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Interview with Downton Abbey’s Rob James-Collier

Having completed a degree in business and masters in marketing, few, including Rob James-Collier, would have pictured him taking on the role of Thomas in the critically acclaimed television series Downton Abbey. Below, Rob tells us how he fell in love with acting.

How did you get into acting?

Having completed a degree in business and masters in marketing, few, including Rob James-Collier, would have pictured him taking on the role of Thomas in the critically acclaimed television series Downton Abbey. Below, Rob tells us how he fell in love with acting.

How did you get into acting?

By chance, a friend was doing a performing arts degree at university and they were making a film for the end of term. One of the actors dropped out and my pal thought, ‘Rob’s game for a laugh, he’ll give it a go’. I hadn’t any acting experience, apart from the donkey in the school play with a cardboard box on my head, but I loved every minute of it!

You must have been surprised when only three months later you landed your first acting role?

I made loads of mistakes on screen, but I was really lucky to learn on the job. That’s why I appreciate everything I get, because I know how hard it is and there are loads of actors out there better than me, so I am just grateful to be working.

What is Thomas’ gripe on Downton Abbey?

Thomas, being the arrogant character that he is, assumes he is going to get given the job of valet, but the rug is pulled out from under his feet when a mysterious man, known as Bates, turns up. Thomas plans Bates’ downfall with his partner in crime O’Brien but their efforts keep failing and Bates keeps surviving so they up the ante and we see their efforts to get rid of Bates become more sinister as the series progresses.

Did you find it difficult to play a character as cruel and deceitful as Thomas?

The fantastic thing about the scope Julian has given me is that yes, while O’Brien and Thomas are nasty pieces of work, he writes in funny lines for him as well, so you’ve got a little bit of comedy. I had this idea in my head of how I would play Thomas but when I turned up on the first day Siobhan Finneran (O’Brien), whose CV speaks for itself, said less is more and let the lines speak for you, which was great advice.

Tell us about the secret that Thomas is desperate to keep hidden

Thomas’ secret comes out towards the end of the first episode. He is a gay man and in those times, not only was it considered a sin against God; it was also illegal and frowned upon within society. I think many of the staff are aware that Thomas likes men and they kind of brush it under the carpet.

How did it feel to work alongside Dame Maggie Smith?

I was really excited the day of the readthrough, but it was a double-edged sword. I was fortunate and unfortunate enough to be sitting opposite Dame Maggie Smith, which is brilliant because you’re like ‘wow, it’s Maggie Smith over there’. But then it began to sink in and when it came my turn to say my lines it was like going through puberty again. You know that moment when you open your mouth and it comes out really deep. It always used to happen when I was in German classes! I was so nervous.

Catch the finale of Downton Abbey 20 October, Thursday @ 11PM/10PM Th-Jkt. Only on DIVA Universal.

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