Joanne Froggatt has played a diverse range of characters since she first began acting. From the scheming, obsessive Zoe in Coronation Street to her moving portrayal of Joanne Lees in Murder in the Outback, plus a host of other roles in some of the most acclaimed dramas produced in the UK, of which Spooks, Rebus, The Street and Life on Mars are only a few and she'll be starring in the upcoming film In Our Name. Joanne has the ability to make each role she takes exceptional and individual - the part of Anna the Head Housemaid is no exception.
“I love playing her; she’s a really great character to work with - genuine, honest and soft hearted, but she sticks up for herself too. Obviously she’s got a blossoming friendship with Mr Bates, which is lovely because it’s a very slow build-up of a relationship and it’s really sweet, though Brendan does muck about all the time,” she laughs.
“It’s been such a great job because of the people really; they’re all great fun and a really nice group. That doesn’t always happen and it can make some jobs quite difficult. But on this job everyone’s got on really well and we’ve had a good giggle. It’s been a nice shoot for the actors, because there’s been a split between filming the family scenes and the servants scenes and despite being a sixteen week shoot we’ve all had great chunks of time off in between which is marvellous for getting boring things done like domestic chores… that’s unheard of in this job.”
Most of Joanne’s scenes are filmed at the purpose built set at Ealing Studios, but she recalls her first visit to Highclere. “When you come up that long drive and the castle is revealed for the first time there is a really big ‘wow’ factor…it is very impressive. And like everyone else I was quite taken aback when I saw it for the first time but the family and staff at Highclere made us feel really welcome.”
With a cast and crew as large as Downton Abbey there are many different elements that need to come together to make the show work, from direction, production, design and acting, but for Joanne there was one crucial element that bound the whole lot together. “On any film set everybody has their part to play and if one part of the system isn’t working, it has a knock-on effect, but everyone worked to such a high standard on this show that it made life very easy. You get to come to this amazing set and it helps you get into your character. But the most important thing is the script and if you haven’t got a good script, it doesn’t matter how good everybody is at their job. If you haven’t got a good script you’re fighting a losing battle.”
“With Julian’s script I started reading it before my audition and for some reason I had to leave it half-way through…I could not wait to get back to it. It was brilliant, a real-page turner and you could see each character’s outline very early on which, with that many characters to establish, is real genius at work”. Anna has an important role to play both above and below stairs. She is integral to the storylines of the young ladies of the house and Lady Grantham to an extent, yet also plays a huge role among the staff, often as an older sister figure to the likes of Gwen and Daisy.
“I think Anna’s the go-between for some people,’ she explains, ‘so although she kind of keeps O’Brien at bay, they have a good working relationship though not a social one. Anna is not afraid of O’Brien and that means she can protect the younger staff members from her if needs be. The younger ones look up to her and ask her advice and she gets on with everybody,” she adds.
Anna’s mettle is tested when she is drawn into a terrible desperate secret above stairs. “Anna has a special relationship with the young ladies of Downton and in particular with Lady Mary. She has grown up with them and although they are servant and master there is a bond that exists between throughout the series. When things go wrong for Mary, Anna, who is always loyal and respectful, yet sees behind the front she puts up which pulls them closer together.”
Pack produced by Una Maguire and Victoria Brooks, Milk Publicity!
Photo credits: Nick Briggs, Victoria Brooks