm – which was about Churchill just as he was about to go into World War II. I played his valet. Mr Pritchard and he have very similar characteristics. So I've spent a lot of time in the 30s. It's lovely to come to something when you know a lot about the period.
What I didn't know about was being a butler. So I had to do a bit of work on that. I hugely enjoyed stepping back to the period. It's such an important era and it's always been a period in history that's been close to my heart.
How did it feel when you stepped into 165 Eaton Place for the first time?
I was blown away by the intricacy of everything – the attention to detail is to be marvelled at. It's so helpful from an actor's perspective because you don't have to imagine anything – it's all there for you. You almost live it – when you stand on that set you immediately feel part of the house. Everywhere you turn there are little pockets of detail – all of those minutiae were immaculate.
What do you think it is about Upstairs Downstairs that people will love?
I think it's the most brilliant way to make drama. You have two very contrasting social groups. And when you put them together it's inevitable that you're going to get a very good perspective on the situation. I think it gives you a very good idea of just how those characters respond to the situations. You have these two groups reacting and responding to the actions of the others and I think that makes for fantastically interesting drama.
Do you think it will appeal to a younger generation?
I've been astonished by the number of younger people who I've spoken to who say that they often watch it on some of the digital channels. They say how much they love it. I think it has a universal appeal. And the fact that we have such a cross section of ages in the characters means that it's perfectly capable of having a hugely wide audience. It's almost like getting a history lesson, as well as being top-drawer entertainment made to an extremely high standard.
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