The cast of Downton Abbey gathered in Beverly Hills on Saturday to say goodbye to TV critics in a poignent final season press conference. With only two weeks of shooting left on the international hit, the cast revealed some actors have already wrapped their roles, and the entire production has finished shooting at Highclere Castle — the real-life stand in for the Crawley family home.
“It’s strange saying goodbye to the castle,” said Laura Carmichael, who plays Lady Edith on the BBC and PBS Masterpiece series. “It felt like, for a split second, it wasn’t our home anymore — and, of course, it never was our home, but it felt like it. As soon as they said ‘cut’ on that day, you realized it was just pretend. It was very emotional; we didn’t want to leave.”
Hugh Bonneville (Robert) was asked his favorite line ever uttered on the show, and it’s definitely a very Downton-y choice: “My favorite line is one of Mary’s: ‘I’m going upstairs to take off my hat,'” he said, drawing laughs.
While Joanne Froggatt (Anna) was asked about the show’s handling of last season’s controversial rape scene. “I think as actors, you can’t possibly have been through every situation you play,” she say. “Sometimes you have to do research and sometimes it’s simply trying to get into that head-space… you do whatever we need to get the most honest performance. [Executive producer Julian Fellowes] writes brilliantly and never shows too much on screen. The attack on Anna, you didn’t actually see anything, but it felt like you saw more than you did… you saw Anna’s gut-wrenching reaction afterward. Julian was adamant we not show anything more.”
As usual, the team was pretty quiet about the upcoming season’s storyline. A trailer screened for critics had some minor revelations — the Crawley’s get a refridgerator and Carson has to contend with cutting the house’s staff (“Who has an underbutler these days?”). And Bonneville did drop one specific tidbit: “The final season has the flavor of an end of an era,” he said. “We visit a neighbor in the county who literally has to sell the estate’s silver. It’s a scene of a once grand estate is being fragmented. Robert … does see that change is necessary. He wants to conserve the best of the past but absolutely understands that the future beckons.”
The cast more gamely revealed what they’ll miss most — both tangibly from the production and fictionally from the world of the 1920s.
Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary) said she’ll miss the cast and crew (a sentiment that was echoed by other cast members), while Elizabeth McGovern (Cora) said she’ll miss the peaceful time period of the story. “In today’s world we’re inundated with information all the time, there’s so many choices we have to make, so much opportunity,” she said. “I miss the peace of this world where everybody knew their place and accepted it. Life seemed so quiet by comparison. I think that’s part of the appeal and escape [of the show]. In today’s world, we contend with more information than we can actually absorb. In the world of Downton, we only know the circle that’s right in front of our face. There are limits to that life, of course, but it’s peaceful.”
To this, Froggett countered that the lack of opportunities for women in the 1920 was something that she certainly would not miss.
Carmichael noted she’d love to take her newspaper set home with her, and Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes) says she wishes could keep the Downton set’s floral arrangements.
Quipped Bonneville: “One thing I’ve learned on the show: People who smoke ciggerretes are up to no good.”
Writer-producer Fellowes held out hope of a future TV movie or two. If that happens, it’s possible the story could extend to the end of the 1920s (the final season is set in 1925). “If we had gone to a season 7 or 8 we would have taken it that much further,” he said. “There’s speculation about whether we’ll ever make a Downton movie, we might, but there are no firm plans. But it means there’s a lot of rich [remaining] territory.”
Even with the longing for some future visits to Downton, the writer-producer maintained the series was ending at the right time. “If we had finished at [season] 5, that would have been short-changing a global audience,” Fellowes said. “And if we tried to do 8, that would have felt like running out of ideas … The best thing [a viewer] can say is ‘I don’t want the show to end.'”
The sixth and final season of Downton Abbey premieres Jan. 3, 2016.