Interview: Actress Phyllis Logan Looks Back on Downton Abbey

The sun had set on Downton Abbey last week but not so when Phyllis Logan, who plays housekeeper Mrs Hughes, visited Sydney.

The view of Circular Quay from her hotel suite was bathed in picturesque sunlight but Logan was kind enough to take her time away from the weather and view to talk about the world of Downton and her beloved role.

Mrs Hughes has had an amazing character development, what are you most proud of bringing in the character to life?

Logan: It has been such fun, I mean when we consider where we started in 1912. I think she has moved on quite a bit and that has much to do with, obviously, Julian [Fellowes]‘s writing of each character as well as bringing a little of your own input into developing a character.

I think she’s [Mrs Hughes] tried to move with the times which is difficult for her, really, because she’s from a certain age group, brought up in the Victorian times so it’s harder for someone like that rather than the young ones to adapt to an ever changing world, but I think I’m most proud of the fact that she has tried to acknowledge that things are changing and that she has to move forward.

Are any inspirations in developing Mrs Hughes?

No. I think Julian Fellowes writes things so well and clearly that you get a complete picture of the character just from his writing. I did read some interesting background books about being in service and housekeepers in particular.

I just rely very much on Julian’s telling of the characters because he’s very knowledgeable about that sort of era and we also have a historical adviser on the show called Alistair Bruce.

What drew you into the world of Downton?

It was the story, really [not the costumes] and when I read the script, I thought “gosh, this is a really good story, well told, great characters, it’s bound to be quite popular and you got the likes of Maggie Smith in it” and I thought “I’ll have some of this if it’s going, thank you very much!” [laughs].

Were you starstruck by Maggie Smith?

Well, I had worked with her before, I mean, of course, that doesn’t mean to say I was blase about it at all.

She’s a complete icon. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that much to do with her. Her character Violet knew Mrs Hughes and vice versa, but they never really crossed paths that much.

[But] I would see her [Smith] because we would be sat in the makeup chair together or at these scenes that involve fairs or the castle. We would all be there and I would get to see her then. But we never had scenes together.

After six seasons, do you think Mrs Hughes and the world of Downton will stay with you?

You know, it’s something that has been such a wacky, weird and wonderful experience and not like anything else I’ve ever been involved in before.

I can’t imagine there would be anything else like it afterwards, so it would definitely. It’s straight up there with some of the best jobs I’ve been involved with.

In regards to the audience, what do you think drew a younger audience (like me) to Downton?

Well, I would ask you that question, I have no idea. It’s funny because I thought it would be much appealing to an older group of viewers.

I suppose it has some elements of soap operas. It’s got dynasties, the family, it’s got romance – Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley, and it also got downstairs [the servants’ quarters].

It’s got a lot of elements which are in most dramas or soaps even, but with a difference being that we don’t have smartphones, computers, we are not on Instagram or cyberbullying and anything like that.

Basically if you wanted to tell somebody something who lived in another village, you would have to write a letter and send somebody off or write a telegram. All these different ways of conducting your life, it was much clearer and simpler, and you wouldn’t throw yourself at the first person you saw at a disco.

You know, courtship was much longer and much more restrained. So it’s quite intriguing in what young viewers think.

I was drawn because there’s one class that the show focuses on, but there’s also the servants, the “downstairs”.

Yeah, that’s right. You got the posh lot and you can identify with them but also you got the more down-to-earth people that you think “Oh yeah, I know what they mean” and see the way they have to conduct themselves.

There are a number of shows that are reviving such as The X-Files and Doctor Who. If Downton ever revives in 10 years or so, would you ever think of returning?

Well, I doubt it ever will. I think Mrs Hughes would’ve hung up her keys in 10 years time and would either be in her grave or certainly retired.

Has the world of Downton already stretched as far as it could go?

I think so. That’s what the producers and Julian felt. We’ve done six years which is a pretty run and I know places in America, they [shows] would go on and on, but we always felt that we would like to leave it on a high, so that people, instead of begging us to finish, would be saying “oh please don’t go”. Always better to leave at wanting more.

Any parting words for Downton fans?

Well, there might be a Downton movie. Nothing is set in stone yet, just talk.

Would you be interested in the movie?

Oh yeah, absolutely. So watch this space.

Downton Abbey Season 6 is out on DVD and Blu-Ray on 28 April.

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