Julian Fellowes: why Americans find period dramas “harder”

The creator of Downton Abbey commends British historical acting, despite casting US actress Shirley MacLaine in series three of his ITV drama


Considering he’s recruited acclaimed American actress Shirley MacLaine for series three of Downton Abbey, and Elizabeth McGovern (Lady Grantham) was born in Illinois, you’d expect the show’s creator Julian Fellowes to take the diplomatic approach when offering his opinion of stateside acting. Think again…


According to Fellowes, Britain excels at period drama because our thesps have the ability to make them seem “real”.  “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 Americans find harder.”

Speaking at a creative content summit in London, he revealed his reservations about our friends across the pond who “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.”


His comments are an unusual move from the celebrated showmaker, especially considering his casting choices. Much hype has surrounded the addition of Shirley MacLaine as millionairess Martha Levinson and Downton devotees await with baited breath the anticipated sparring between her character and Dame Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess of Grantham. Here’s to hoping she won’t be put off by her “funny clothes”…