BWW Interview: Imelda Staunton Talks Starring in the DOWNTON ABBEY Film
Imelda Staunton joined the world of Downton Abbey for the upcoming feature film, out in theaters this Friday. In the film, Staunton plays Maud Bagshaw, a lady in waiting to Queen Mary.
Stanton, an accomplished stage and screen star, recently performed on stage in the West End in Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Follies. Prior to that, she delivered an Olivier Award-winning performance as Mama Rose in Gypsy. Amongst her many other theatre credits, notable performances include Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd, for which she won an Olivier Award, Circle, Mirror, Transformation for the Royal Court and the role of Claire in Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance at The Almeida Theatre. In total, Staunton has been nominated for eleven Olivier Awards, winning four. On film Staunton is perhaps best known for playing the title role in Vera Drake, for which she received the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and for the role of Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films.
Staunton took time to talk with us about her character in the film and if Broadway is in her future!
Your husband, Jim Carter, has been apart of Downton Abbey since the series began, was that how you were approached for the film?
I'd like to think that I had an 'in,' but I didn't. It was a fantastic script and it was lovely and it was very exciting. Although, it felt very exciting and absolutely normal at the same time, and also I had worked with quite a few of the actors before, so it didn't feel daunting or anything like that. It was great.
While the series was on air, did you talk about it with your husband, and were you a fan?
Yeah, we don't talk about it too much, but we did watch it every Sunday night with our daughter and it was a lovely Sunday night show. And I think the film will give the fans exactly what they want.
It's great for fans to be able to come back into the world again.
Exactly! That's what they want. You don't want to give them anything different. They don't want different, they want the same. They want the same with a little change and new characters and that's quite interesting too.
Having the king and queen come to Downton definitely shakes things up.
I think so. How do you go up "Downton Abbey?" You can only go through the royal household. I feel it's adds something to it and gives people a lot more of what they thought they were getting.
So what was it like to play Lady Bagshaw and create that character?
She's a woman who has lost and had to get through a difficult situation and have manage somehow - let's face it, there are a lot of women in that situation in a different class who wouldn't have managed that well or couldn't - and yet it all went on and things like that. So I think it's a good topical subject.
Yeah, playing a character who has lost both her husband and her father in a period of time where women weren't really able to be in charge, I think that is a very interesting character to play.
She managed to sort of steer the situation to her advantage because she knew that certain things weren't allowed, and that she knew she had to do it in her own way, which she did. And did it for the best reason. She had her own strength and she managed to carry on without being dictated by the men in her life.
What was it like getting to work with Tuppence Middleton, who plays your maid Lucy, on the film?
Well it was funny because we've publicity a lot but we only had two scenes together. It is that and we didn't have much together, but it felt very real actually. She's a great actress and I thought it was lovely to be together like that. And also she's a woman and she's a character at the beginning of her life wondering who she is and she falls between two worlds, upstairs and downstairs. So you kind of figure out who she is, and women didn't figure out who they were in those days. So it's a very modern take. And I think here's a character that is looking forward and not thinking 'I've got to do what my mother did or I've got to do what my grandparents did.' She's going to forge a new path.
Yeah, and I think that's what is so great about having a period piece that still feels so modern in the storytelling.
I think that's absolutely true. I think that's why it resonates so well. Yes, it's a nostalgic film. Looking back, actually, there are modern comparisons and problems that people can absolutely relate to and it shows these strong women.
I agree. That's why the show has held such a special place in so many people's hearts. The characters are so strong and relatable.
Yeah, but also, I think the public in particularly in this country, people want to see good people as well as bad people. And I think with "Downton Abbey," you've got Lord Grantham as the head of the household upstairs and you got Carson downstairs, both men of great honor who take their roles very responsibly. And I think people respond to that and people want to feel like someone is looking after them. Let's face it, we have a bloody world, but now I think that's also a really attractive quality that people feel safe with people who behave well.
Exactly, and that's what Downton does so well, it makes you feel good and gives you hope at times that may not be the best.
Yes, you want it to be a nice treat but with some advice. You don't want it all sugar, there's got to be a little bit of nutrition in there. And I do think "Downton" provides that, I really do.
I do, too. And that's why audiences can't wait for the film to come out, so that they can go back into that world.
It will be interesting though, won't it, because of course this is just this one film, they had all these different areas. I wonder if they will only watch it once or will the come back time and time again. Who knows?
That is a good question, but these characters hold such a special place in so many people's hearts that it would be hard not to go back to it again and again.
Yeah, I mean, I've seen it twice and I think, '"That's a rather lovely way to spend an evening or an afternoon." No doubt about it, it's a feel good movie, it's a feel great movie.
There was a trailer released that featured the scene with you and Maggie Smith together, what was it like to reunite with Smith after playing such adversarial roles in "Harry Potter," and two play characters at odds again?
Well, it's working great. In both those films, we've both played strong women and that's what we want.
And fans love to see such strong women and characters in the same room together.
All I know is you've got Maggie and Penelope and it's like me being there with [Roger] Federer and [Rafael] Nadal because that's what it feels like for me.
After such successful runs in Gypsy and Follies on the West End, do you have any plans to get back on stage and maybe even here in the U.S. on Broadway?
I probably wouldn't. I wouldn't do Broadway only because I just don't want to leave home. So I'm quite happy to work in London. It's just being away from home, I'm a bit of a home girl. And doing shows like "Gypsy" --- we talked about New York --- but it nearly killed me at home here. And he said, 'Oh! You'd be the toast of the area!' I don't do anything when I do a show. I don't go out, I don't see anyone, I don't do anything. So I wouldn't be the toast of anywhere because I wouldn't go anywhere. It's just too tough and I take it too seriously to think 'I just want to go out at night and have a good time.' -So, no, I don't think I will be on the Broadway stage and you've got plenty of people here who can do it.