Phyllis Logan On Downton Abbey And Life In Chiswick
Popular actress opens the Bedford Park Festival this Saturday
Phyllis Logan has one of the most recognisable characters on television, but she still manages to walk down the Chiswick High Road without being recognised.
As housekeeper Mrs. Hughes in Downton Abbey, the hugely successful ITV series that is now seen all over the world, she plays a pivotal character as head of the 'downstairs’ staff.
Away from the cameras, the wigs and the corsets, Phyllis, who opens the 47th Bedford Park Festival this weekend, (Saturday, June 8th ) looks nothing like her screen character.
“I get a lot of people looking at me as if they feel they know me when I’m out walking the dog, but they just can’t place me. What gives me away is the accent, when they hear me speak, then they recognise me”, the Scottish-born actress tells ChiswickW4.com.
A local resident for over sixteen years, she loves living in W4 for the green spaces in which to walk her beloved ten-year old lurcher, Carlos.
“Chiswick House grounds is a fantastic place, it’s idyllic really, although I also like Gunnersbury Park. We're so lucky to have all this lovely space around us."
Other benefits of Chiswick are the cafes and restaurants along the High Road (“though I’m trying to keep my caffeine quota down”), and the friendliness of the shopkeepers in Turnham Green Terrace who have known her for many years.
“I’ve been going to the Bedford Park Festival for many years and it’s a wonderful example of community spirit”, adds Phyllis, who will be judging the fancy-dress competition, which she admits is a feat more terrifying than facing any audition.
Phyllis as her screen character Mrs. Hughes
It's hard to believe that the fourth series of ‘ Downton’ will be on our screens this autumn and actress Joanne Froggatt has hinted that there are "quite a few shocks in store" in the new series. Phyllis has been busy with filming since February. Luckily it’s a short distance from her home to Ealing Studios where most of the ‘downstairs’ scenes are shot in a specially-constructed Edwardian set. She often travels to work with her friend Lesley Nicol who plays Downton's cook Mrs. Patmore and who is also a Chiswick resident.
The third 'Downton' cast member to live in W4 is Elizabeth McGovern who plays Lady Cora.
Though most of the ‘upstairs’ scenes are shot at Highclere Castle, Phyllis does sometimes get to travel there. “It feels like a holiday when we get a chance to go up there, it’s such a beautiful place,” she says. The rapport between the cast is "fantastic" and they all get on really well.
When filming takes place it is a long working day, rising at 5.30am and getting home after 8pm and there are scripts to be learned. But she has always known that acting was her calling ever since she was a schoolgirl in Scotland.
“I don’t come from an acting family but it was something that started at primary school when I was involved in little plays, including playing Mary in the Nativity play at Christmas. At secondary school we had a very good teacher who started a drama group- we did everything from Pinter two-handers to Shakespere”.
When her career guidance teacher advised her against studying drama she ignored him and went on to audition for drama school. "It was a potential disaster, I had tonsillitis on the day of the audition but my mother phoned them and they very kindly rescheduled and I was able to go ahead".
After drama school it was straight into Dundee Reperatory Theatre and Scottish TV for several years before she took the plunge to come to London.
“ I was in a play that transferred to the Hampstead Theatre and I got my first experience of the Big Smoke. Then I got myself a London agent and it became obvious that I should be here. I moved into a flat with a friend in north London and came to Chiswick about sixteen years ago again on the advice of a friend who lived here.”
Phyllis is married to actor Kevin Mc Nally ( Pirates of the Carribbean ) and the couple have a seventeen-year old son. Both have very busy lives which often involve travelling all over the world, but live a very unstarry life in Chiswick. She made many close friends in her early days in Chiswick from walking the dog and having a child a local at primary school.
The success of Downton Abbey has taken everyone by surprise. The period drama is hugely popular in America (and has won several awards) and Phyllis is flying to Los Angeles this weekend with other cast members on a whistle-stop visit to carry out media interviews about the show.
She never had any doubts about taking on the role of Mrs. Hughes, and feels that she has very much "grown into" the role. The character of the housekeeper was originally planned to be from Yorkshire but the producers decided to let Phyllis use her natural Scottish accent as they felt it suited the character. Does she feel she has any personality traits in common with her character which make it easier to understand her?
“ I can recognise some similar traits. Perhaps there are some elements of my Scottish background that I recognise in her. She is strict but never judgemental. We neither of us suffer fools gladly”.
Fashions have changed for the ladies ‘upstairs’ throughout the series which started its life in pre-war 1912, but when it next appears on our screens it will be 1922 but there are no major changes in fashion for the ‘downstairs’ staff.
“Unfortunately both myself and Mrs. Patmore are ‘old school’ so while we have raised the hemlines ever so slightly, I can’t see Mrs. Hughes getting out of her corsets. And I still have to wear the wig."
Long before Downton Abbey came along Phyllis was a very well established actor, with roles ranging from Lady Jane in Lovejoy, to a role in Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies. She has played a variety of character roles in popular television series ranging from Kavanagh QC to Inspector Morse and even Kenneth Branagh's wife in an episode of Wallander. In 1983 she won two BAFTA awards for her role as Janie in Another Time, Another Place.
Filming the series takes up most of her time, but there is another cause close to her heart. Phyllis is involved in Dementia UK’s Admiral Nurses campaign and recently launched the charity’s Time for a Cuppa fundraiser party. The annual event encourages people to hold a teaparty either at home or in the workplace to raise funds to provide more Admiral nurses (similar to Macmillan nurses) to help people affected by dementia. Phyllis was prompted to help the charity after the experience of seeing both her mother and mother-in-law suffer from illnesses related to dementia.
The 47 th Bedford Park Festival runs from June 8 th to 23 rd 2013 , with events for all ages and tastes, in and around St Michael & All Angels Church, Bath Road W4. Tickets are now on sale at the Festival’s new website: www.bedfordparkfestival.org.
The Bedford Park Festival was set up in 1967 to foster a sense of community (including saving the area from being knocked down by developers), celebrate the arts, and raise money for urgent repairs to St Michael & All Angels Church. Since then it has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for charities.
The 2013 Festival will raise money for St Michael’s Organ and Parish Rooms Appeal and three other charities - The Upper Room, supporting the community in need in West London; Hamlin Fistula UK, a charity which provides medical help for women in Ethiopia; and The Mulberry Centre, Isleworth, which supports all those affected by cancer.
See Festival leaflets and posters for more information or www.bedfordparkfestival.org.
June 6, 2013