In five years of upstairs-downstairs drama, Downton Abbey has amassed record-breaking ratings, numerous awards including 11 Emmys, and legions of rabid fans who are lamenting its imminent departure. The British import about a family of English aristocrats and their servants, a worldwide phenomenon from the start, will end its run on PBS Masterpiece with its sixth and final season beginning Jan. 3 (check local listings for times). Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith) and Joanne Froggat (Anna Bates) told us what to expect, and revealed what’s next for each of them.
What can you tease about your storyline?
Michelle Dockery: Mary’s romantic life is pretty quiet at the beginning of this series. She’s in business mode She’s taken on the role of estate manager and she’s not really actively looking for anyone. But then Henry Talbot, who you met in the Christmas special last year, comes back into her life. But it’s complicated, as it always is. It’s never plain sailing in her love life. She’s struggled with her relationships since Matthew, because she still struggles with herself and her choices. Half the time she doesn’t really know what she wants.
Joanne Frogatt: There’s always a bit of trouble for Mr. Bates and Anna, as we’ve come to expect. There is some happiness, but it’s not easily attained. It never is for the two of them.
Laura Carmichael: Edith is 30 now and as she says, she’s staring middle age in the face. She’s got Marigold now and there’s certainly joy there. Things have been a lot worse for Edith than they are where we find her at the beginning of series six. She’s sort of written love off for herself, but there’s always hope.
Do you like how it ends?
LC: I think it’s a really satisfying ending but going to be a lot of gasps and a lot of tears – but all in that classic Downton way!
JF: I’m happy with it. Not all the loose ends are tied up for everybody, because that would be strange and unrealistic. But I feel like we leave all of the characters in a place that’s OK.
MD: Yes. There is a really great storyline–I can’t really give too much away, but it’s something I wasn’t expecting and it’s really clever.
What will you miss most?
JF: I will miss playing Anna but more than anything I’ll miss the people that I work with, our cast and crew. It’ll probably hit me more in February when we don’t go back to Downton. I think it’s the right time and I think we’re all ready to move onto different things.
LC: it was very strange saying good‑bye to Highclere castle. In a split second, it wasn’t our home anymore. And, of course, it was never our home but it felt like it for over six years. It’s full of so many fond memories, and it was very emotional.
MD: We didn’t want to leave. Laura and I wandered around for the last time, and suddenly we didn’t want to go home. We had a bit of a cry. Laura and I share the most memories because we’re so close. She was 22 and I was 27 when we started. I was doing press in New York on my 30th birthday and Laura flew over to surprise me.
Have you two talked about doing something else together?
LC: We’re always talking about it. We’d love to do some comedy together. But we might have to give audiences a little time to not associate us just as Mary and Edith.
Anything you won’t miss about the show?
MD: The dining room. Those are long scenes.
LC: The hair. It’s time consuming and it hurts and I hate it!
Has Downton Abbey spoiled you for other jobs?
LC: Yeah, I think it has. I’m going to have to get used to the fact that they’re not all going to be like Downton Abbey. But I feel like I’m in a really nice position and I don’t want to just rush into the next thing. It’s about the script and the part and good writing that I’m really open to. I’m looking forward to doing more theater soon.
What are you going to do next?
MD: A TNT series called Good Behavior. It’s contemporary, about a con artist and a thief who is out on good behavior. She runs into all sorts of trouble.
JF: I’m doing a two‑part drama for TV in England called Dark Angel. It’s the true story of the first female serial killer in the Victorian era in Britain, Mary Ann Cotton. She poisoned 17 people that we definitely know about, there’s a few not-so-sures as well, including three of her husbands, her lover, her mother, some of her own children, her step children, her best friend.
What are the fashions like this season?
LC: I’ve got this incredible coat that’s gold and silver floral embroidery with a fur collar and Mary is in her tweed and tights and waistcoats.
MD: The costumes this year are dynamite. Anna Robbins has pulled out all the stops this year, because it’s the last one. It’s 1926 and Mary is really embracing the fashion. She’s channeling a lot of Chanel. I loved the clothes and the jewelry.
JF: I on the other hand would like to burn Anna’s dress!
How has this experience changed you?
JF: It’s certainly made me more acutely aware of how fortunate I am to be a woman living in a free society and in this time period. A working class woman in 1912 when we first started didn’t have a lot of options. You went into service or found a husband. And if you picked the wrong one then that was your lot. I decided I wanted to be an actress when I was probably about three years old and none of my family are in the business, but I had the opportunity to do what I wanted to do and I was free to marry for love and free to pick the person I wanted to marry and take my time to find the right person. So it’s made me appreciate those choices more.
LC: I feel like I’ve been in acting school for six years with the best there is. I’d never been on camera before and I didn’t know how to hit my mark or anything [laughs] and so I was watching a copying the best people we have in acting in the UK. And I’ve made key, life-changing friendships. They have become like family and it’s not a coincidence that Michelle and I are so close. We are from two three-sister families and I think, you know, when you’re bought up with sisters you are very close to you end up forming close female friendships like that very quickly
There’s talk of a Downton Abbey movie. Would you be up for it?
JF: If we can get everybody together and if the planets align it will happen. Obviously, people will be going off and doing different projects and the difficulty of getting everybody back together at a time when everyone’s available. But I absolutely wouldn’t rule it out. It would be a lovely thing to have a break, do different things, and come back and a sort of reunion. It would be great fun to do.