Yours chats to Downton Abbey’s Phyllis Logan: ‘I’ve seen how laughter can heal’

Actress Phyllis Logan talks to Yours about the importance of laughter and kindness and the prospect of a second Downton Abbey film.

Phyllis logan

by Christine Smith |

Downton Abbey actress Phyllis Logan is a tour de force. Looking fantastic at 65, and back on the small screen in the highly acclaimed BBC series Guilt, she reveals she’d love to carry on working until she at least reaches her 80s.

Best known for her role as Downton’s formidable housekeeper Mrs Hughes, she says it’s the inspiration of watching her Downton co-star, Dame Maggie Smith, that makes her all the more determined to carry on working for as long as she can. “You look at people such as Maggie and Judi Dench, who are in their 80s, and you see they are still vibrant and getting plaudits for what they do, which is wonderful.

“The thing about actors is we never retire! Why would you? There could be so many opportunities still to come. You don’t know what is around the corner and even though the majority of my career is behind me, I still feel a sense of excitement and anticipation of what might be to come.”

Older actresses, she adds, are now being given a platform they very much deserve. “I don’t know if there is a sea change but I do feel that as the nation grows older together, my generation can hope to go on for a few more years!”

Phyllis Logan
©Alamy

Not that Phyllis needs to worry about when her next role will crop up. Hugely in demand, Phyllis – who has also starred in Lovejoy, Secrets & Lies and The Good Karma Hospital as well as Downton – is one of several household names starring in a second series of Guilt.

Phyllis plays Maggie, who is estranged from her husband, Roy, but whose family are clearly not quite as innocent as they appear. “Maggie and her husband Roy are a bit like Bonnie and Clyde! They have a bit of a past and things aren’t quite as they appear. Maggie does have an element of ruthlessness about her too and the drama is very dark, spooky and sinister. I’ve loved being part of it all.”

She admits she feels lucky to still be offered acting roles, especially when so many of her peers have found work difficult during the pandemic. “I am very fortunate,” says Phyllis. “We have been living in a weird bubble where things haven’t been normal but we have still been doing normalish things like working, albeit with masks on and keeping away from everyone. I have managed to keep my head above water and I am grateful for that.”

Guilt is on BBC2 on Thursday evenings. The first episode aired on October 14 – catch up on BBC iPlayer

Phyllis Logan on Downton Abbey

As well as Guilt, Phyllis is also starring in the second Downton Abbey movie, set for release next March. She can’t reveal any plots, but Phyllis admits the cast had great fun.

“We had a riot filming it,” she laughs. Does anyone get murdered? “I can’t possibly say,” she smiles.

A very jovial actress, Phyllis definitely has not let the global success of Downton go to her head. “I am just Phyllis who goes to the butchers,” she insists.

“I don’t read much about what people say but I am glad that at least I have done something (Downton) that impinges on people’s consciousness. With Maggie in it and Hugh Bonneville, I thought it would be reasonably successful but if I am honest its success took us all by surprise. Americans love it.”

She says she has never once felt the desire to uproot and move to the States.

“Some of the younger cast members have and if I were their age, I would do exactly the same but there are only so many roles on offer for my age group!”

Phyllis Logan's husband

Phyllis is married to actor Kevin McNally – they have been together since 1994. Reflecting on why their relationship has lasted so long, she thinks they are both very accepting of the fact that work takes them away from each other. “Over the years we’ve been away for months at a time. You have to get on with it. I think it’s why we remain completely at one with it all.”

Phyllis and Kevin have a son, David. Is she desperate to be a grandmother yet? “I think I can wait,” she laughs. “I am not agitating for that but then again I hope it is not too long as I won’t be fit enough to take them to the playground!”

Phyllis says she is thankful that neither she nor her husband have caught Covid. “Touch wood, so far we have been a Covid-free house,” she explains. “The last 18 months have taught me that you don’t know what life is going to throw at you and I have to be thankful. Some people have gone through hell.”

Phyllis Logan's charity work

Phyllis may be a successful actress, happily married to actor Kevin McNally with whom she shares a son, David, but she also lives her life by thinking of others. She works with Scottish charity Hearts and Minds which helps vulnerable people overcome feelings of powerlessness, anxiety and isolation through the art of therapeutic clowning.

Its Clown Doctors Programme supports children and young people to cope with life in a hospital, hospice or respite care setting and in schools for learners with complex additional support needs. The Elderflowers Programme meanwhile, helps people living with dementia or dementia-related conditions in hospitals and residential care homes. Through playfulness, smiles and laughter, the charity aims help these vulnerable people to deal with the anxiety, fear, confusion and sadness that their situations and conditions may bring. Phyllis is an honorary Elderflower.

“I’m known as Flora Elderflower,” she says. “During lockdown, along with a lot of other Elderflowers, I’ve been sending in videos of me singing familiar songs and ditties. Music often strikes a chord with people who have dementia, bringing them out of the bubble they’re in and you see a spark of them returning to their old selves.”

Phyllis is also an ambassador for Dementia UK.

“All our lives have been put on hold during the pandemic,” she says, “but sadly this is a permanent state of affairs for dementia sufferers and their loved ones. The campaign also highlights the great work that Dementia UK’s Admiral nurses do, providing compassionate one-to-one support, expert guidance, and practical solutions for families.”

With these dementia charities clearly very close to Phyllis’ heart, we’re guessing that the disease has affected members of her own family.

“It has,” she replies. “My dear mother-in-law suffered with Alzheimer’s for a number of years and it was horrible to see her diminish as a personality when she’d been quite a force to be reckoned with. It was tragic to witness that disappearing. My own mother, in her later years, also was affected with cognitive impairment. We didn’t struggle in the sense that she still knew who we were, and my siblings and I had some lovely cousins who helped look after her.”

For more details about Hearts & Minds visit www.heartsminds.org

For Dementia UK visit www.dementiauk.org

Find out how you can watch Downton Abbey here

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