Michelle Dockery’s new show is a world away from the ITV hit. But, she says, Lady Mary could return
It’s a character about as far removed from the prim and proper Lady Mary Crawley as it’s possible to get. In her first role since leavingDownton Abbey, Michelle Dockery plays Letty Dobesh, a drug-abusing petty thief and con artist who vomits and falls down drunk.
It is a lip-smacking role that Dockery relishes. Instead of high society pleasantries, she gets to deliver lines such as: “I’m a piece of s—. Why keep fighting it!” In the trailer for the new drama series, Good Behaviour, she can be seen rolling around on a bed while a man pours alcohol on her stomach and, later, toying suggestively with a bottle.
The show, which will be shown by the American network TNT later this year, came Dockery’s way at an ideal time. The last episode of Downton Abbey had finally been shown by ITV and she was dealing with the tragic loss of her fiancé John Dineen, who died of cancer in December aged 34.
Inevitably, it was described by some as a case of “life imitating art” because Lady Mary’s Downton Abbey husband Matthew, played by Dan Stevens, famously lost his life in a car crash.
It is not something Dockery wants to talk about, but she allows that family and friends helped her through the dark time following Dineen’s death.
“No one I would name because I am very private about my private life,” she says when we talk in a suite in the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. “But friends and family see you through the most difficult times.”
Acting, too, served as a “release”, she says.
“It was very fortunate for me that this came along at the right time. It wasn’t a conscious decision to do something so totally different from Lady Mary but I was completely hooked on the script from the first page and I loved the complexity of the character.
“Downton Abbey was an incredible journey for six years and we were very sad to say goodbye, but it was the right time and it was very exciting actually leaving and going on to something like this and a whole new path in my career.”
Dockery, 34, was nominated for a Golden Globe and two Emmys for her performance in Downton, but she says the creators of Good Behaviour approached her on the back of another, much smaller part: Gemma Morrison, a rape victim who sought revenge on her attackers in two episodes of the long-running police drama series Waking the Dead, a role she filmed in 2009.
“I was just stunned that they had seen it and they took a leap of faith with me,” she says. “I convinced them I could do an American accent and I said a few things to them over the phone in the accent, but I had some coaching too.”
In the flesh, the actress, who grew up in Romford, still has traces of an Essex accent. She is friendly and refreshingly down-to-earth and admits the fame thrust upon her by Downton took time to get used to.
“I’m no longer anonymous but it comes with the territory,” she says. “Downton Abbey was something that surprised us all and was a huge springboard into America for many of us, which has obviously led to opportunities like this.” (Besides Dockery, Dan Stevens and Lily James, who played Lady Rose, are also much in demand stateside.)
Dockery, who is wearing a grey summer dress patterned with brightly coloured flowers, has actually just flown in from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she has been filming a Western series for Netflix called Godless, alongside Jack O’Connell and Jeff Daniels.
It is another vastly different role to that of Lady Mary and provides another temporary home for Dockery, who previously spent four months in Wilmington, North Carolina, filming Good Behaviour.
“Home is wherever I’m working at the moment,” she says. “For the last year I have moved around a lot and hopefully I will be in Wilmington again for the next series. I loved it there and for a Brit it was beautiful being by the beach and the sea.
“It’s been a real change after working for six years in England, but I enjoy being somewhere different, in a different climate and having to wear a lot of sunscreen.” She laughs.
American casting directors love English actors who have learnt their trade on stage as well as on television and in film and Dockery more than qualifies.
A talented singer and dancer as well as an actor (she plays with Sadie and the Hotheads, the band fronted by Elizabeth McGovern, who played her mother in Downton), Dockery graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2004 and studied for 14 months at the National Theatre, earning good reviews for her stage performances which included Eliza Doolittle in Peter Hall’s production of Pygmalion.
Downton will always be close to her heart
She then landed the part of a policewoman on the trail of a serial killer in Channel 4’s Bafta-winning Red Riding Trilogy. She won her role as the cold and aloof Lady Mary soon afterwards and, during breaks in Downton, found the time to star in a big screen version of Anna Karenina and a Liam Neeson action thriller.
Another film she has done with Charlotte Rampling and Jim Broadbent, an adaptation of Julian Barnes’s novel The Sense of an Ending, is still awaiting release.
But, however well her career goes in America, Downton Abbey will always be close to her heart. She keeps in touch with some of her fellow cast members, particularly Laura Carmichael who played Lady Edith.
“The thing that I miss the most are my cast members,” she says. “But we are all still very close. I think there is potential for a film. That is something I would wholeheartedly consider, so we will see. It may not be over yet.”