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'Downton' actors talk audtions, accents, 'frock envy'

As the show enters its final season, its cast reminisces.

As Downton Abbey prepared to air its sixth and final season in the U.S. beginning Sunday, a panel of cast members reminisced earlier this month at a PBS event in New York:

"There was one line in the script for the first episode and it was a stage direction: 'Carson sits there, in his magnificence.' You want an actor to sit in magnificence? I'm sorry, I'm your boy. I'd have been mightily ticked off if they'd given it to anyone else." - Jim Carter, who plays Mr. Carson, the butler  

"At my audition, I came out afterward and Dan Stevens sat in the waiting area. And we'd just worked together in an adaptation of 'Turn of the Screw' Stevens was there to read for Matthew, the distant cousin who'd be wooing Lady Mary. And I remember walking away and thinking, 'Ah, that could work.'" - Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary Crawley

"The show was already well into filming when I auditioned for what was then John Branson, a Yorkshire chauffeur. And I walked in, all prepared, having worked for weeks on the Yorkshire accent, and they  ... convinced me then and there to play Irish." - Irish actor Allen Leech, who was hired for three episodes in Season 1 to play the chauffeur, who was renamed Tom Branson, and who ended up staying on and marrying the boss' daughter  

"The audition was a bit of a nuisance, because I was opening in a play and it was my first night at the National Theater. And I could have gone without the audition.... They sent me one scene, and it was that beautiful scene were Matthew sort of says to him, 'This is not the life for a man, dressing other people,' and I thought it was such beautifully written stuff that I was desperate to do, and I was so pleased to get it, even if it was only going to be a couple of episodes." - Kevin Doyle, whose character, Walter Molesley, debuted as a servant in the second episode and has appeared in all but a few episodes since  

"Laura Carmichael, who plays Edith, she was working as a receptionist in a doctor's office at the time and it was her first role, really. It was life-changing for her." - Dockery  

"It was about four weeks in to the first season that I was in a playground picking up my son from school and a guy from his age group, about age 10, came over and said, 'I don't like that Thomas.' And, (a), I thought, what are you doing having such a late bedtime, and (b), wow, we never expected that demographic." - Hugh Bonneville, who plays Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham  

"We are segregated by about 90 miles of motorway. Downstairs is filmed at Ealing Studios in London and upstairs is filmed in Highclere Castle in Newbury, near Berkshire. It's an hour and 20 minutes of driving, so that's a natural segregation. And do you know what a frock is? A dress. There's an immense amount of 'frock envy' downstairs." - Carter, responding to a question about whether the division between masters and servants was reflected behind the scenes
"For me, I'm happy. I'll look at the script. If it's day, I'll wear this outfit, if it's night I'll wear that one. When it first started, each costume I got was an original that we got from a props house, and of course it would disintegrate after a couple of months. ... What our lovely Anna Robbins, the show's costume designer has done is, she's taken a design of an original frock for me, for example, and made a brand new one out of much sturdier material. ... You watch out for them this season. They're gorgeous!" - Phyllis Logan, who plays the housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes
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