hellomagazine.comDownton Abbey series four: meet the cast of Downton Abbey including Laura Carmichael, Michelle Dockery, Allen Leech, Hugh Bonneville and Dame Maggie Smith
Character: Lady Mary Crawley
Actress: Michelle Dockery
Essex-born Michelle Dockery starred in TV shows Waking the Dead, Cranford and Red Riding before being cast as Downton Abbey's Lady Mary.
"She's incredibly strong," said Michelle of now-widowed character. "I think they all are really," but added that she was initally shocked when Mary's on-screen husband Matthew was killed.
"Initially I was concerned about what would happen," said Michelle. "But I think that, as much as it was sad to see Dan go, it opens up the opportunity for Julian to write a new chapter and something quite different, not only for Mary, but the knock on effect it has for other characters."
Outside of her acting work the 31-year-old also sings jazz singer and performed at the 50th Anniversary of Ronnie Scott's Jazz club in London.
The two-time Emmy nominated actress has also sung with he co-star Elizabeth McGovern's band, Sadie and the Hotheads.
Character: Lady Edith Crawley
Actress: Laura Carmichael
Laura Carmichael was cast just three weeks before the first series of Downton Abbey began, but luckily the newcomer felt right at home in the stately manor.
Originally from Southampton, the 26-year-old actress had already mastered her posh accent during sixth form by being regularly being drafted in to perform in plays at Winchester College, the local boys' school.
Laura studied drama at the Bristol Old Vic theatre school, juggling her training with doing odd jobs, and found out she had got the part in Downton while working in a local doctor's surgery.
She is still taken by surprise at the success of the show, especially as it was her first big acting job.
"We are all kind of fascinated by how it happened," she says.
Her character in Downton, Lady Edith, has had her fair share of heartbreak and disappointments, but series four sees her coming in to her own – something Laura relishes.
"I love the way Edith's becoming more of a feminist, writing to the newspapers about women not being allowed the vote. She's becoming much more interesting," she says.
Character: Lady Cora
Actress: Elizabeth McGovern
Elizabeth McGovern is no stranger to costume dramas, having previously appeared in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Once Upon a Time in America and the film Ragtime, for which she was nominated for an Oscar.
The actress, once engaged to Sean Penn, is now married to the British producer Simon Curtis, but being cast as Lady Cora in Downton was an opportunity for Elizabeth to reunite with her on-screen husband, Hugh Bonneville as they had previously played a married couple in the BBC sitcom Freezing.
Outside of acting, Elizabeth is an accomplished singer and songwriter, regularly performing with her band Sadie and the Hot Heads.
She also has two daughters, something she has in common with her character, Lady Cora.
Delighted with the phenomenal success of Downton Abbey, she maintains that the show's popularity with audiences is all the recognition the cast need.
"Awards are always great to get but they are only the icing on the cake," she says.
Character: Violet, Dowager
Countess Actress: Dame Maggie Smith
Two-time Oscar winner Dame Maggie Smith, who has a career in film, TV and theatre that has spanned over 60 years, is used to commanding attention and her character in Downton Abbey does just that.
Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham is the matriarch of the family and is known and loved for her sharp tongue, dry wit and absolute reluctance to join the modern world.
Dame Maggie has confessed that although Violet is now a great-grandmother, the 78 year-old actress doesn't intend to say goodbye to her beloved character any time soon.
"Logically, Violet must be about 100-and-something now, so I don't know how long she'll go on," said Maggie. "There will be bathchairs and things they can push me around on."
Character: Tom Branson
Actor: Allen Leech
Allen Leech starred in TV shows Rome and The Tudors and a handful of films before being cast as Tom Branson.
Allen's character was only supposed to appear in three episodes, but the 32-year-old actor impressed Downton's writer Julian Fellowes so much that he wrote him a full time part in the show and even changed Branson from Yorkshire-born to Irish to accommodate Allen's native accent.
Tom's transformation didn't stop there. Originally the family's chauffeur, he became a political activist before falling in love with and marrying Lady Sybil, only for her to die whilst giving birth to their daughter.
As Branson has crossed the class boundaries Allen has had the opportunity to work with almost all the cast and the experience hasn't been lost on him.
"It's pretty astounding to think who I'm working with," he says.
Character: Lady Rose
Actress: Lily James
Lily James, who plays rebellious Lady Rose, is Downton's rising star.
The 24-year-old's career has gone from strength to strength since she graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2010.
Lily has appeared in the films Fast Girls and Wrath of the Titans, and played Desdemona on stage in Othello, but it is her role in Downton that has really had an impact on the British actress.
"It's not my first job," said Lily. "But Downton feels like your first job, because it's so huge it's like nothing else mattered before!"
Things don't seem to be slowing down for Lily, either as she has just started filming Disney's new live-action Cinderella opposite Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter.
Character: Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham
Actor: Hugh Bonneville
Cambridge-educated Hugh has 13 years of acting experience under his belt.
The BAFTA winner has been seen in Hollywood blockbusters such as Notting Hill and Tomorrow Never Dies and TV hits Twenty Twleve, Doctor Who and The Vicar of Dibley but still says he feels "colossally lucky" to be in Downton Abbey.
"The merry-go-round that will stop at some point," said Hugh. "And we will all get off and go in different directions," but for now he is enjoying his role as Downton's patriarch.
"As usual, Robert makes a complete cockup of how to look after his family, giving them all the wrong advice," said Hugh of his role in series four. "He's not great at reaching emotional sides within his family. He basically wants to wrap Lady Mary in cotton wool and protect her from the world.
"He thinks he’s doing the right thing, but he's actually suffocating her," added the actor. "But as she emerges, the whole mood improves and there are a lot of fun and games to be had."
Character: Charles Carson
Actor: Jim Carter
Jim Carter has been acting for more than 40 years, but he hasn't always seen taken on such sensible roles as Carson in Downton Abbey.
Having made a pledge at the age of 20 to never earn a penny outside the entertainment business, the 65-year-old actor did everything from busking on street corners, performing magic and even taking a circus course.
As Lord and Lady Grantham's butler, Carson is the heart and soul of the house and holds the manor together with impeccable standards.
He is also one of the only characters to be found both upstairs and downstairs, but the Jim has explained that he doesn't find it hard to establish relationships with such a large cast.
"The interaction on screen is down to the fantastic writing and genuine camaraderie," he says.
Character: Daisy Mason
Actress: Sophie McShera
Sophie McShera, who plays unlucky-in-love kitchen maid Daisy Mason, has also appeared in Waterloo Road and Emmerdale.
The 28-year-old actress, who studied at Brunel University, hails from Yorkshire and began her acting career aged 12 in The Goodbye Girl at the London Palladium.
Character: Anna Bates
Actress: Joanne Froggatt
Emmy award nominated Joanne Froggatt, who plays Anna, Downton's head housemaid, confidente to Lady Mary and wife of troubled valet John Bates, was always determined to make acting her career.
The 33-year-old actress left her home in North Yorkshire at the tender age of 13 to attend Redroof's Theatre School in Berkshire, and has seen a steady stream of work ever since.
Joanne started her career in The Bill and Coronation Street before moving into meatier roles in television dramas, something that has prepared her for some of the more serious storylines in Downton.
She has recently made the move to film, starring opposite James McAvoy and Jamie Bell in Filth, but the actress is still buzzing from the success of the ITV period drama.
"I think when we started filming we all knew that it was something really, really good," said Joanne. "But we never dared imagine it would have hit the dizzy heights that it has."
Character: Thomas Barrow
Actor: Rob James-Collier
Downton's scheming underbutler Thomas Barrow is played by 37-year-old Rob James-Collier, who is also known for role as Liam Connor in Coronation Street.
Despite having no acting experience, Rob studied business at the University of Huddersfield, the Stockport-born star landed a role in BBC One's Down to Earth and has been acting ever since.
The father-of-one has modelled for Argos and was also crowned the Sexiest Male award at the 2007 and 2008 British Soap Awards.
"It's a dream job because it's completely the other side of the spectrum," said Rob on playing his Downton alter-ego. "Particularly as it carries on, my character gets nastier."