Having played their characters on television and film for ten-plus years, Jim Carter and Raquel Cassidy are old hands when it comes to the world of Downton Abbey. Starring as Mr. Carson and Miss Baxter, the exacting house butler and kind lady’s maid to Cora Crawley, the two veteran actors are pillars of the “downstairs” world of Downton, keeping the house running, food on the table, and the upstairs gentry clothed and happy – even when it means coming out of retirement to do so.
Carter and Cassidy are two of the many stars who return to the familiar and beloved house for Downton Abbey: A New Erathe second spin-off film that sees Hollywood come to the abbey as the family investigates a mysterious inheritance gained by the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), in the form of a villa in the south of France. Mr. Carson and Miss Baxter both follow the family to the beautiful countryside as they attempt to discern the reasoning for such a sudden bequest, and it’s there that adventure follows, as both the family and the servants take on the big, wide world outside of Downton.
Ahead of the film’s release on DVD and Blu-ray on July 5, Collider had the opportunity to fly to England and interview Carter and Cassidy at the stunning Wrest Park, the UK filming location for the French villa inherited by the Dowager Countess. Over the course of the interview, which you can watch above as well as read a transcript of below, the stars discussed what it was like taking their characters from television to film and the cinematic nature of the series itself, as well as what Miss Baxter’s wedding might look like, and what it was like for Carter to work on the film with his wife, Imelda Staunton.
COLLIDER: First of all, it is wonderful to meet you guys. The film was absolutely incredible. And I know that you two are both very seasoned actors, I grew up watching both of you on television, but taking a character that you’ve played on television to film, what is that process like? Because obviously you’ve done projects on film and projects on television separately, but what’s the process of taking a character that you’ve played, especially for 10 years, to film?
JIM CARTER: It’s not hugely different because the TV series is quite cinematic anyway. It’s got the big landscapes, it’s got the big houses, it’s got some breadth and it’s got time to breathe. So it is not really, from our point of view, I do not think any different from making the television series.
RAQUEL CASSIDY: I think it’s shorter and sharper, so you’ve got just as long, if not longer to film the scenes, which is great. But the whole experience is shorter, and therefore in a sweeter way. Because if you’re doing something for six months, it’s more tiring. But if you’re doing it for six weeks or two, two and a half months, it’s more like a, “oh, we’re doing this”. So there’s that element.
JIM CARTER: It’s the speed dating version of Downtonisn’t it, really?
RAQUEL CASSIDY: Yeah, which is always more fun, isn’t it?
JIM CARTER: It’s compressed into 10 weeks.
RAQUEL CASSIDY: No one wants to go out with someone for too long, do they?
JIM CARTER: No. Raquel – don’t look at me when you say that, madam.
COLLIDER: (laughs) Well, this film is a culmination of a lot of years of storytelling, particularly when we get to the end and the Dowager Countess passes away. And particularly you, Jim, you have this wonderful scene where you’ve found out she passed away and Carson quotes King Lear, sitting at the servants table. When you’ve played a character for that long, who’s been in service to the Dowager her entire life, what was it like to play that grief, in a sense?
JIM CARTER: Well, it was very easy to do really, because Carson had had a long relationship with the Dowager Countess, and Jim Carter’s had a long relationship with Maggie Smith. And the thought of her passing is desperately sad because she, in a way, she’s the embodiment of the old spirit of Downton. And Carson is also an embodiment of that spirit, and so we are two pillars of rectitude and tradition really. And then one of the pillars has crumbled, so it’s very easy to play, especially when Julian Fellowes gives you a bit of Shakespeare, because he could write as well.
COLLIDER: And you’ve done King Lear in the past as well, haven’t you?
JIM CARTER: I have, yeah. I’ve never said those lines, but I’ve done the film with Anthony Hopkins.
COLLIDER: And you Raquel, one of my favorite bits of the film is the end. We get to the end and Mr. Molesley proposes to Miss Baxter. What do you think their wedding would look like? Do you know?
RAQUEL CASSIDY: Ooh, well I think I would get some lovely hand-me-downs from Lady Cora. She would see me right, certainly. Everyone would be there. We’ve had one of those. We’ve had servants’ weddings before, so there’d be lots of dancing.
JIM CARTER: We did the village hall, did we? I mean… what’s my [on-screen] wife called?
RAQUEL CASSIDY: What your wife called?
JIM CARTER: Yeah. What’s her name?
RAQUEL CASSIDY: Mrs. Carson?
JIM CARTER: Yeah. Oh, that’s right, yeah. Was it Logan? Phyllis? No, what’s she play? What is it?
RAQUEL CASSIDY: Oh…
JIM CARTER: Oh, but God.
COLLIDER: I’m blanking on [her name] as well.
JIM CARTER: Oh no! Dear, I’ve gone completely blank — Mrs. Hughes!
RAQUEL CASSIDY: Mrs. Hughes.
COLLIDER: There we go.
JIM CARTER: Mrs. Hughes, all right.
RAQUEL CASSIDY: She has a first name and everything, does not she? Elsie.
JIM CARTER: Elsie. Yeah, we’ve done the village hall, so you’ll have to come up with something different. Maybe you’ll have a marquee on the grounds.
RAQUEL CASSIDY: Yeah, maybe.
JIM CARTER: Yeah, and I’ll be very disapproving.
RAQUEL CASSIDY: As long as you’re there disapproving, it will all be right. It’d be sweet. It would be family.
COLLIDER: And Jim, you’ve worked with your wife Imelda Staunton in the past, but you did get a very, very brief scene in this film. And obviously you said it’s the speed dating version of working on something versus television, but what was that like, getting to work with her on a project that you’ve been attached to for so long?
JIM CARTER: Well, once I got over the shock of her being in it … It was a couple, two or three years ago, she said, “Oh, I’ve got a script.” And I said, “What is it?” She said, “Downton Abbey.” I said, “You can not be in that. I’m in that.” And I was furious that she was playing an upstairs character rather than a downstairs character. Once I got over that, took about 18 months, it was very nice to do that little scene in the hat shop, which is filmed in Ealing Studios. It was not in the south of France at all of course. But yeah, it was good, and the cheeky line about us being married at the end of it. So yeah, it was good fun.
RAQUEL CASSIDY: And it’s nice to have a holiday in the south of France together.
JIM CARTER: Oh, that wasn’t too shabby either.
Downton Abbey: A New Eraalso starring Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Dominic West, Hugh Dancyand Elizabeth McGovernis streaming now on Peacock, and arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on July 5.