Two weeks ago, Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore) came to Atlanta for the 2015 International Gift and Home Furnishings Market to visit showrooms devoted to “Downton Abbey” products, but was able to stop by the Atlanta History Center for a small luncheon organized by GPB. With Bill Nigut of “Two Way Street” http://www.gpb.org/two-way-street) conducting a live question and answer session with Ms. Nicol, guests were entertained by her sharp wit and personal stories while enjoying a lunch of fresh fruit and scones, eggs Florentine and the Swan Coach House’s signature silk swan dessert.
While growing up in Manchester, Lesley Nicol left her all-girls boarding school to, in her words, “kiss boys!” and complete her A-Levels. With a mother already involved in live TV, “Watson’s Store”, as a presenter, Ms. Nicol was raised in a family familiar with the early days of television. While in college, she discovered theater and asked if she could watch the rehearsals. The theater agreed as long as she didn’t make any noise. In her words: “Well, haha, that wasn’t going to happen!” This led to her being offered a part in “Andocles and the Lion” being paid one pound a week and became her first acting role.
Ms. Nicol also starred as Rosie in “Mamma Mia!” on the West End for the second and third year of the production. She described the process of auditioning in front of ABBA to be “very frightening!” and how she auditioned with “Take a Chance on Me”.
She stayed with “Mamma Mia!” for two years, describing the experience as “Fantastic.”
“The best part is it featured ‘women of a certain age,’” she said. “My part was funny, I had a great number and loved working with everyone. During shows, you’d look out into the theater and you’d see Tom Hanks, you’d see Cher, you’d see Meryl Streep!”
She was also part of the original Royal Court Theatre production of ‘East Is East’. About the production Ms. Nicol explained, “It was an amazing thing. It was the first time there was a discussion about being mixed race. It was looking at being neither one thing nor the other. If you’re mixed race, you might not be accepted by either side.”
Beyond “Downton Abbey”, Lesley Nicol has had guest appearances in “Once Upon a Time”, “Raising Hope” and “Hot in Cleveland”. Her next guest appearance will be on The CW’s “Supernatural”, airing February 3rd, 2015. She explained her ‘Supernatural’ character as “a cook of a very different kind!”
Ms. Nicol mentioned that she was friends with “Downton” producer Liz Trubridge before the show was in production. Originally Ms. Trubridge had suggested Lesley audition for Julian Fellowes’ previous project ‘”From Time to Time”, but the role had asked for someone closer to Dame Maggie Smith’s age (who also started in “From Time to Time”).
Liz Trubridge had kept Lesley Nicol in mind though and asked her to come in and audition in October after the casting process had begun in January. Ms. Nicol mentioned that many of the roles had been cast at that point, including Dame Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville, but she auditioned for Julian Fellowes and “they never saw anyone else!”
When asked about the creation of Mrs. Patmore’s character, Lesley Nicol explained, “there’s no making a bad meal at “Downton Abbey”. The stakes are high. So that’s why she’s always yelling at Daisy. [Julian Fellowes] never intended for Mrs. Patmore to be funny, but she and Daisy have such a good rapport so he built on that.”
She was never interested in deciding on Mrs. Patmore’s backstory either, as she stated whatever Julian Fellowes’ wrote on the page was far more interesting. She did claim, “the only thing I know is that she’s not been married. The ‘Mrs.’ is only a term of respect for women of that age.”
For this upcoming season of “Downton Abbey”, Ms. Nicol explained how the world of the downstairs characters are changing.
“The obvious thing is when the electrical devices came. It was a threatening feeling that they’d all be replaced by machinery. These big houses were changing, lessening staff. The older characters are looking at what happens next and the younger ones are given the notion that there are other things out there for them.”
As Mrs. Patmore, Lesley Nicol films most of her scenes at Ealing Studios in London, where the below stairs scenes are shot. According to her, Ealing Studios is only fifteen minutes away from where she lives. However, she still goes to Highclere Castle for some scenes. As for the filming schedule, she said that makeup begins at 7 a.m., filming begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m. Apparently filming hours in the U.S. are more strenuous!
As for the food that Mrs. Patmore cooks for the house, the cast really is eating it during the dining scenes. Ms. Nicol indicated that they’ve now swapped fish for chicken on the set if the dish is supposed to be fish, as using real fish over a long filming day “stunk to high heaven!”
When asked about her costumes, she revealed that Mrs. Patmore doesn’t have many costume changes. But Ms. Nicol explained with enthusiasm “[I wear the] same hat, I’m not letting that go. I’m very fond of that cap!” She has the same work outfit, but might have others made for various outings or the Servants’ Ball.
Fans were also interested in her opinion of the “Downton Abbey for TextSanta” special, which premiered on YouTube in December 2014. Ms. Nicol replied “I was slightly heartbroken because I didn’t get to be in the George Clooney scene!” that was filmed at the end of August. However, romance isn’t impossible for Mrs. Patmore. “I’m working on it!” was her reply to a possible real romance for the cook.
A fan asked about the friendship between cast members as well, and Lesley Nicol proclaimed, “there is a genuine affection and bonding within the cast. I know the downstairs people better because that’s where I work.”
But she enjoys spending time with both upstairs and downstairs cast members at “Downton Abbey” promotional events, such as the trip to New York she and other cast members made last month to promote the show with PBS.
On this trip, PBS set up an interview with Entertainment Weekly, who asked Ms. Nicol, Laura Carmichael (Edith), and Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes) to play Cards Against Humanity, a card game, for them as part of the interview.
Lesley Nicol describes it as such:“They asked will you play this game? And we replied, 'sure, that’s fine'. But we were hopeless, absolutely hopeless. It’s gone rather viral. It’s all over the internet.” Bill Nigut prompted her to continue about some of the brash aspects of the game, to which she replied, “I read what was on the card! ‘Farting and walking away.’ I won!” (A link to the video can be found here, but be warned, the content is not safe for work!)
But Lesley Nicol loves acting and has no plans on quitting anytime soon. “I love my job. I’m very lucky to do what I love. I love it more now than I ever did.”
For the past three winters, Lesley Nicol and her husband have preferred to leave England behind for the sunny, warm weather of Los Angeles and she loves it. She married later in life, at 51 years old, to a former construction worker and martial artist. He plays bass guitar and is semi-retired, but she pointed out that he does most of the cooking! She’s had the opportunity to meet Bette Midler while living in California, having attended one of her shows and asked to go backstage. She was unsure if Bette Midler would be able to meet her, but soon learned that both her hairstylist and personal assistant were huge “Downton Abbey” fans, as was Midler herself! Ms. Nicol invited both Midler and her husband to lunch.
Ms. Nicol also had the opportunity to meet JJ Abrams, who according to her is a huge fan of the show and visited “Downton’s” set. Knowing that her husband is a fan of “Star Wars”, she asked JJ Abrams to tea soon after it was announced he would be directing the newest movie and asked if she could bring her husband to the set at Pinewood Studios in England. She never expected a positive response, but to her surprise, he told her “You could visit me on set anywhere in the world!”
As such, her husband has been one of the lucky few to sit in the Millennium Falcon, after they both signed non-disclosure agreements.
This was such an enjoyable event by GPB! Take a look through the gallery below for pictures of the event.