For six seasons, Downton Abbey took us upstairs and downstairs as we followed the Crawley family and its faithful staff through wars, weddings, heartbreaking deaths, and countless love affairs for Lady Mary.
In the upcoming final season, which premieres Jan. 3, we’ll see more of how modern times will affect their lifestyle. “We started at the real high point of this way of life. … Now we’re covering this period of decline,” EP Gareth Neame tells EW. “We’re seeing the end of an era, and servants no longer wanting to be servants, because there were other jobs.”
Will everyone get a happy ending? (Even poor Edith?) “Some will have good outcomes, and some won’t,” Neame teases. “But we’ll leave them where they are in that place and time.”
We sat down with several cast members to talk about goodbyes, bad times around the dinner table, and the best part about working with Dame Maggie Smith.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: An episode of Downton was usually full of grand-scale moments. What were your favorite types of scenes to film?
ALLEN LEECH (TOM BRANSON): I love being in scenes where I get to be part of a Maggie Smith put-down. A Dowager Countess put-down is always a special moment. Especially if you’re working on set and she managed to do one off set at you.
MICHELLE DOCKERY (LADY MARY): I particularly enjoy scenes below stairs when I’m addressing the servants, which is a rare occasion for Mary. I enjoyed the atmosphere down there. It’s not Mary’s territory.
What about the worst kinds of scenes to film?
LEECH: Dining room. Everyone is going to say “dining room.”
KEVIN DOYLE (MOLESLEY): A two-minute dining-room scene could take a day and a half to shoot. There was a big cheer earlier this year when we did our last dining-room scene.
ELIZABETH MCGOVERN (CORA): Setting up the cameras is always really tricky because you have to set them up so that not only is the camera not in the other camera’s shot, but so the reflection of the camera and the reflection of all the guys moving the cameras and their shadows aren’t in the shot. Then the candles are burning, and it’s keeping the candles in the same place and replacing the candles, all of these things you don’t think about as an audience member.
HUGH BONNEVILLE (LORD GRANTHAM): I think Allen did the math. If you put them all end to end, we’ve spent three months in that room. It wasn’t sad to say goodbye to the dining room.
Other than the amazing one-liners, what was the greatest part about working with Maggie Smith?
BONNEVILLE: She expects high standards. You always knew you had to be at the top of your game whenever she was on set. Also, she was very good at Bananagrams.
LEECH: Everyone enjoys her performances and watching her because she has so much fun doing it. But she also is so honest. “Oh my gosh, I just caught myself old-woman acting. I mean, why am I doing that?”
DOCKERY: There’s a part of me that thinks I’m done now. I’ve worked with Maggie Smith for six years.
Who was always most likely to forget their lines?
PHYLLIS LOGAN (MRS. HUGHES): Nobody present!
DOCKERY: It was the vicar for Lady Edith’s wedding in series 3. At one point he said, “Dearly beloved … What is it?”
MCGOVERN: But this was after he said it when he wasn’t on camera 600 times as we covered every person in the church. Then when the camera turned on him, he couldn’t get past “Dearly beloved.”
LEECH: And all he had to say was “We’re gathered here.” That’s it.
Did anyone take anything from set on the last day of filming?
LEECH: I had the opportunity to take a letter that Branson had been written, but it was from the pig farmer. I don’t hold a great sense of sentimentality in my mind for the pig farmer, so I chose not to.
DOYLE: I think Hugh took a little letter from his desk in Highclere. I would have liked to have taken one of Mrs. Patmore’s pans, those beautiful copper-plated pans, but I couldn’t fit it into my bag.
Do you have a favorite line of dialogue in the series?
LEECH: Branson saying, “Bet on me” to Sybil in the second [season].
DOCKERY: When Violet said to Isobel, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”
MCGOVERN: [When Violet said,] “What is a weekend?”
LOGAN: Mrs. Hughes says to Daisy, “You’re building a fire, Daisy. Not inventing it.”
JIM CARTER (MR. CARSON): Lady Mary, about to get married, coming down the stairs saying, “Will I do, Carson?”
When did it hit you that the show was really ending?
MCGOVERN: There was the last day that we shot in Highclere Castle. I remember having a walk along that drive that we always walk to every morning. That last walk, I was unexpectedly emotional.
LEECH: When we got the final script and read those final lines, I realized, “Wow, that’s the end.” Instead of saying “End of episode,” it says “The end of Downton.”
DOCKERY: I think when we wrapped at Highclere Castle. Laura [Carmichael, who plays Edith Crawley] and I were particularly emotional, and we had a wander through the house hand in hand and took one last look. The tears were just flooding.
Tell us what it was like filming your last scene.
DOCKERY: I felt a bit sick leading up to the final take. I was so nervous and just couldn’t quite believe it. We partied that night and the next night and the next night.
CARTER: I was the most matter-of-fact. “Oh, we’re coming to the end. We always finish jobs. That’s fine. Grow up, everybody. Stop the moaning.” Then when it came to saying goodbye — particularly to the crew — I found myself welling up. These great butch blokes on the crew started crying too. It was ridiculous.
LOGAN: We thought, “If Jim Carter goes, there’s no hope for the rest of us.”
Additional reporting by C. Molly Smith