Ahead of the premiere of Downton Abbey's sixth and final series, we got the opportunity to chat to Michael Fox who portrays Andrew Parker in the show - a character who up until now has remained fairly mysterious, but whom will be explored and fully fleshed out in the final few episodes of the show.
You graduated from the Central School of Speech and Drama in 2013, what was the experience of studying there like?
It was brilliant. I was on a course called BA (Hons) Acting - Collaborative and Devised Theatre, which is the acting course that's a bit more geared towards writing and devising your own work. It's brilliant. There's some really exciting, young actors coming through there and, hopefully through Downton and stuff, it'll get more popularity. It's quite a young course so I hope lots of young actors will hear that I've been doing this stuff and other young actors have been doing good stuff and then maybe they'll try and apply for it more and it'll grow and grow.
What advice do you have for any young budding actors hoping to make it into the industry?
I absolutely recommend training. I think it gives you grounding, a tool kit for if things aren't going right. Everyone knows it's an extremely hard industry to get into so having your foundation of training is really important I think.
Since that time you've picked up a number of roles, recently joining Downton Abbey's cast as Andy, how welcoming were the cast and crew when you first joined?
It was amazing. I was quite nervous going into it, it was a huge cast and it'd been up and running for so many years and the standard's so high, that you come into it and have to maintain that standard. They were so welcoming, Hugh [Bonneville] and Jim [Carter], Rob [James-Collier] especially taking me under his wing and showing me the ropes. The whole cast and the crew are very close, the final day was very emotional for lots of guys who have been there since day one, even the grips and stuff, so it's a very close knit family of people. The people who have been working on it for a long time have been saying you don't get many jobs like this where everybody's so close. Hopefully I was part of that as much as the rest by the end. I very much feel a part of the Downton family now.
What was it that drew you to this role?
I didn't know a lot about him because he could have easily just been around for one episode and then stayed in London. When I first took the job it was an episode with the option of maybe carrying on, so I was mainly buzzing about being on the show at all, then it turns out he's really good fun to play. He's very open and naive and easily manipulated sometimes, eager to please and then in this series we see a little bit of the darker side of him, secrets that he's holding very close to his chest.
That's the amazing thing about Downton. You don't know where your character's going to be at the end of the Christmas special. So you'll go through the year, doing each scene as it comes then Julian [Fellowes] maps out this path for you, it's a very exciting position to be in because, you'll pick up the script and think, 'Where's Andy going this week?' It keeps you very much on your toes. It never stagnates as a show because it turns out to be like life, where you don't know what's around the corner with your character. I love playing Andy, he's a chipper, cockney guy who's about 10 minutes behind everybody else! (laughs) I don't think he's the brightest spark, but he's great fun!
We saw a little bit of Andy last series but he's a series regular this time round, so what should we expect from his character?
We see more parts of his character. We see his struggling between the rest of the house telling him to be wary of Thomas, but he owes Thomas really with the gambling stuff in series 5. It's hard to create a friendship with someone if 95% of the downstairs staff are going, 'you should be wary of this guy'. So we see his kind of dilemma there.
He's a guy whose job is not as secure as it would have been 30 years ago, so he's like, 'what can Andy do to work, to live? If the house is cutting back, he doesn't have that same type of future that Carson had when he joined the house.
He goes through a lot. He has some brilliant stuff with Thomas, I've always loved Thomas the character so I feel so lucky to be very much a part of his arc and drama. From an acting point of view it's been a really challenging and also fulfilling year. I've had some good meaty stuff so hopefully people will enjoy his journey.
As you mentioned Andy and Thomas have a lot of interaction so what was it like working with Rob James-Collier?
Yeah he's brilliant, he's great fun. He's always keeping everyone on their toes. He doesn't take himself too seriously and he's a great person to work with because he's so experienced now, as a part of Downton and the character is so loved. He always seems to have such huge conflict to deal with and Rob navigates that with such ease every season. He's got something, Thomas is always battling something very hard and this year culminates with a huge climax in his journey.
Rob's an amazing guy, he's a friend now who I'll see a lot outside of filming and, hopefully he'll go on to really good stuff, I'm sure he will. Thomas has really set him up.
We know you can't say too much but should we expect any big shocks in the new episodes?
(laughs) Yeah there's always twists and turns. When I was reading it, certainly as it all climaxes, Julian's done an amazing job of tying up all the characters that we've watched and loved. I see it from a viewer's point of view as well because I watched it all through drama school.
All the characters we love and want to see happy endings for, he's not necessarily giving them to everyone but he acknowledges the need for the audience to see their journeys finish, then he twists and turns whichever way he wants to. There's definitely shocks. Definitely huge, dramatic moments that were moving to film. So hopefully, the audience will come along on the journey with us. There's plenty of big dramatic arcs, I think it's gonna be a really amazing final send off to a great six years for them.
What was the atmosphere like on-set during filming with this being the final series?
We were singing on our very last scene downstairs, because obviously it's around Christmas. It was very moving for everyone, the cast and crew, big burly Welsh grips were shedding a tear, lots of hugs, it was brilliant. I felt really lucky to be on the inside of that room really, it was different for me because it wasn't a culmination of six years working together, but the atmosphere was very... it's hard to explain it. It's just what happens when you spend six years of your life. People change and grow and move, these people who you've come in and said 'hello' to every day for the last seven months, you become a close knit family.
That's the crew as well, some of the crew have been there since day one and they're in every single day, so it was nice the way they planned the schedule, with our final scene, everyone together in a party atmosphere singing. It was the perfect way to send it off really.
Obviously there's all these rumours of a Downton movie, would that be something you'd be interested in getting involved with?
Yeah I would absolutely be up for doing a Downton movie. I don't know what the talks are about it, I think it would an easy shift for the programme to do it. The production value on it is so high. It's basically a cinematic experience anyway because of the musical score, the way it's shot and the production value.
I would love it if they did and I think people would love to see it. With a film budget it can raise another level on what it's been doing again.
I'd love to see Andy again. It feels a little bit too soon for me to let go of Andy's collar and shiny shoes, I'd quite like to keep him alive for a little bit longer.
Downton Abbey continues Sundays at 9pm on ITV.
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