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Joanne Froggett: "The Beating Heart" of 'Downton Abbey'
January 2, 2014  | By Donna J. Plesh  | 1 comment

[Editor's Note: TVWW contributor Donna J. Plesh died April 2, 2015, from ovarian cancer. She was 71. Donna covered television since the early 1980s, initially for the Orange County Register and its TV magazine. She also was a member of the Television Critics Association. Donna was always a cheerful spirit within the TVWW network and often gave readers a kind, up-close viewpoint in her interviews with a wide variety of television stars. She will be missed.]

You are one of the stars of one of the most popular TV series ever.

Your series has a global audience of an estimated 120 million watching, from Iceland to Australia and most points in between.

You scored a 2012 Emmy Award nomination as Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.

Your series executive producer says you are the beating heart of the show.

You are Joanne Froggatt, and you play Anna -- Mrs. Bates to staff and viewers -- on Downton Abbey, the most successful drama ever to air on PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre. The early thirtysomething actress is very happy to be continuing in the period drama about the lives, loves, joys and tragedies of the upstairs royalty and the downstairs servants at Downton Abbey in the early decades of 20th century England. (The show begins Season 4 on PBS at 9 p.m. ET on Jan. 5; check local listings.)

Froggatt’s Anna is a maid in the employ of the Grantham family at Downton Abbey. She is married to John Bates (played by Brendan Coyle), the valet to Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville).

In an interview, Froggatt, who started in drama school at age 13, said Anna and Mr. Bates will be very happy at the start of season four. “We set off in a fantastic place — in a very happy place, other than the house is in mourning [for the death of a major series character at the end of season three] which obviously has a huge effect on all of us. But as a couple, we are very happy to be together, finally, as a married couple, and we have our little cottage. Obviously, because it is Downton, there are a few rollercoasters along the way — a few trials and tribulations,” she added. Season four begins several months after the events that endd Season 3 so dramatically.

Downton was created and is written by Julian Fellowes, whom Froggatt feels does well by women characters. “I think Julian writes really well for women," she says. "He always has. Maggie Smith [who plays the Dowager Countess of Grantham] is kind of his muse in a way. He writes really strongly for women, and always has done,” she said.

In talking about the period setting of the series, Froggatt says the way things were in those times is still a bit of a surprise.

“It’s important to remember how women were at that time and, you know, the opportunities we didn’t have. When we started the first season of Downton, it was [set] before women had the vote and those kinds of things, which just seem so far removed from where we are today, but it’s only a hundred years ago. It’s things like that that always surprise me with Downton. Every year, I’m thinking, ‘Oh, yeah. Goodness me. We still weren’t allowed to do this. And I think Edith [Lady Edith Crawley, played by Laura Carmichael] has a line in this season where she says ‘Can you imagine being able to eat in a restaurant [alone] before the war? It would have been so risqué.’ I find that fascinating how the times have changed for women,” she said.

Froggatt’s character of Anna also is special for producer Neame. “I also think Anna is the beating heart of the show. She is the character I would most like to have as a friend out of all of the characters in the show, I think,” he said.

Being in a show that is a worldwide hit has meant a lot of changes in Froggatt’s professional life, but, she said, not necessarily in her personal life.

“Personally I do everything exactly the same as before Downton," she says.  "I live just outside of London. I have been working as an actress in the U.K. for about 16 years, so at home in the U.K. I get recognized a little bit more than I did before. It has not been a massive change for me in terms of my day-to-day life.

"What has been a huge change is the success worldwide and especially success in the States. That is thrilling for all of us that we can come here [to the U.S.] and we get such a warm reception, and that people within the industry know at least a little bit of our work. And being Emmy-nominated [the award went to her castmate Maggie Smith], which was the most amazing thing last year, and the excitement of all that buzz was an experience I am so happy and grateful that I had in my life,” she adds.

Froggatt says the cast members get along and have “a great time [between shooting scenes], especially in the servants’ hall scenes when we are all together. There are quite a few big personalities, quite a few big comedians.

"Brendan Coyle is hilarious. We have such fun in the servants’ hall. It gets quite raucous some days when we are doing the dinner scenes. We have gotten to know each other so well we are really a big family now.

"Again, it is a bit of a cliché but we have lived the last four years of our personal and work lives together, so we know what has been happening in everyone’s lives, and about everyone’s family. It is so lovely. It’s kind of home from home now,” she said.

Downton will have a fifth season, but seasons beyond that are not yet known.

“I guess we will just have to take it from there and see if people still want to watch it," she says. "If Julian still wants to write it — that’s the big thing for me. If ever Julian says, ‘You know what, this is enough now,’ then I think it would probably end there,” she said.
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Also loved Froggatt in Robin Hood.
Jan 5, 2014   |  Reply
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