Starring in her first action film, your favorite hard-edged, Jazz-Age widow handled constant threats, and sharing the screen with vets Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore, like she was born for the genre. Here, we talk to the delightful and laid-back actor about taking on a new sort of professional challenge, wearing only one costume the whole film, hanging with Lupita Nyong'o, and, yes, what's up next for Lady Mary.
How was working on this action thriller different from, say, the drawing-room drama of Downton Abbey?
“We were working in really tight proximity. If you can imagine shooting on a plane over in a studio, it gets pretty technical. I learned a lot from that. Certain roles don’t require you to know exactly where the camera crew is, but on something like Non-Stop, the level of awareness has to be a little more heightened. In hindsight, it fueled our performances because we were so close. It had its challenges, which was really great.”
Yeah, and a lot of the shots you’re in — well, actually, most of them — feature a hundred extras sitting there in airline seats.
“They were so much more a part of the action. Normally, extras aren’t so pivotal to a film. It was amazing to work on a set where everyone was so close — it’s so rare. You really only do scenes with a few other people when you work in television. So, working on something like this for two months with 50 to 100 people in addition to the crew was really exciting, and a lot of fun.”
In reference to your day job, you’re at Highclere Castle most of the time. Here, you were likely on a set that’s moving in parts. Was this your first real experience with a completely constructed set?
“It wasn’t something I was looking for. It’s not like I set out looking for an action thriller. It was more the script that drew me to it. I wanted the opportunity to work with Liam and Julianne. It was a bonus, really, that the set and genre [were] different." Bonus? How so?
"Every actor wants to mix things up and try different roles. That’s not to say I wanted to get away from playing Lady Mary because I love playing that role. And, after six months of not being on Downton, I couldn’t wait to get back. But, being able to have challenges in between with different roles is what every actor wants. I set out to challenge myself.”
What’s your next challenge, then?
“I’m not sure! I don’t really set out to do something different. I just wait and see what happens. For me, it’s all about the writing. I want a script I can’t put down. That’s what’s so exciting about being an actor; You don’t know what’s around the corner. I enjoy that part of it."
Click ahead for more with Michelle Dockery.
“Yes! That was something that was really different. On Downton I change, like, three times a day. Here, I had two of those dresses: one was a stunt one that was a bit bigger so I could fit a back-brace in it. ”
You shot this primarily in New York. Was that fun for you?
"Living there and working with American actors was a whole new game for me. Plus, like any job, working with new people [is] always a change. I made such great friends with Lupita Nyong'o and Jason Harner. You can do a job with someone and it becomes something like fate; You become friends for life.”
You're shooting season five of Downtown right now. We know you're sworn to secrecy about the plot, but can you even give us a hint about what Lady Mary is up to next season?
“Well, I can tell you that the script is wonderful, as they always are. Julian [Fellowes] always surprises me. When you’re a part of something for so long, you can find yourself anticipating the way a storyline will go. Julian is amazing because his writing is always evolving — he’s always surprising you. There's always new sides of a character to explore. That’s really all I can let on to.”
Non-Stop is in theaters this Friday, February 28.