The highly successful and much talked-about drama series Downton Abbey is entering its sixth and final season – premiering in the UK on September 20th on iTV and in the U.S. on Masterpiece on PBS on January 3, 2016 – in which its millions of devoted viewers will finally learn the fate of its beloved characters. While story details always remain tightly kept secrets, this season is sure to be full of all the usual drama and intrigue, but with the added excitement of discovering how and where everyone ends up.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, conducted while the show was still filming, actress Joanne Froggatt (“Anna Bates”) took some time to reflect on the experience of being a part of Downton Abbey and talked about why this is the right time to end the series, originally thinking it would be finished after Season 5, concentrating on the acting and not thinking about it being the last season, the satisfying journey that it’s been, and why she’s okay with leaving the maid outfit behind. She also talked about taking on the role of Mary Ann Cotton, the first female serial killer in the Victorian era, for a two-part TV mini-series called Dark Angel.
Collider: After having had this be a part of your life for so long, have you had that moment where you’ve realized that this is it?
JOANNE FROGGATT: No, I don’t think I have yet. I’ve just started to feel a little bit emotional. I think that will happen on my final day, or at the wrap party. But, it’s the right time to finish. Being on this incredible journey has been a wonderful experience, but you want to finish on a high. You don’t want it to be run into the ground. You want to go out when people are still loving it and still enjoying it. So, we’re in the best place we could wish for, really. It’s going to be bittersweet, which is how you’d hope it would be.
Did you ever have a moment where you, personally, wished you could have another season or two?
FROGGATT: No, I think it’s the right time. I think six seasons is amazing. It’s been so popular across the world, for so long, and we’ve covered so much. There’s been so many different storylines and events and emotions, during those six years, for the characters. You have to leave it at that, and I think we’re at that place.
There was talk, over the years, of it maybe being done after three seasons, and then maybe after five, before deciding it would be done after six. Did you know that each of those seasons might have been the last?
FROGGATT: Well, we signed for three to start with, and then they came through and asked us to sign for four and five, just before we started filming Season 3. So then, we knew we had another two years. And we all expected five to be the final one, actually, but then they came through again and said, “Can we do just one more?” We all knew, for definite, that six would be the final one. It’s been a process. I don’t think any of us expected, when we first started, that we’d be here, six years later. I don’t think you ever do, on any job. Even if something is fantastic, you don’t know how people are going to react to it, or whether it’s going to be popular with the viewers or not. It just felt like it was the right show at the right time, I suppose.
Was it amazing to not only see how popular this show got, but also how many people talked about it and referred to it in other TV shows and movies? Are you surprised that it’s still part of the conversation?
FROGGATT: Yeah, absolutely! It’s just lovely. It’s very nice to hear that, and that people are still enjoying it. That it’s still loved is great. It’s all positive.
Has this season felt different, going into it, knowing that it’s the last one? Were you given any extra information ahead of time?
FROGGATT: No. The thing is, when you’re actually filming and you’re working, that’s what you’re thinking about. You don’t really think about it being the final season, or what people are expecting. You just concentrate on doing your acting and doing your job, really. It’s six months of filming, so it feels like there’s a long way ahead before you can even start letting your brain think about it coming to an end. There’s so much to do that you don’t really process it, in that way. It will probably sink in after it’s finished. For me, it will be in February of next year when we don’t go back to it. I’ll be like, “This is strange.”
Without giving anything away, what can you reveal about your storyline this season and how you feel about the way things will wrap up? Has it been very satisfying for you?
FROGGATT: Yeah, it’s been very satisfying from an acting point of view. I’ve been very fortunate. I think Julian [Fellowes] writes really well for women. I’ve had some incredibly dramatic scenes to play and a whole range of emotions. And then carries on for Series 6. I don’t think anybody expects it to be plain sailing for Anna and Bates now. We know that nothing comes very easily for those two. It’s more of the same. There’s a few struggles ahead for them, and a little bit of happiness mixed in. It will be interesting to see how people react to it all.
Is there anything you’d like to sneak away from the set with?
FROGGATT: Not really, no. There’s nothing very pretty or beautiful that Anna has or dresses in. I’m quite looking forward to leaving that maid’s outfit where it is, actually.
Do you already know what comes next for you, after Downton Abbey?
FROGGATT: I actually start another job two days after we finish. I’m doing a two-part drama for television (Dark Angel). It’s just two 90-minute episodes, and it’s a true story that I’m playing the lead in. It’s about a woman called Mary Ann Cotton, who was the first female serial killer in the Victorian era. My husband and I are actually hoping to move to America, so we were planning to move as soon as Downton finished. But, I read the script and it was so brilliant and so the polar opposite of Anna. I’d been joking saying, “I’d quite like to play a murderer next, or something totally different.” And then, I read this and thought, “Oh, I’ve gotta stick around for this.” It’s just a seven-week shoot, and then we’ll see what happens after that. Brian Percival is directing it. I’m hopeful that U.S. viewers will see it, as well, at some point. We haven’t settled how yet, but fingers crossed that it will get some airing over here, as well.
Is that going to be very dark?
FROGGATT: It’s very, very dark, yes. She poisoned 17 people, including three of her husbands, her lover, her mother, some of her own children, and her stepchildren. She’s the polar opposite to Anna, which is going to be so fun. It’s going to be great. I’m really excited about that. It’s really lovely to have something to go straight onto, and that’s going to be challenging. There’s been a lot of research to do. It’s something to really get my teeth stuck into, which I’m really looking forward to. And then, we’ll see what happens after that.
Are you looking to move to the States for work?
FROGGATT: We’d like to, but not particularly for work. We’d just like to go stateside for a little bit and see how it goes. But, we’ll see. Best laid plans, and all that. It always changes. But, it would be nice if we can.
Downton Abbey returns for its final season on iTV on September 20th, and on Masterpiece on PBS on January 3, 2016.