Downton’s Michelle Dockery: ‘Mum is my inspiration’

With the eagerly anticipated new Downton film due out at the end of the month, we caught up with Michelle Dockery - aka Lady Mary - to find out more.

Michelle Dockery

by Gabrielle Donnelly |

When Michelle Dockery was offered the chance to revisit her role of Lady Mary Crawley in the second film of the beloved TV series, she didn’t hesitate for a moment. “I have huge fondness for Mary,” she says of the forthright, sometimes stubborn, always intelligent character she has been playing since the TV show began in 2010.

“She’s been a big part of my life. I was very fortunate that Downton Abbey came along at the right time for me; it was an incredible six years we spent on the show and I’ll always be proud of it. I really think that it was a very special show, something that parents will still be showing their children in years to come. I hope it’s a show that stays with people forever.”

Very far from aristocratic in real life, Michelle was brought up in Romford, Essex, the youngest daughter of Irish-born lorry driver-turned-surveyor Michael Francis Dockery and social worker Lorraine. She was nicknamed ‘Dockers’ as a child because of her strong Essex accent, and says she was raised working-class and proud of it. “I was brought up to stand up for myself,” she says. “To speak up when I felt passionate about something, when I felt the need to make my voice heard about something that mattered. I think a lot of that comes from being from a family of sisters, because we’ve always supported each other all along and, for instance, if any of us was ever bullied at school, we would all step in and stick up for one another.”

Downton Abbey: A New Era

Stage-struck as a child, Michelle won a place at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama. “I felt I learned more at drama school than I did anywhere else,” she says. “Even when I was at regular school, I was never out of the drama department, so I actually didn’t do very well in other subjects, because I just didn’t want to be taught anything else!”

Michelle had a modestly successful career in the theatre for several years before Downton Abbey made her famous. “It happened overnight,” she says of her rise to stardom. “I’d been working in the theatre for seven years, so it wasn’t really overnight for me.

“But I remember after the very first episode of Downton Abbey aired, and just before the second one did, walking into my local newsagents and seeing a picture of myself, Laura (Carmichael) and Jessica (Brown-Findlay), the three Crawley sisters, on the cover of three papers and that was huge – in that moment, it felt quite overwhelming.

“Then the first time I was recognised on the street was in New York, and that was even bigger because that’s when it hit me how big the show had become if it was being recognised Stateside!”

Michelle Dockery

Eleven years – and a flourishing TV and film career in a variety of roles later – it is still Lady Mary she is most closely associated with and that, she says, is fine by her.

“I like to play strong women,” she says firmly. “And even if they’re not strong, they have to be interesting, you know? Multi-faceted, complex, complicated, three-dimensional – yes, and flawed, too, because people are. Anything but boring!”

Off the screen, Michelle lives in North London, is private about her relationship with fiancé Jasper Waller-Bridge, and says that for all the star-studded social circles she mixes with these days, the people who matter the most to her are still her family. “My mum is the most incredible woman I know, and she always inspires me. My dad’s just amazing too – even though he spent our growing-up years with a bathroom that was never free!

“My parents always let me be who I want to be, they’ve never made demands, and their feeling has always been that if I’m happy, they’re happy.

“So between my parents and my two amazing, strong, courageous elder sisters who are still my best friends, I’m very lucky in my family. We call ourselves the Essex Mafia!” Not quite like the Crawley clan!

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