The Downton Abbey roadshow came to town Friday night in the form of an event promoting season three of the wildly popular British program that depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants. The show resumes in the U.S. Jan. 6 on PBS. More than 300 fans (there were thousands of requests for tickets) came to ooh and ahh over cast members Hugh Bonneville, Joanne Froggatt, Rob James-Collier and Lesley Nichol at the Silver Screen Theater in the Pacific Design Center. The audience watched the first twenty minutes of episode one, then Hollywood Reporter chief television critic Tim Goodman moderated a panel with the actors, executive producer Gareth Neame and Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton. I sensed that by now, in terms of press tours, these actors are a well-oiled machine and could probably do these things in their sleep. However, they did seem to enjoy speculating (as they have been doing ad nauseum for the past two years) why Downton is such a hit with American audiences, and updating their characters' story lines.
Series three has already aired in the UK, and many in the United States have illegally watched the episodes online or in bootlegged files passed by email. (As Eaton acknowledged to me.) But if these people already have seen the shows, they didn't give anything away. Nor did anyone inquire about rampant rumors that certain cast members, Dan Stevens in particular, might not be returning for the just-commissioned season four. This was a polite and respectful crowd, with no hardball questions for actors or producers.
Fans came in all shapes and sizes and and from many parts of Southern California. Sheri Earls, a manicurist from Orange County, told me she had only discovered Downton a month ago and has rapidly caught up on seasons one and two via Amazon. Waiting on a very long line at the "meet and greet" for James-Collier, who plays gay footman Thomas Barrow, Earls made it clear that she is addicted. "Anna (the ladies maid played by Froggatt) is my favorite. Her spirit is so sweet...and Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham) would have to be my heartthrob." At the other end of the fan spectrum were Jennifer Ramone and Jim Dover, from North Hills. The couple, who have watched from the beginning, love the historical aspect of the show. Jennifer, a marketing consultant for Paramount, wasn't interested in meeting any of the cast members: "I've learned to stay away from the talent. I don't want to spoil the illusion." A few fans dressed in costume from the 1920's, the show's current period. All waited patiently to meet each of the actors, who appeared to be having a genuinely good time. At one point Bonneville yelled good-naturedly at a shy fan, "Hey! Take a picture! Whaddya here for?" Froggatt seemed to spend more time hugging than conversing, and James-Collier spent extra time chatting with an elderly woman in a wheelchair who is from Manchester,England, near where the actor was born.
Next stop for the group is New York City, where there will be more events like this one, and lots more press to do, as well as a season three premiere party hosted by Vanity Fair and Ralph Lauren at MOMA on Monday night. CBS Sunday Morning aired a behind-the-scenes feature on the coming season this weekend. Bonneville also was on NPR's Wait, wait...don't tell me on Saturday in a show taped last week at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.
Photos: Sean Roderick/LA Observed