Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey, says American actors are too "contemporary" for period drama. Just don't tell Shirley MacLaine.
Shirley MacLaine appears in series three of Downton Abbey
American actors struggle with costume drama because they are part of a “contemporary race” that does not look to the past, according to the creator of Downton Abbey.
Julian Fellowes said Britain excels at period adaptations because British actors are able to make them seem “real”.
Despite his reservations, the forthcoming series of Downton Abbey features an American, Dame Shirley MacLaine, in a major role as the Countess of Grantham’s mother.
“I think our actors have a kind of understanding of period. For Europeans, the past is in them as well as the present and I think they are at ease in that genre in a way that the Americans find harder,” Fellowes said.
“I think Americans are wonderful film actors - the best in the world - but they are a very contemporary race and they look forward all the time. There is something about period drama where they tend to go into a strange place called ‘Period’ where people wear funny clothes."
“Whereas I don’t think our actors do that; they make it very real and that is, with something like we’re doing, very helpful. The cast is so much the main reason for its success.”
Fellowes was speaking at a creative content summit in London, which celebrated some of Britain’s most successful television and film exports.
Downton Abbey has been sold to more than 100 countries, including China. Gareth Neame, executive producer of the ITV show, said he realised the secret of the show’s success during a visit to Shanghai.
“I thought it was remarkable that in the People’s Republic of China, a show all about class, hierarchy and deference had people saying this was the favourite show they had ever seen,” said Neame.
“Then I started seeing the lines in the airport for the party delegates and I realised that the common themes of Downton Abbey, and the fact human beings will always organise themselves into hierarchical structures, have proved true across the world.
“Everyone gets it, everyone knows we all have our status and pecking order within the world, everyone can associate with it.”