As an actress living in New York City, there’s an unspoken rule of cool apathetic behavior when in the presence of celebrities. We don’t loiter on the street corner when a movie is being shot in our neighborhood. Instead, we complain about not having had an audition in weeks and the fact that we have to hunker our strollers over thick electrical cables. But when the cast of the smash PBS hit series Downton Abbey appeared on the set of Katie – impossibly skinny, chic and modern, while I was sporting my dorkiest Downton Abbey velvet-I was giddy as Daisy on her way to the Servant’s Ball.
Over a cup of tea, Katie Couric asked the assembled cast members what they feel the success of their show can be attributed to. Elizabeth McGovern (Lady Cora for all you Downton Fans) shrugged her shoulders and answered something to the effect of “I wish I knew.” Always prepped with a follow-up, Katie postulated that one of the reasons might be the show’s civility. It’s decency. Proof perhaps that the pendulum of popular entertainment may be swinging back again, away from Snooki and toward Lady Mary.
Much of what I love about Downton Abbey is the sense of restraint…
For my part, I couldn’t agree more. I have often felt that I was born in the wrong era. At the risk of sounding impossibly geriatric, the 21st Century frequently feels a little coarse to me. A little ugly. A little gauche. Much of what I love about Downton Abbey is the sense of restraint, the unbridled, breathless romanticism that can only exist within such a corseted society. A society in which little is said, but much is felt. And the quick touch of a hand or shared glance across a crowded table speaks volumes.
How readily the argument can be made that there is nothing coarse about modern dentistry, equal rights, and 21st Century underwear.But if you grant that, and allow this notion as the whim of a frequently underemployed actress/mommy (me) living in one of the coarsest cities in the world (New York City), maybe you can understand where I’m coming from.
Actors often joke about how we’re pigeonholed in casting. My friend, Sam, says he’s made his living playing “jerks, clowns and idiots.” Me? Spinsters, lesbians and maids. It’s no surprise, perhaps, that in my first Broadway show, I played a late 19th Century lesbian, spinster, midwife. Boo-yah. I hit all three. But even though my character was far more downstairs than upstairs, my costume was exquisite. The box pleats in the overskirt were to die for. The starched while apron was impeccable. The blouse was crisp and spotless. Indeed, a lot of what I love about this period, and the period in which Downton Abbey is set, is hidden in the clothing. Even the servants’ dresses tell a story. Concealing while revealing. Many actresses complain about having to rehearse in corsets. I love it. For me the corset is not just a breath-taking piece of underwear. It’s what lies beneath the entire era. Everything from how women in the early 1900’s moved to how they spoke, to me, can be attributed to a culture in which women were corseted.
And all of that is why I am having a torrid affair with the frequently brilliant, sometimes melodramatic, and always entertaining Downton Abbey.
Naturally…I want to be on this show. Every fan knows that Shirley MacLaine is joining the cast for Season Three, playing Lady Cora’s mother. She needs a lady’s maid, right? Maybe that character is a red-haired spinster….secretly in love with Lady Edith? Julian Fellowes, are you listening?
Do you love Downton Abbey? Tell us why!