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Imelda Staunton on watching telly with Downton’s Mr Carson

The actress advocates a ban on snacking in the cinema and isn't keen on the onslaught of American TV

Published: Monday, 28th November 2016 at 8:00 am

What’s the view from your sofa?


There’s a fireplace, which is lovely in the winter time. And there’s also a window onto the garden, which is a great love of ours. I resent having a television in the sitting room because it spoils the view a bit, but I push it back during the day when we’re not watching it.

Who are you watching TV with?

Well, Jim [her husband, actor Jim Carter, who played butler Mr Carson in Downton Abbey] and I are on one sofa, and there’s a small Cairn-cross dog, Molly, on a blanket on another. She’s a rescue, we’ve had her for 13 years, and she’s a great companion. She actually joined me on stage at Chichester when we were on tour with the musical Gypsy.

Any snacks involved when watching the box?

No! I don’t do TV dinners. There might, at one point in the evening, be a very small, very naughty bowl of ice cream. But that’s not noisy.

Would you ban eating in theatres if you could?

Definitely. I don’t know why people can’t engage in just one thing. I don’t understand this obsession with having to eat or drink something at every moment of the day.

Do you and Jim always agree on what to watch?

He likes a lot of sport, so I leave him to that. But we both like the same dramas. We watched The Legacy recently, which was amazing. I loved Wolf Hall. And we did like The Secret Life of Four-Year-Olds. It’s fascinating watching children try to solve problems. Kids generally like to be watched, and they say, “Watch me play on this trampoline!”, so it’s fascinating to watch them when they forget they’re being filmed, as they weigh up what they can get away with. Which is what adults do, whether it be politicians or big businesses not paying tax.

What TV makes you turn off?

I’m not a lover of cop shows. And I’m not sure we need any more programmes about buying houses.

Do you watch your film and TV performances?

Sometimes, but there’s nothing you can do about it – I can’t get any bloody better! I don’t think one’s ever satisfied. You just have to let it go. With a Mike Leigh film, it’s hard as you’ve been the character for so long, so you have to watch it a couple of times to appreciate it. But with [the 2014 film] Pride, it was so glorious I got swept along with it instead of looking at myself.

What’s the one thing you’d change about British TV?

I’m not sure that so much choice is necessarily a good thing. I don’t want American television here. It’s channel after channel after channel, and that dilutes things. It’s like going to a big supermarket and being overwhelmed by the choice of biscuits. When Downton Abbey was on, people were talking about it. People talked about Sherlock and I was really annoyed I hadn’t watched it! But now, that unifying thing of people all talking about one piece of television is disappearing.

I know Victoria’s been on, and Poldark, but that’s a sort of television fodder. We all like costume dramas, but I just want them all to be like Wolf Hall.

Do you ever watch a drama and think, “I wish I’d been in that”?

There are so many, but you would waste your energy doing that. I applaud people instead. Watching Claire Foy, who can do no wrong, as Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall just makes me so glad that those programmes are being made. I don’t need to be in them all.


Gypsy is available on digital download and DVD from 28 November from Universal Pictures (UK)


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