‘I’ve been crying for two months, I’m really emotional,’ Laura Carmichael tells me. But, thankfully, a guy isn’t to blame. Instead it’s all about Downton Abbey. Last December, six years after the first episode of the period drama catapulted Laura to fame as Lady Edith Crawley, the show came to an end, leaving her and the rest of the cast feeling bereft. It could have been very different for the Hampshire-born actress, 29. Laura was just about to go on a year-long tour in Twelfth Night around the Middle East when she got the Downton call. Now, 51 episodes later, Laura talks corsets, being friends with Christopher Kane and getting to keep the props…
What sparked your interest in acting?
‘When I was 16 the posh all-boys school near mine needed girls for their plays. We properly all fell in love. It was ridiculous.’
Do you remember when the call came through to say you’d got the role of Edith?
‘I was working part-time at a doctor’s surgery. I was a terrible secretary as I was always running in and out of the kitchen to take calls about acting jobs. I couldn’t believe it when they said I had the role. It felt like a really monumental step.’
Did you ever expect the show to get so big?
‘It was my first TV job so I would have been happy if just my mum had watched it. When people started going mad for it I remember Hugh Bonneville saying to me, ‘Laura, they don’t all go like this, this is quite a good first job you know.’
Were you star-struck working with a huge actress like Shirley MacLaine?
‘Totally. Our director spoke to us quietly and said, “Girls, can you look less in awe? She’s meant to be your grandmother.” We spent the week soaking up all her amazing gossip about hanging out with Elizabeth Taylor and Carrie Fisher.’
So what was it really like playing Edith?
‘I’ve always loved her. But there are moments when you have to take a breath from someone who is so unhappy all of the time and remember it’s pretend. She’s catty and vulnerable but brave and resilient.’
Her style changes a lot, too…
‘In the first series we wore hobble skirts. They were tapered at the ankle so if you tried to walk anywhere quickly it was hilarious. Plus we had very flattening corsets. So when the 20s came about I felt free.I loved the workwear and the glitzy drop-waist dresses.’
Did you get to keep anything?
‘On our final day the designers said I could keep a vintage purse. It’s 100 years old with the most delicate beading. I’m going to treasure it forever.’
What did you make of the geek-chic look on our shoot?
‘It was really fun. I loved the bright yellow Miu Miu skirt and the vintage jumper with the big Dior coat.’
Does it differ from your usual look?
‘I think Downton has made me scruffier. On set everything is perfect so when I’m not filming I wear baggy jeans and comfy jumpers.’
Tell us about being mates with designers Christopher Kane and Erdem…
‘They’re fans of the show, that’s sort of how we met. They’re cool. I think they’re frustrated actors really. They know more about film than I do. Their references are always amazing.’
What’s been a favourite red-carpet look?
‘I once wore a blue, prom-shaped Erdem dress with a Swarovksi-crystal neckline. I felt really nice in it.’
Are you into beauty too?
‘I’m getting more and more obsessed. I use a lot of Kiehl’s products; their serums and oils are good if you need to rehydrate your skin. Le Labo body moisturisers smell amazing and I love Charlotte Tilbury’s moisturiser.’
How do you keep fit?
‘I do reformer Pilates and barre classes. I find it difficult to motivate myself to run but I could literally race to those classes because I love them so much.’
Are you a fan of eating clean?
‘I do like a green juice but I love curry and junk food, too. I’m not going to miss the Downton catering, though. The temptation is too much.’
So is a move to LA on the cards?
‘I’ve been and it’s really nice, but I think technology has really changed the way we work. With Skype meetings and flying over for screen tests, I don’t think you have to move to America any more. I don’t know what’s next. It just depends on what scripts I like. I’d definitely love to do more theatre, too.’
Did your family watch the Downton Christmas special?
‘Yes, they always want to watch it with me. I tend to drink a lot of red wine and text Michelle [Dockery] and Lily [James] to see if they’re being made to do the same. I end up watching it through my fingers.’
DOWNTON ABBEY SERIES 6 is available on Blu-RayTM and DVD, courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK).