Susannah proved to be as lovely as the luscious garb she selects for her multi-layered characters. And not only did she share the sad news that she's passed the Season Three baton to her assistant, but also [SPOILER ALERT] that a wedding won't be happening for Lady Mary on this Sunday's Season Three Christmas special finale. (We're devastated, but hopefully that at least means the Matthew saga will gain steam.) Read on for this English scene queen's insights on the show, and her amazing take on the art of costume design. (Our fingers are firmly crossed that she'll score the CDGA next week!).
Thanks for giving us your precious time! Are you in the throes of filming Season Three?
"When I finished the Christmas special this year, I decided to move on to other projects. It’s still under wraps, but I’m doing a feature film. I’ve worked on several already, and I may do another one! They need some new blood anyway, so my assistant will be taking over."
We're sure it’s a massive amount of work pulling all of those costumes! How big is your staff?
"I have a running team of about seven. Behind the scenes, we have seamstresses and tailors, depending on where we go. We also have daily people coming in to help when we have a crowd."
You use some recycled dresses from past films and shows, but how do you go about sourcing the "used" goods?
"We use the big costume houses in America; they have all the costumes from previous films. Costumes go on embargo for several years after they've been used, and you really have to search for what you want! It’s just the way the industry works."
Do the actors ever offer any input on what they wear?
"I’m the first person who the actor meets when they take the job. I have a big input on the character in the beginning. It helps them work, and they’re very interested in what they wear. I appreciate that input! I never make anyone wear something they don’t feel all right in. If you put them in a costume they feel awkward in, then it distracts them. They need to feel happy and comfortable, always."
How well did you know writer Julian Fellowes before working with him? Is he very hands-on in your department?
"I worked with him as an actor once, years ago. He's particularly interested in the men’s costumes!"
The jewels are all so exquisite; how do you acquire them?
"I source them from four or five different places, sometimes from vintage markets, sometimes from the costume houses, and then, there's a specialist outside of London that I like to use, too."
If Lady Mary does get married, have you thought about what her wedding dress would look like?
"The new designer will design it. I myself don’t even know what will happen!"
Which character on the show do you feel like you can most relate to?
"Probably Michelle (Lady Mary). I like simplicity, and I don’t like fussy costumes. She is sophisticated, and I like the clean lines. I looked to Coco Chanel [for her costume inspiration] — she was one of my biggest influences for her."
We have a girly question! We swoon over Cousin Matthew. What's he like, and is he single?
"Ha, no he’s married and is the most lovely man. He’s a complete English gentlemen, very courteous and kind. He wears his clothes very well, too."
You had to do an entire period justice, historically. Where do you even start that research process?
"You never get enough time. I go through photos, museums, costume collections, original pieces, and various collections in London. I’m really interested in the silhouette of the clothes. I use some costume history, but mostly I use paintings, photographs, and original pieces for my research."
What’s a signature piece from the era that you wish you would make a comeback today?
"There’s a tweed suit that you haven’t seen yet in the Christmas Special that I’m pleased with because it reflects the period it’s in and today. Look out for the tweed suit Lady Mary wears on Sunday! The outfit was made for her."
Do any of the actresses ever want to take things home with them?
"Some of the evening dresses they like to wear in photo shoots. They love them, but it’s just not possible for them to swipe them, ha!"
Photos: Via PBS