Michelle Dockery dazzles on both the small and big screen this season, returning to her role of Lady Mary Crawlet in Downton Abbey: A New Era and a new thriller series, Anatomy of a Scandal.
As the voice of Lady Mary Crawley comes on the line, my spine straightens. The poise and quick-witted composure of Michelle Dockery demands that you sit a little taller and listen intently. The English actress is whip smart and her brilliant brain moves beautifully fast. Blink, and you might miss an important plot twist revealed through the subtle adjustments of her expressive eyes or slight intonation of her tone. The Lady commands the room—and screen—no doubt.
“When you find something that you can’t put the script down—you know that you’re onto a good thing,” says Dockery of her latest project, a new limited television series, Anatomy of a Scandal. The six-episode Netflix series slated to drop mid-April was developed by David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies, Nine Perfect Strangers) and Melissa James Gibson (the playwright behind episodes of House of Cards and The Americans) and is based on the novel of the same name by Sarah Vaughan. Dockery stars as prosecutor Kate Woodcroft alongside Rupert Friend and Sienna Miller, who play a privileged parliamentary minister and his wife whose perfect lives quickly unravel as the scandal unfolds. The captivating series is thrilling, but also touches on timely topics of entitlement, truth and consent.
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“After reading the script, I was instantly drawn to Kate,” Dockery says. “She was so unreadable in the early episodes, and the arc of her character—just brilliant, and really unexpected.” Dockery notes that while the series is a highly entertaining and fictional thriller, the topics are intensely important. “I think after the #MeToo movement we are much more sensitive to the conversation around these issues. You go on this journey with these characters and see it from their perspective. The show’s shot in that way, to see it from a different character’s perspective for this complex issue,” she says. “I think it’s handled really well in the show, and I think it will create conversation, particularly about privilege and consent.”
This spring, Dockery also returns to her role playing Lady Mary Crawley of Downton Abbey. “It was like going home, like it always is. It’s wonderful to s pend time apart, and then we’ll come back together because we are like a family,” she says of reuniting with the cast to film. “I love playing her. And I love... each time we do it, what Julian [Fellowes] comes up with for each character. It’s always so unexpected and something new. And there’ll be a c hallenge here and there.” The historic and wild success of Downton has been a continued surprise for Dockery. “We were thrilled that the first film did so well. It got such a great reception and there was such an appetite for the second film.”
While the role and characters might be familiar, the new Downton film takes the audience on a journey—both to t he south of France and into a new era. “I think anytime that you take the characters out of Downton, it’s really interesting to see how they behave in another environment, and when they’re taken out of their comfort zone. So that part made it really fun to see played out, particularly in Carson being in a different place.”
When asked if there are any Downton secrets or spoilers for the new film that she can reveal, Dockery coyly shares, “We have a couple of crew members who appear in the film. … I w on’t tell you what characters they play.” Dockery says seeing these longtime Downtown crew members on camera was quite moving, as was seeing the transformation of their beloved “castle” (the historic High-clere Castle used as the main set for Downton Abbey). “We don’t actually live there, but it felt like our home being turned upside down.”
She shares that the returning role felt like a welcome respite after the intensity of Anatomy of a Scandal. “It’s rare, actually, as an actor, to go back to something so often,” Dockery muses of her good fortune to play Lady Mary. “Most of the time, you’re meeting new people. … It’s a new character, a new cast and crew—and you’re constantly starting again. The freshness of that is great, but it’s lovely to b e able to step back into shoes that you’re really comfortable with and be with your gang. We’re all so close and mates for life,” she says. In fact, Dockery recently released a folk album with Downton co-star Michael Fox. “We started writing that together six years ago,” she says, sharing that one of their songs appears on the Downton EP. “We obviously have worked together on Downton for many years, and it started out by us both having guitars on set and jamming between themes, and then it just grew from there.”
“I think the story is always ongoing,” Dockery says when pressed if we can expect more from Downton after this spring’s film. “Julian always managed to do that, in that the ending always has a beginning in some way.” I straighten again to scan Dockery’s voice for any nuanced tells. “It’s all about the audience’s appetite. So, they will wait and see."
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Photography by: Photographed by Matt Easton; Hair by Maarit Niemela; Makeup by Andrew Gallimore