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Downton’s Lesley Nicol on playing Mrs Patmore

The actor behind our favourite Downton cook gives us a sneak peek into filming the movie

Downton’s Lesley Nicol on playing Mrs Patmore

Coming out this September, the much-awaited Downton Abbey movie reunites the original cast for their big-screen outing – and we couldn’t be more excited!

Although plot details for the film have been kept under serious wraps, we can reveal that the movie is set in 1927 (a year on from the TV series’ finale), with the Great Depression looming, and that most of the action will revolve around a royal visit from King George V and Queen Mary.

Fans of the period drama, which ran on ITV for six series over five years (the last episode aired on Christmas Day 2015), will remember that Edith got married to Bertie, while Mary revealed that she was pregnant with her second child (and Anna gave birth to her first). Henry and Tom have gone into business together selling cars and Carson resigned as butler. And everyone’s favourite kitchen tyrant, Mrs Patmore, was all set to open her own B&B.

We caught up with Lesley Nicol, the woman behind the latter and one of our favourite characters, to find out more about the film…

How did it feel being reunited with the Downton cast after a four-year break?

It was like it [the series] had never finished! That was weird. We’re still in touch so it’s not like we haven’t seen each other for four years. It was lovely to see people [like Hugh Bonneville and Michelle Dockery]. The only issue was that it wasn’t quite long enough because of course on a series you’re there for months, but this was only a matter of weeks. But it couldn’t have been nicer.

What was it like stepping back into Mrs Patmore’s kitchen?

Incredibly comfortable! Everything was the same…the costumes, the props…. It really did feel like coming home. Getting back into that character is easy because of that. And I think everybody felt the same. It’s part of our DNA, now, really. It’s just lovely; very comfortable.

How did filming for the Downton film differ from filming the series?

Our director, Michael Engler, also directed some of the TV episodes so it wasn’t as if we had to deal with a new person. Of course, there were crane shots and bits of equipment that were more elaborate than we were used to, but you know, at the end of the day it was so much to do with the people, and the people were still the same.

In terms of feeling different from the series, I’d say one weird thing is that the set’s slightly bigger. There’s a little bit more space. We knew that set so intimately - it’s maybe only a few inches difference, but you can feel it’s just slightly changed.

In the film, there are some big visual set pieces that you’d never have been able to do in the TV show, and they will look wonderful on the big screen, that’s for sure. I’m very taken by the lighting, actually. When you look on the monitor, it’s breathtakingly beautiful.

How did you feel about how the last season ended for Mrs Patmore?

The thing with Mrs Patmore is you never know what she’s going to do next. She left Downton Abbey to open her own B&B, but the film is rather different…and I can’t say anything else!

When you started out on Downton, did you have any idea how big it was going to be?

Not at all. I think we were supposed to do one season and then there was the slightest chance we might do two or three, but absolutely nobody had a clue what would happen. Julian Fellowes [Downton’s creator] is famously quoted saying, “If I knew why this happened, I would write a string of them [TV hits].”

It must be something to do with the fact that they got the cast right. It’s been a strong ensemble of people who fit their characters well. Maybe it’s important that we all get on really well, and maybe that brings a sense of unity to it.

We are often asked why it has been so popular and we don’t really know. And certainly, we didn’t think for a second that it would be this global phenomenon. We’ve all been recognised all over the world.

What’s the strangest place you’ve been recognised?

With Downton, it’s very random. I could be having a pedicure and somebody will say, “I love your work.” It’s very unpredictable. For me, the weirdest place I’ve been recognised was in a bear sanctuary in rural China. It doesn’t get more bonkers than that. I support an animal welfare charity called Animals Asia and they rescue bears from the bear bile industry. I was at this bear sanctuary in the back end of nowhere and one of the farmers said to an interpreter, “Is that the lady from the Downton Abbey show?” I couldn’t believe it. It’s crazy.

How do you feel Mrs Patmore has evolved over the seasons?

Well, what I like about Julian’s writing is the way he has developed all the characters. When we first see Mrs Patmore, she’s just this bossy bad-tempered woman sweating in the kitchen. And then it becomes clear that the only reason that she’s throwing her weight about it because the stakes are high, so she can’t afford to have anybody being sloppy.

That’s why she has a go at Daisy, who actually, she’s really fond of. She just wants her to do well. Julian developed that relationship, partly because Sophie [McShera, who plays Daisy] and I get on so well. We share the same sense of humour and he clocked onto that and started writing for it. He did that with a lot of actors - he saw what they brought to the role and ran with it. I liked that later on we see more of Mrs Patmore’s vulnerability because, like all of us, she’s not just one thing - nobody is.

What happens with Mrs Patmore and Daisy in the film?

In the film, Mrs Patmore’s relationship with Daisy - which has come a very long way - goes in a mother and adult-daughter direction. Instead of the mother being the dominant character, Daisy’s now in a position where she advises or even tells off Mrs Patmore on occasions. It’s a complete reversal. But it’s very realistic, because that is what happens in real life when the ‘daughter’ figure grows up. It’s kind of sweet, and it’s very realistic.

Are you excited to see how fans react to the film and this final chapter?

I hope it will make the audience happy to watch these characters again. It’s a fun story and it’s a good story - and it has that extra impact of being on the big screen. A Downton Abbey film is something that the fans always wanted to see. I don’t think there was a single cast member that didn’t want it to happen.

It’s complicated, because there’s an awful lot of people involved in Downton. We’re all so relieved that they’ve managed to pull it off because it wasn’t easy. The script had to be ready at the right time, then they had to get the people together at the right time. It’s a big complicated thing to pull off, but they’ve done it, and I’m really pleased. I think it would’ve felt like unfinished business if we hadn’t had done it.

The Downton Abbey movie is out in cinemas from 13 September.