Interview with Allen Leech from ‘Downton Abbey’

Allen Leech Downton Abbey Interview
Downton Abbey’s Laura Carmichael and Allen Leech (Photo by Rahoul Ghose/PBS)

Allen Leech, Downton Abbey‘s ‘Tom Branson’, was one of the members of the cast to make the trek to Los Angeles for Masterpiece’s 2014 summer Television Critics Association’s press day. And while those gathered were there to get the scoop on season five of Downton Abbey, no spoilers were revealed (not from a lacking of trying on the part of members of the media). Leech put it best when he explained why no one would reveal too much about this new season: “I think one of the reasons we can’t give plot points either is, as the series has progressed, the stories have become more personal. And this year I think they are such personal journeys for each character. It’s harder to give spoilers because it’s an individual journey for each character, more so than it ever has been before.”

Allen Leech Downton Abbey Season 5 Interview

Your character has been through these incredible transitions from chauffeur to married to widowed to now this interesting relationship with the teacher and so forth. Are you surprised by these dizzying shifts? Did they tell you any of this or what’s it been like to be on the roller coaster?

Allen Leech: “I never envisaged that Tom would be where he is now. I was hired for three episodes in the first series, was lucky enough to come back for the second, and thought that might be it. Was expecting the P45 ‘You’re fired’ papers around the corner. And I’m still there. Now he’s estate manager, so it’s been an incredible arc. The character’s been on an incredible journey.

Certain elements I thought would go against Tom, even when Jessica Brown Findlay – who played Sybil – when her character died, I thought that might be it for me as well. And Julian, rather than running away from that, he actually embraced it. He engaged with what that poor man had to do, the fact that he lost his wife and he was in this world he didn’t really understand. So in no way did I expect that I’d still be here, but I’m still delighted that I am. And I’ll be honest, I’m expecting to meet a truck on a narrow lane any day now.”

With each season, the popularity of the series grows as does its popularity on social media. Have you been pulled into that at all? How do you deal with the immediate exchange of feelings and ideas from the people who watch the show?

Allen Leech: “I’d probably be the most active [of the cast] on Twitter. Therefore, I’ve upset a lot of Americans with spoilers, accidentally talking about the episode that’s already been on. So I’ve learned the hard way to keep my mouth shut until January in relation to that. So it’s weird, the immediacy of being able to access an actor who is involved in the show, but the danger with that as well is the fact that you are opening up to the amount of people who follow you as well. So you have to be very careful. It’s trial by error. So, you know, I’ve made that mistake a couple of times.”

Could you talk about your favorite room on set?

Allen Leech: “My favorite is the great hall, which is where a lot of scenes take place, a lot of movement. I like the fact that any scene that has a bit of movement, mainly because sitting in the dining room for 11 hours to do one scene is a little soul-destroying. So, the opportunity to move your legs and move from one room to another – I enjoy the great hall because it means that we are definitely on the move. So I like that, and I also because it also allows for a lot of camera movement.
 […]So you get a real sense of the building and of Downton as a whole.”

Season four included sporadic moments of friendship between Lady Mary and Branson where they were helping each other through their newly widowed lives. Is that going to continue this season?

Allen Leech: “In series 5, you definitely see they become closer because they become confidants. So, at the end of the day, they are after the same thing for Downton, which is sustainability. They want to see Downton continue into the future, not only for themselves, but obviously now for their offspring. So you definitely get a sense that they come together on a united front with the idea of making sure that Downton is going to be around for a lot longer than even while they are around. And in that, they kind of solidify their friendship as well.”

Does Tom feel like he fits in better this season?

Allen Leech: “Yeah, I think Tom’s more comfortable than he’s ever been before in relation to the family. I mean, at the end of the day he has accepted the fact that these people genuinely love him. And he loves them; they are his family as much as his brother who came in once – you don’t really see him. At the end of the day, he’s had to create his own life and had to create this life around his daughter. I think as a character, and being able to play a character, you have to say he made the right decision. He went with his daughter and what was best for her. In relation to series five, you see him wrestle with what’s best for her and what’s best for them in the future.”

Does he have a bit of a rebel still left in him?

Allen Leech: [Laughing] “Have you met Tom Branson? Yes, of course he does. That’s never going to go away. He doesn’t have the uniform anymore!”

Which Irish actor and actress would you like to play your parents on Downton Abbey?

Allen Leech: “Pierce Brosnan. Pierce Brosnan would actually be good as my dad. And Fionnula Flanagan.”

There was an interview where someone suggested to Kenneth Branagh that he play your father and he said that would be great.

Allen Leech: “What?! Done then. Pierce, you’re out. Can he be? Done!”

What’s the status of your short Quiz Night?

Allen Leech: “We’re shooting it actually at the end of August, and Rob’s still on. Robert James-Collier is playing the lead in my short. It’s quite funny because I spoke to him the other week and he went, ‘I don’t remember signing up for this.’ And I went, ‘We were drunk.’ He went, ‘All right, fair enough.”

Does wacky stuff actually happen on the set of Downton Abbey?

Allen Leech: “The wacky stuff normally happens off set. If you bear in mind we have 22 main characters hanging out in hotels.”

Does it ever get boring having to wait for your scenes?

Allen Leech: “No, it doesn’t actually. Every scene is integral. That’s the great thing about Downton, you have to steal your moments in Downton because there are so many characters. So, you’re always on point. You want to make sure you get what’s right for the character in that moment. It doesn’t get boring. It gets tiring but never boring. You feel quite in awe when Maggie Smith walks back on the set after 10 and 1/2 hours. It doesn’t get boring because that woman’s going to look at you and off camera – she’s beside camera, and she’s still there. You can’t get bored if that happens to you.”

Are you aware people in the U.S. get dressed up and have parties to watch the show?

Allen Leech: “I still think a great idea for charity would be to put a competition of myself and Rob in costume, we turn up to one of these costume parties on the night of one of the episodes that airs here. I think we should do it for some charity and make it happen.”

But not to serve.

Allen Leech: [Laughing] “No, to get drunk. I believe these are drinking parties, aren’t they?”

– By Fred Topel

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