Having Hugh Bonneville playing her father, Elizabeth McGovern as her mother and Maggie Smith as her grandmother, Laura Carmichael could be forgiven for thinking she had won the lottery when she landed her first television role as Lady Edith, the second daughter of Lord and Lady Grantham.
“I was working as a receptionist in a doctor’s surgery but I was a useless secretary and was about to go on tour to Dubai playing Viola in Twelfth Night when I got a call to read for the part of Lady Edith,” she says. “I was down to the last two for the part and I had to make a decision to pull out of Twelfth Night before I’d even been offered it because the director needed the weekend to think about it,” she says, “which could have been a mistake but one I was prepared to make if it meant I was in with even the smallest chance of landing this role.”
“I couldn’t believe it when I got the part and my parents were even more surprised,” she adds, “because I hadn’t said anything they still thought I was going on tour with Twelfth Night and didn’t know until they saw that my name had been taken off the tour website. It’s fair to say I had some explaining to do,” she laughs.
Laura plays Lady Edith Crawley, the second of three daughters and the less sought after but no less ambitious. Since she never stood to inherit the estate it is of no consequence to her that the will cannot be overturned and her anger at her older sister is palpable. She resents that she always comes second to Mary and that her father and mother barely notice her. Her sole ambition is to marry well and leave the shadow of her older, more beautiful sister.
“The relationship between Edith and Mary is very difficult and strained following the death of cousin Patrick whom Edith harboured feelings for and she goes out of her way to ruin her sister’s reputation.” Lady Mary however is more than a match for Edith and there is much heartache in store for both young ladies as the series progresses. One of three sisters Laura finds it hard to imagine treating either of her sisters the way her character does. “I’m very close to my sisters…we all look different and are different but there is a bond between us that is sacred so it was interesting to play a sister whose life’s purpose is to ruin her older sister.”
Despite the on-screen animosity between them Laura, Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil) and Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary) became very close during filming. “Michelle, Jessica and I became pretty inseparable on set and as most of our scenes were together we ended up spending our spare time watching DVDs in someone’s trailer,” says Laura.
With cousin Patrick out of the picture all eyes in the household turn to Matthew Crawley as the new heir and Edith is no exception. When it appears that Mary has no interest in Matthew romantically Edith sets her sights on him and begins to pursue him in the hope that finally she might find love.
“I think naturally I tried to play Edith with a certain amount of empathy because she isn’t inherently a bad person – just ignored,” explains Laura. “I immediately felt sorry for her and I think Julian sets that up in the first episode with the death of Patrick and how Edith deals with it. It’s not that she’s unhappy that she’s not the prettiest,” she continues, “she thinks she loved somebody that was taken from her and nobody in the family noticed. I want to show how she got to be so awful, because I don’t think anyone is just born bad and it’s written in a way which shows they are never just mean.”
“I couldn’t have asked for a better first job in any way! I think Edith’s so bullied and there’s an element of her that’s quite comic, she’s sort of pathetic in a way but I love that; not that I think people would necessarily laugh at Edith, but her vulnerability is really fun and the fact that she’s bitchy with it is hilarious.” Laura will be watching the first episode with her sisters and friends although her mum will be on her honeymoon when the first episode is transmitted. “Mum’s wedding is the day before transmission and she is absolutely gutted she’ll be away when it goes out so I’ll have to get her a DVD.”
Photo credits: Nick Briggs, Victoria Brooks, Wolf Marloh
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