Lord Fellowes spent his sixty minutes at China Exchange reflecting on his career as an actor, writer and producer. He described how his signature “fly-on-the-wall” style of screenwriting came from his experience growing up slightly apart from society; his parents had come from different backgrounds, and this detachment from society ultimately helped him to view it more analytically. Lord Fellowes acknowledged that making a living in the arts can be a struggle, and that his early work as an actor gave him sympathy with other people who might be going through an up-hill battle.
Lord Fellowes reflected on the craft of writing screen plays, and the differences between writing for a TV show, where each episode needs a story arch, and a film. On the subject of his role as the creator and writer of the TV series Downton Abbey, he said “it’s been an extraordinary ride for all of us”. When he started, he didn’t have the slightest idea of the scale of the whole thing “I’m very grateful, and very glad that it happened to me”. He said the key to its success was getting a really great cast at the beginning.
On his long-standing working relationship with Maggie Smith, Lord Fellowes said that he was initially “frightened” of her when working on Gosford Park. He said that she is “very gifted, she can go from comedy to tragedy seamlessly” – and when it came to Downton, he wrote Maggie Smith’s part completely for her, “I know how to write for her, and she knows how to act what I write”.
When asked about the possibility of a Downton Abbey film, Lord Fellowes enthused that he very much hopes there will be one. He has written the basis of it already, because he didn’t want to be caught short if it was given the green light.
Watch the video to find out more about Lord Fellowes’ plans for a TV series in the US, and to hear where he keeps his Oscar.