Downton Abbey’s Allen Leech on new love interests, playing a father and being sent underwear by fans

"I got sent a half of a bra. Just a half. I’m sure that I’m supposed to walk around looking out for a half-supported woman"

As the nation readies itself for the return of Downton Abbey later this month, catches up with actor Allen Leech to find out what series four has in store for chauffeur turned man of the Downton estate, Tom Branson…


What can we expect from Branson in series four?

Well, Branson is very much trying to find where he is in that household. He kind of has a job now, quite an important job, and responsibilities, but he doesn’t really have the status or any kind of real holding within the family.

It looks like he’s getting closer to Lady Mary…

That comes down to ultimately trying to help Mary though a very difficult time but also she’s a very powerful voice to have on his side. What Branson’s trying to do is, he wants to get Matthew’s ideas for Downton across and get them actually properly implemented. Immediately Robert’s decided to go back to the old ways and he’s constantly battling that.

Could there be a potential romance on the cards for Branson this series?

Everyone keeps saying this… That’s speculation, that is! I think it’s a little too early for Tom, you know. Sybil and Tom were a really kind of special relationship within Downton. It would be surprising if he just went on that quickly.

But Edna, the scheming housemaid who stole a kiss from Branson during the Christmas special, is making a return, isn’t she?

(whispered) She’s a b***h!

She doesn’t care for Branson. It’s great fun having her back. MyAnna [Buring]’s amazing – it’s been a lot of fun and that’s a lovely story.

Is Branson better at handling her this time around?

Yes he is, probably. There are certain things he would have liked to have left when she last worked at Downton. And it’s whether or not she’s happy to do that…

Did you know she was coming back?

I didn’t actually, no. I don’t think MyAnna knew! I was happy about it because I felt there was unfinished business in it as a storyline. She became quite hated quite quickly and it was too soon. I think there’s potential for her to be more evil!

So as well as having Edna to contend with, Branson’s got a little toddler this series…

Ava is an absolutely gorgeous little girl – and a consummate professional at the age of 21 months! At the start of the year she was really awestruck, kind of taking everything in – you know obviously for any one who’s not even two years of age to have a film crew standing there doing her hair…

We had a great time. Happy enough once she got to know me. She loved going for walks around the grounds. She made herself right at home. I expect her to be upping the method next year. I gave her a couple of books on Stanislavski. They are colouring books. She’ll be fine.

Asides from baby Sybie, who do you love doing scenes with?

I couldn’t pick anyone. You can pick any one member of this cast and the calibre of actors is very, very evident. I have to say I love acting with Penelope Wilton – we have some lovely stuff to do – and with Hugh. And I have a lot to do with Michelle as well this year, which is really lovely. [But] I couldn’t single out anyone one person really. It’s rare that happens on a job.

What’s it like sharing a set with Maggie Smith?

Wonderful. As an actor watching someone who is that experienced every day is a school day. It’s a masterclass and she’s absolutely lovely. She’s every bit as witty as a woman as she is the Dowager Countess. She can be quite cutting! But in a very hilarious way. She’s really fantastic.

Do you miss Jessica [Brown Findlay, who played Branson’s on-screen wife Lady Sybil]?

I miss her because she was a great friend, you know. We all miss her on set but you move on, and the same with Dan [Stevens]. You miss them but you just carry on because there are still great stories to tell and Dan leaving and Jess leaving has given myself and Michelle incredible journeys to go on as actors and as characters.

You’ve been part of both downstairs and upstairs, do the two have very different atmospheres?

Yeah. Last year I kind of felt that a bit more because I was doing a lot more upstairs and downstairs. This year I’m very much back with the family so it is different. Downstairs you’ve got Rob James-Collier [who plays Thomas Barrow] who is an absolute lunatic. When we get together lunacy prevails. And Jim Carter has issues with… trying to deal with that.

Just like Carson?

He is. He actually does control us. Because he has such a deep voice. 

Is there not much of an overlap between the upstairs and downstairs cast? You don’t all go out for a drink together once filming is finished for the day?

It’s trying to find a time off. If they’re off then we are on and vice-versa so it’s hard to find a cross over. I mean, when we do we normally blow the doors off.

US viewers have really taken to the show…

I only experienced it for the first time at the start of this year. It was mind blowing how enthusiastic and how much they’ve really taken it to their hearts. They really love it and love the characters. They know them better than I do, you know.

Why do you think they love it so much?

It’s their ability to be a voyer into a time of British history that they are not maybe up on or aware of. And the fact that it doesn’t just show you what happens with the family, it shows you what happens equally with the servants. That’s one of the keys to the show’s success as well – there is, in storytelling terms, no heirachy. Whatever character you relate to will always have their moment. Julian gives you that with each character, which is what’s really nice.

Are US fans different to UK Downton fans?

I think I’d say they are quite similar. The dealings I’ve had on Twitter or with fan mail… [have] all been really lovely and I don’t think they are that different. I got a piece of fan mail – I got a half of a bra. Just a half. I’m sure that I’m supposed to walk around looking out for a half-supported woman. It’s on the left side, so…

Downton Abbey returns to ITV later this month