Downton Abbey

Michelle Dockery reveals she’s no longer cast in period dramas because her Lady Mary character in Downton Abbey is ‘too recognisable’

Most actresses dream of finding a role that becomes so popular you’re catapulted to international fame.

But Michelle Dockery says she is no longer cast in period dramas because her character in Downton Abbey is ‘too recognisable’.

The actress, who starred as Lady Mary Crawley in ITV’s six season period drama, said she is now offered predominantly ‘modern’ roles due to the popularity of the show.

While she stars in the BBC’s new 1980’s-set drama This Town, she said any role further back in history is too reminiscent of Lady Mary.

For the new role she has had to begin a new journey from English rose to alcoholic to play Estella Quinn, a key character who unites the younger and older generations in Steven Knight’s eight-part Midlands drama.

Speaking to the Radio Times she said: ‘I’m so lucky with Downton, it changed my life, and I’m so proud of being part of that show.

‘But I’m never actively trying to do different things.

‘I wasn’t looking for a singing role, it just came along and I was like, ‘This is amazing, and this is, of course, what I want to do’.

‘It’s the only period drama I’ve done for a long time.

‘If I did a period drama that was also in the 1920s, it would look like Lady Mary had walked on to the wrong set.

‘I think I tend to be cast in more modern pieces for that reason.’

The 42-year-old’s new role involves a lot of singing – something which she said sold the job to her.

When Ms Dockery isn’t acting, she sings in band Michael & Michelle which is the band she formed with former Downton colleague Michael Fox, 35.

Speaking on one scene where her character Estella sings in a church, she said: ‘When I read the script that was the scene that did it.

‘I thought, ‘I’m playing this role’.’

Some fans may be shocked that Ms Dockery related more to Estella than she did Lady Mary.

‘I come from Romford in Essex, and I had a similar upbringing,’ she said.

‘What I love about This Town is the depictions of areas that would have been very grey as bright and beautiful. I’m not from Birmingham, but I really related to those places.

‘That was my childhood, too. We didn’t have much, but it was colourful. We had a lovely little house and our street was vibrant with the kids playing.

‘This Town is that for me, it shows what my childhood looked like.’

There is another, more profound, connection to her childhood – the show’s Irishness. Ms Dockery’s father Michael is from Athlone in the centre of Ireland.

And when her Irish fiancé John Dineen died of cancer in 2015, aged just 34, she sang the Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein standard The Folks Who Live on the Hill at the funeral in Cork.

Now married to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s brother, Jasper, Ms Dockery said he Irish connections sold the role to her.

‘I remember in the 1980s hearing on the news about the IRA, it was such a prevalent thing at the time, growing up,’ she said.

‘I was aware of it being present because of our Irish connection.

‘The Irish are always singing, it’s part of life.

‘You don’t even have to sing in tune, you get up and you sing a song. There’s something so beautiful about that.

‘Coming from an Irish family, there were all those connections for me.’


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