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Michelle Dockery relishes return to ‘Downton Abbey’

Her rabid fans call themselves The Lady Dockers. These are reserved types who sip tea, smile through closed lips and are demurely gaga for everything about English actor Michelle Dockery.

Dockery is the iconic Lady Mary Crawley in the TV series-turned-movie franchise “Downton Abbey.” What is the enduring appeal? “People find her rather comforting. She’s like seeing an old friend again,” says the 40-year-old, who has been one of the ladies of the manor for the past 12 years.

Put on a fresh pot of Earl Grey: The next installment in the saga, a film called “Downton Abbey: A New Era” debuts this weekend in local theaters. Dockery joins Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville in the highly anticipated cinematic return of the period drama. It’s time to whisk away to France whilst other family members deal with a film crew that has infiltrated the household.

This new installment follows 2019’s big-screen “Downton Abbey” as well the 2010-15 TV series.

Between roles, Dockery is happily settled in London, where she is engaged to film and TV producer Jasper Waller-Bridge, brother of “Fleabag” actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The couple have co-founded Day One Pictures, a film and TV production company.

Review-Journal: What do you think is the enduring appeal of Lady Mary?

Michelle Dockery: She is the eldest daughter and has such loyalty to her family. Although she appears to be a bit proper and subtle, she also has a delicious bite when she needs it. I remember one scene from the show where Mary and her sister Edith are hovering over their baby sister Sybil, who has died during childbirth. “Oh, Mary,” says Edith, “Do you think we might get along a little better in the future?” Mary snipes, “I doubt it. But since this is the last time we three shall be together in this life, let’s love each other now, as sisters should.”

Tell us what you can about the new “Downton Abbey” film.

You’re in for a treat because Julian (Fellowes, “Downton’s” creator) has created a really lovely story. Some of the characters are taken out of their comfort zones and arrive in France, where there is this beautiful villa and a mystery about who has inherited it. Others stay at Downton to deal with a film crew. … I think the film is perfect for this summer because it just takes you away from everything. It’s either beautiful countryside or the majestic waters of the south of France.

Let’s talk about the food, which always seems to play a co-starring role in these films. Are those big table scenes laden with all that food overwhelming? Or do you get hungry?

People do ask me if the food is real, and I can assure you it’s mostly all real. It’s much easier to use real food, although it sits out under the hot lights while we film the scenes. You’re not craving the food because it will sit there for many takes and it might be sprayed with something that makes the food last longer. We will also freeze and unfreeze certain dishes. It can get very smelly in our kitchen! Plus, there are a few other particulars that aren’t so appetizing such as covering food like olives and fruit in meat gelatin to make it last longer. It’s all very beautiful on screen.

Tell us about your role as Kate Woodcroft in “Anatomy of a Scandal.”

It’s such a great story that leaves you on the edge of your set. Our producer David E. Kelley is a master of these dramas. This one is essentially about these perfect lives imploding. … I was up for playing a barrister. That’s something so different from what I usually play. I loved her story arc and her journey. She begins as this mysterious and unreadable woman. You’re not quite sure where this is going. As it progresses, she beings to unravel. She is far more vulnerable than you imagine. … I’m always attracted to these multifaceted characters.

You’ve said that your past couldn’t be more different than the posh life of Lady Mary.

I grew up in a working-class family in Essex. It’s a county outside of London … New Jersey would be the equivalent. I’m very proud of where I’m from, but it’s very different from Lady Mary. My sisters and I went to a stage school, where we learned to sing and dance. It started out as a hobby. For me, it became something I wanted to do. My parents were very encouraging but made sure I had a good education. Also, I worked all sorts of jobs before I became an actress. My first job was in a fish and chip shop. I was the waitress there for two years. I was a barmaid. That’s what most of us did growing up.

Will there be additional “Downton” films?

We get asked this all the time. It really depends upon the fans. All I can say is we love doing it and I would love to do it again.

Do fans call you by your character’s name?

People call me Lady Mary all the time. I don’t mind a bit.

What is your idea of a great Sunday?

Sunday is all about a good dinner with family and friends. Your nearest and dearest. I’ll basically roast a chicken and add some potatoes, or we’ll have one of my favorite foods. Yes, it’s sushi, which is such an actress-y thing to say, but I still love it.

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