Sophie McShera is Daisy, the Scullery Maid
Sophie McShera is best known to fans of Waterloo Road as school-girl Ros McCain, whose crush on a female teacher has landed her in hot water. But the Leeds-born actress has been treading the boards since she was 12, when by chance her youth club sent five girls to London for an audition to play a part in the The Goodbye Girl. A fan of the American TV show, Saved By The Bell, it had helped Sophie pull off an American accent for her audition, and before she knew it she was on stage at The Palladium.
“I had to move to London for a three-week rehearsal which was the worst bit, because I was homesick - but then I had my Grandma and my Nan stay with me which helped,” she recalls. “And what was weird on tour was that I would be on stage for a week, then back at school for a week and no-one would know or care what I was doing when I wasn’t there. That was until I got the part of Annie in the West End and I had to explain my ginger bowl hair cut to everyone.”
In Downton Abbey’s kitchen Sophie plays the naïve and endearing scullery maid Daisy, who is forever at the receiving end of Mrs Patmore’s tongue-lashing and bad humour. Daisy is the first up every morning and her duties include waking all the female staff, lighting all the fires below stairs and then sneaking into the family’s bedrooms to set and light their fires, so that it’s warm when they wake up. “Setting and lighting the fires is the noisiest job you can do and I have to do it all silently, for fear of waking anyone. So once that’s done and I’ve woken all the servants, I help out in the kitchen and basically get bossed around all day long,” she laughs.
There are scenes that show Sophie walking through Downton’s rooms with heavy baskets of logs for fires – a job that would have been very hard and laboured for a young scullery maid. “The props master asked if I wanted to carry a basket with pretend logs but I wanted to make it as realistic as possible so I am actually carrying heavy props around - but it’s okay as it’s only for a few minutes at a time,” says Sophie.
Sophie and Lesley Nicol, who plays Mrs Patmore, became very close on set and quite a double-act among the rest of the cast. “I love the relationship between Mrs Patmore and Daisy, even out of character Lesley and I became great friends,” says Sophie. When Mrs Patmore is sent to London for an operation to help her failing eyesight, she asks Daisy to make sure the stand-in cook doesn’t impress too much upon the family and usurp her position as head cook.
(Sophie as Ros in Waterloo Road)
“Even though she is horrid to me she does love Daisy deep down and she’s very maternal towards her - sometimes being cruel to be kind and Daisy’s really loyal to Mrs Patmore which you see come out in the script when Daisy almost poisons the family and their guests at dinner.” It is Mrs Patmore who tries to warn Daisy off her misguided affections for Thomas, by hinting that his preferences lie elsewhere than with the ladies. “One of my favourite scenes is when Mrs Patmore is trying to explain to Daisy that Thomas isn’t everything Daisy thinks he is and that she should turn her attentions to William instead but Daisy just doesn’t get it and is blissfully ignorant. She’s just completely in love with him.”
Unlike the ladies of the house, Daisy and the other housemaids have only one or two costumes; hence the actors playing the female servants inevitably had costume envy of the young Crawley girls. “I only have one other costume change’, explains Sophie, ’when I go on my date with Thomas to the fairground, so I had a little dress but still had to wear my scruffy boots.” “Like all the female actors I had a very tight corset to wear that made my bosoms actually become earrings and it is funny when you take it off, because instead of staying nice and slim, your whole body just goes blooop – which is really depressing!”
Pack produced by Una Maguire and Victoria Brooks, Milk Publicity!
Photo credits: Nick Briggs, Victoria Brooks