Written by Alison James
If we didn’t already know Phyllis Logan played Mrs Hughes, we might not have recognised the actress when she sat down for a chat with us in a London hotel. While the Downton Abbey housekeeper is dowdy and make-up-free, Phyllis is dressed in bright colours, wears lippy and mascara and is vivaciousness personified. But… there is undeniably a touch of sadness about her, too.
“Yes – I am feeling quite forlorn because we’ve finished making Downton for good,” says Phyllis (59) who lives with actor husband Kevin McNally and their 19-year-old son David, in west London.
“It fills me with dread and sadness, really,” she confides. “All through filming, I kept saying to anyone who would listen that we had to make the most of it because it would be over before we knew it. Now it is and I’m in bits. On my last day, I’m not ashamed to say I shed a few tears, but then we all did.”
It’s clear that Downton Abbey has been of tremendous importance to Phyllis. She nods.
“For the past five, six years I’ve known every year that there would be six months work coming up, doing something I really enjoy. Playing a character I love and working with the rest of the cast and crew whom I love, too. That’s been a great blessing in my life – knowing that job was going to be there, even if nothing else happened. I’m so glad we got to do six series. I’ve never for one minute thought, ‘Oh, this is on its last legs’ but it’s good to finish it while we still have so much popularity. I still find it staggering how many people have taken Downton Abbey to their hearts since the first series.”
So what is Phyllis’ fondest memory? ‘‘Oh gosh, there are so many,” she smiles. “You know, going over to New York and Los Angeles and people mobbing us! Some might say that was a downside but it was amazing really. When it first started, I just thought, ‘Oh please let it go on for another season’, and then it caught on. Suddenly everyone from the Royal Family downwards was a fan.”
So has Phyllis taken a Downton or Mrs Hughes memento? The wig, perhaps? “I’d never have taken the wig even if I’d been allowed to!” she replies. “I wanted to take a lighter to it by the end of filming! I do have my own Mrs Hughes bag, though. When you’re on location you want to keep your newspaper, script, phone, crossword – things like that – in a bag. I used to take my stuff around in a see-through plastic bag until I got some fan mail that said someone had seen a letter that was in my bag!
So a few years ago the costume department made me this bag and embroidered ‘Mrs Hughes’ on it with a little star and a ribbon. That’s a wonderful memento.”
At the end of the last series the butler, Mr Carson, proposed marriage to Mrs Hughes. Presumably then their wedding will take place this series?
“A wedding is certainly planned, but it’s not all plain sailing,” teases Phyllis. “Carson and Mrs Hughes are rather at odds. Carson wants a traditional wedding but Mrs Hughes wants something more informal.
“There’s also the question of what they both expect from marriage – she has concerns about the degree of intimacy her new husband will expect. Mrs Hughes has had admirers in the past, but is hardly experienced, if you get my meaning. The ‘Mrs’ was given as a courtesy title because she’s the housekeeper. She’s too embarrassed to ask Carson about his intentions herself and wants Mrs Patmore to help her!”
Presuming they overcome this hurdle, whatever will Mrs Hughes wear on her big day? Not her usual brown frock, surely? “Actually she does plan to wear some old day dress she has knocking about in her cupboard,” Phyllis laughs. “But luckily help comes in the form of Her Ladyship and Lady Mary.”
Please say Carson makes an honest woman of Mrs Hughes? “Obviously one would hope they don’t decide it’s a disastrous idea,” she says. “But even if they do end up as man and wife, anything might happen.” There’s a pause and she smiles. “Now you know I can’t say anymore about what’s in store for Mrs Hughes and Carson.”
Yes, we know! But one more question before we let her go. There’s talk about a Downton movie being made once the final episode has been shown on Christmas Day. Nothing has been confirmed, but would Phyllis be up for it? There’s no need for words. Her broad smile says it all!