Before she was Cinderella, a “Dancing Queen,” or a Baby Driver’s love interest, Lily James was Downton Abbey‘s Cousin Rose — a mischievous young woman sent to live with her relatives when her parents felt her proclivities for jazz music and male attention made her too much of a libertine for them to handle.
With the forthcoming fall 2019 release of a long-awaited Downton Abbey film, many were eager to see James join her fellow cast members and were disappointed to learn she would not be making an appearance. Executive producer Gareth Neame and creator Julian Fellowes explain that leaving Rose out of the film was a practical decision for many reasons.
“She can’t be [in it]; she’s in every other film at the world at the moment,” jokes Neame of her absence. Indeed, the prospect of scheduling was certainly a roadblock.
“Lily is now a big star, and it would’ve been incredibly difficult for her to find time in her schedule to come and play essentially a supporting role in Downton when her career was in a different place when she was with us,” adds Fellowes. “In the end, we all felt it was better to leave her in America.”
Lest fans think it was purely a scheduling issue (James previously told PEOPLE she would have “loved to come back for a scene”), Fellowes and Neame say it was also partly about keeping the story line focused on those still a part of the action. “Technically, she was only a recurring character in the final season. She came in and made some visits in a couple of episodes, but her story ended at the end of the fifth season when she went off to America,” Neame says of Lady Rose.
“We knew we had to focus on the very core characters because there are not very many movies with 20 leading characters, and the dynamic of the TV series was that all these characters were treated equally,” Neame adds. “That’s one thing when you’ve got 10 or 11 hours of TV drama; another thing when it’s a two-hour movie. We had to be quite disciplined about focusing on the really central characters.”
Still, everyone on Team Downton still has nothing but love for James and wish they could have found a way to include her. “She’s our greatest success story from the cast of the show,” Fellowes proclaims.
Downton Abbey hits theaters Sept. 20, 2019.