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An Appropriate Time For All This to Erupt: Elizabeth McGovern on Downton Abbey: A New Era | Interviews

Your characters had touched on one issue before, but this was the most impactful time. Cora fell in love first, before her husband was in love with her. How did you and Simon approach that conversation?

In that case, Simon really didn’t say much, which actually is the best thing sometimes a director can possibly do. I feel like a lot of the times the directors that aren’t quite as good are the directors that feel like they need to talk all the time or tell you what to do all the time. And in this case, because Hugh and I had been working together for so long on this relationship, it just played itself, to be perfectly honest. And Simon is such a good director, he knew that it was just a situation to step back and let it play.

From an American point of view, of course, part of the charm of the series is that the Brits are not as histrionic in the way they express themselves as we are and therefore, when Lord Grantham really lets his emotions out in that scene it’s very powerful.

It totally is. I couldn’t agree more. And then something that I hadn’t predicted as well is that somehow the fact that he’s been taken out of the structure of his normal life and put into a situation so far from home in France, things are a lot more relaxed, it feels like it’s an appropriate time for all this to erupt. The fact that his whole sense of his identity is being threatened is one of these things that you first read the script, and you don’t quite see but they all conspire to make the moment even more organic feeling because they’re all at play. And I don’t know whether it’s something that Julian Fellowes thought about or whether it’s in his unconscious.  

The gorgeous costumes worn by the Crawleys always get a lot of attention. How is Cora’s personality expressed through her wardrobe?

I’m so glad you did ask that question because I think the thing that’s really distinctive about Anna Robbins, the costume designer that we had to work with on this film, and she did the last couple of series, is that she doesn’t just think about making everything beautiful, although it is beautiful and the detail is rich, and the fabrics are so beautifully chosen. But she thinks about every character and the way the clothes express character. And if you look at the movie with that in mind you’ll see that Mary is always on a front foot in her costumes. They’re vivid and sharp and clear. And Cora … wafts. There’s always a flowy softness. And once again, I think Anna does it to a large degree just instinctively. It’s not overly analyzed but it’s definitely something. She’s so smart and she’s aware of all the elements, not just the way something is looking.

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