Michael Fox on Downton Abbey
We interviewed the actor about his role in the new Downton Abbey film as well as getting to know about his passion for music.
Interview and Set Design by Daen Palma Huse
Photography by Ram Shergill
Styling by Alicia Joseph
For this feature of The Protagonist, we interviewed the actor Michael Fox, who is starring in the highly anticipated film “Downton Abbey” alongside other members of the cult cast including Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, Matthew Goode, Tuppence Middleton and many more. The feature film is based on the eponymous series centring around the life of the Crawley family who are wealthy owners of a large estate in the English countryside in the early 20th century. Directed by Michael Engler and written by Julian Fellowes, the film can be seen in cinemas starting 13th September.
For the photoshoot we found it fitting to accentuate Michael’s character with a colourful set, which included the wonderful indigo fabric “Hydrangea Bird” by GP & J Baker. Innovators in fabric design, this particular fabric was inspired by a fragment of hand block printed Chinese wallpaper dating to the 18th century. The design was painted in 1917 by William Turner, a well-known textile designer of the time, and has been in production since - including different colours. Quite eccentric in style, we are sure that the fictional characters of “Downton Abbey” could well have admired these kind of elaborate florals in some of their more daring contemporaries’ manors.
What was one of the most exciting days of filming of "Downton Abbey" for you and why?
For the film, I would have to say the arrival of The Kings Troop. Hundreds of soldiers on horseback parading the streets. That day I felt a real shift from the TV show to the big screen.
What has "Downton Abbey" meant for you in the past when you played in the series?
Downton has been one of the most amazing jobs I could ever hope for as an actor. Of course the obvious reason is its popularity and its worldwide success. But for me personally, it means I can watch, and hopefully learn from, the wonderful actors around me.
How do you feel the film is different to the series? It has been mentioned that the production value is higher because of a higher budget?
You could feel on set that the show had raised the bar again for the big screen. Every detail from the costumes to the locations felt on a much grander scale.
Has the filming been different in any sense to the series or did it feel more or less the same?
The day to day feeling on set was similar in a lot of ways, because as a group we are all so close. We had a lot of the original crew returning for the film too, so it was a lovely reunion.
Can you reveal one interesting fact about your character in the film - without telling too much of course?
I'm going to leave this vague for you. We see in the film that underneath Andy's subservient, amiable side, he has an edge, particularly when he sees competition in the house.
Besides your own character - which character fascinates you in the film and why?
I've always loved Mr Moseley. Particularly because I admire Kevin Doyle so much as an actor. The film has so many wonderful comedic moments for him.
Are there any unexpected twists or turns in the story of the film that we should ready ourselves for?
There are.... But I'm not saying what.
Tell us an anecdote from the set of "Downton Abbey"!
In the sixth series I had to knock down a door, and was so nervous of seeming too weak, so I launched into it. The whole door fell down, like a cut down tree. We had to stop shooting for an hour so that they could build another one....
What do you think are the main points why "Downton Abbey" has been so hugely successful? What do you think people can relate to in the series / and film?
I think it's a perfect mix of a few different things. The ensemble of actors, the music score by John Lunn, and the costumes by Anna Robbins. The team behind making it are so passionate, you can feel that come through on screen.
Where do you think "Downton Abbey" will go in the future? Do you think it will be watched in 50 years and perceived the same way?
I think Julian has given us a house, that adapts with the changing generations. Highclere Castle still lives on but in a different fashion, so I can't see why we wouldn't still be interested in Downton over the next few decades as it evolves further.
Tell us your personal favourite film - this can be from any period or genre - and why you like it?
I watch “Good Will Hunting” all the time. I love Robin Williams. I think it's just a beautiful film.
Did you have any childhood icons that you followed when becoming an actor?
So many, but if I could follow in the footsteps of Joaquin Phoenix or Phillip Seymour Hoffman I'd be happy.
Filming for Dunkirk must have been quite something, what was your experience on the set? What did you take away from that experience?
Standing on the beach, looking out to sea, it was quite profound. But for a few generations between us, I may have been standing there myself as a young soldier. I felt very proud to be a part of that film.
"The Beach House" is a short film in which you act that was released earlier this year and that has been nominated at several film festivals - can you tell us a little bit more about this?
It's a great comedy short about to hopeless romantics who misjudge their respective relationships, in a hilarious way. It's been received so well at festivals, you'll have to look out for it very soon!!
You are known to love horses and showjumping - do you still to this and what do you love most about it - is it a welcome 'down-time' from acting or do you see parallels why you love both?
I do still ride whenever I can. It's tricky around work because you don't want to come a cropper! I hope I can combine the two one day. An acting job on horseback would be the dream.
Do you read a lot in your free-time? Tell us your favourite title!
Alan Partridge - We need to talk about Alan.....
In the photo shoot you did with us for The Protagonist you were dressed in quite colourful clothes and photographed before a backdrop with plants and birds - how did this make you feel?
I loved it. My clothes are normally pretty reserved in the colour department so I'm not really one for big bold fashion statements. Until now!!
What importance do clothes have for you when you are filming?
For Downton the costume was very important. Practically speaking it forces your body in a more upright rigid position. It changes your whole approach to a scene.
You have also released several songs in 2017 and a single in 2018 - which you wrote and produced. How has the reaction been to your music and are you planning on doing more of this?
Yes I've got a new EP coming out very soon, recorded at Abbey Road. So I'm very excited to see what people think of that. My first EP 'before the cold heart' has gone down well for fingers crossed. (Available on Spotify)
Would you write songs for another singer or is it something that is quite personal to you?.
I would love to. Sometimes the process of writing for yourself can feel too personal, so I'd probably find it quite liberating.
The songs you released so far are quite dreamy and dark at the same time - would you say this is your signature style or do you have many musical sides, which we just have not seen so far?
I think it is my style. It's certainly the type of music I listen to. Give me Nick Cave and Bon Iver any day of the week.
Thank you very much!