Reel style, real life: 'Lady Mary' Michelle Dockery on life after hit period series Downton Abbey

Actress Michelle Dockery says her stint on television series Downton Abbey gave her a chance to learn more about fashion.
Actress Michelle Dockery says her stint on television series Downton Abbey gave her a chance to learn more about fashion. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Leaving Downton Abbey, says Michelle Dockery, feels like a graduation for her.

"I had been working for six years before I got cast on Downton, but working with the likes of actresses Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton has been an education," says the 33-year-old Londoner, who has become an international star after six seasons playing Lady Mary in the hit period drama, maturing as both a performer and a person.

She has learnt a lot on the show about the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the early 20th century.

"I found interviews very difficult at first," she says by way of an example. "Initially, I was terrified because it was new to me and I was worrying about everything I said, but I've got used to it.

"And then it has also been a history lesson on the period. I have learnt to ride horses and about the fashion of the era and style."

Indeed, with the possible exception of Lady Rose (the "wild" cousin played by Lily James), few characters are more closely associated with Downton's glamorous fashions than Lady Mary.

"Mary is fashionable though I don't think she's obsessed like Rose," Dockery says with a smile.

Rose, she adds, was very "flapper", a term used to describe young Western women in the 1920s who wore short skirts, cut their hair into bobs and visited jazz clubs, rebelling against the conservative nature of the times. "Mary is a little bit more mature than that," says Dockery.

Like her character, the actress has taken an interest in the clothing seen on Downton and on the modern-day catwalk. "I like seeing what is out there in the new collections. I like a lot of what we see in this final season. There are lots of pearls, a lot of Chanel influence and fabulous hats this year," she says.

"I get to wear some great hats and, at one stage, sunglasses, which were very risque, very new. They have pulled out all the stops for the last series and I don't think I'd ever tire of wearing the clothes and jewellery."

She was not really into fashion when she started the show. While she loved clothes, having a sense of style and knowing about designers were not things she had the opportunity to learn until Downton Abbey came along.

"Of course, you are doing photo shoots every few months and you are meeting new stylists and different designers and it's been a real education in the fashion world, which I have found really fun."

Fashion was top of the agenda this season during the royal visit to the Downton Abbey set at Ealing Studios, London, says Dockery. Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, popped in to meet the cast and crew before the show wrapped, much to everyone's excitement.

"It was one of the most magical days," says Dockery. "The anticipation leading up to the moment she stepped on set was amazing. Her presence was beautiful. She talked extensively to Anna Robbins, our costume designer, because she has an art history degree so that was the bit she was interested in."

As one of Britain's most popular television dramas with an international audience of about 120 million over the past six years, Downton has also boosted the cast's career profiles. The likes of actors Dan Stevens, Jessica Brown Findlay and James, for example, left the show during previous seasons to start careers in Hollywood.

Dockery, meanwhile, increased her film output while staying on Downton, popping up in 2012's Anna Karenina and starring alongside Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore in 2014's action drama Non-Stop. This year, she featured in the thriller Self/less with Ryan Reynolds and Ben Kingsley.

Recently, she has finished the film adaptation of Julian Barnes' novel The Sense Of An Ending, alongside Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling.

Looking forward to life after Downton Abbey, she says: "This show has given us all so many opportunities. I am not out to prove I can do something different from Mary. It is more about the material than anything. I just want to keep acting.

"We have been so spoilt by Downton. It has been the most incredible thing to be a part of."

Is there anything she will not miss about the show? "Those cold mornings at Highclere Castle," she says with a laugh, referring to the building in north Hampshire, which stands in for Downton Abbey. "It was like a wind tunnel around that house."

• The final episode of Downton Abbey, a Christmas special, will premiere in Singapore on Diva (StarHub TV Channel 513 or Singtel TV Channel 303) on Dec 26 at 10pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2015, with the headline 'Reel style, real life'. Subscribe