Being part of a mega-hit telly series is not all ‘lunch in LA, dinner in NY followed by theatre in the West End’, contrary to popular belief. Double-digit hour days are more the norm than the exception. In the case of Downton Abbey, filming a season’s batch of nine episodes takes about six months (March-August). No matter the series, cast and, sometimes, crew find very creative ways to pass the time between takes courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter.
Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary) cites the popular English whodunit parlor game, Wink Murder, as just one of the methods used by the cast to pass the time during 11-hour days on set. “Playing Wink Murder — that helps at dining room table scenes,” says Michelle Dockery. Lady Mary goes on to burst everyone’s bubble in the glitz and glamor category’ by revealing another time-passing secret, “There’s also the movie game. Someone names a film and you name an actor in that film, and it passes on. It’s great fun when we’re all here together.”
While about a third of the series is filmed at Highclere, with the “downstairs” and bedroom scenes shot at London’s Ealing Studios, footmen Kevin Doyle and Rob James-Collier and butler Jim Carter arguably nave the longest hours of the cast, appearing in scenes upstairs with the Crawleys and downstairs with the staff. “At the moment, it’s just me here because my staff, Mrs. Hughes [Phyllis Logan], Mrs. Patmore [Lesley Nicol], Anna [Joanne Froggatt] and Daisy [Sophie McShera] all have days off,” jokes Carter.
While Dame Maggie Smith and Elizabeth McGovern will sit quietly, playing the word game Bananagrams in the Highclere library to pass the time before “action” is called, Michelle Dockery takes the opportunity to return to the 21st Century for a few ‘what is going on in the world’ reality checks before having to return to the 1920’s.
Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith) takes advantage of every ‘down’ moment on set by trying to take care of business. “I’m trying to order some flowers, but you can’t get a 3G signal in here!” laughs Carmichael, 27. Here, she longingly holds up her iPhone in Highclere’s lavish drawing room just praying for even a hit of two bars.
So, when you sit down to watch the premiere of Downton Abbey either on 21 Sept, 2014 in the UK or Jan 4, 2015 in the States, know that it’s not always all moonlit nights and a bed of roses for cast and crew as they film your favorite British period drama. It’s pretty much a case of hurry up and wait most of the time.