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Julian Fellowes talks 'Downton Abbey: A New Era' and 'The Gilded Age'

Mark Meszoros, The News-Herald (Willoughby, Ohio) on

Published in Entertainment News

“For me, the house is a pretty major character in the whole setup. And I don’t really like when they take a television show and they put the characters on a cruise or something,” he says. “It doesn’t quite work for me. I want them to get back to the setting of the series, and I didn’t want people to feel they’ve been deprived of Downton the house.”

In this conversation — which has been edited for length and clarity — Fellows speaks about his long journey with “Downton Abbey,” as well as his new series “The Gilded Age,” set in the cutthroat social scene of 1880s New York City. Initially slated to air on NBC, the show debuted in February on HBO and has just gone into production on its sophomore season.

Q: Congratulations on both the movie and “The Gilded Age” finally coming to TV after a delay. Were you working on both of them simultaneously or were you able to get “The Gilded Age” completed for that first season and get back into “Downton Abbey”?

A: You probably know that when you write a script, you never stop, writing different bits of it until the last edit is looped and the last thing is in the can. You know, you’re still fiddling with this and that at the beginning of every week’s filming.

But I enjoyed both shows. I think they’re quite different in tone and different in sort of texture, which I enjoy. I think I’m a lucky boy.

Q: You were ultimately happy with how “The Gilded Age” came together for its first season?

 

A: Oh, yes, I was very happy. I thought, “Once again, we’ve got a fantastic cast.” And that was very thrilling. I mean, right down the supporting cast. They were absolutely marvelous, as they are in “Downton.” You’re very, very cast-dependent in these things. You can have the funniest script or the most brilliant cinematographer, but if you haven’t got the right cast. It just doesn’t happen. And so it’s very exciting when you do get a really good one.

I’m very pleased with “Gilded Age.” It’s quite nice to be writing this more, sort of bitter, more angry, more driven drama. Funny, too. And romantic — it has those elements. But in the end, “Gilded Age” is about a great game, and there were great stakes to play for — and they played for them.

And I think it was a period in which Americans, unconsciously perhaps, were preparing themselves for the century that they would dominate because the 20th century would be the American century. We can say that now because it’s finished. … They were the decisive voice at the end of the First World War, even though they only fought in it for a (brief) period.

And so this wasn’t a society in decline. I mean, a lot of “Downton” is about the general, gentle sort of taking in of the 20th century, hanging on to what can be hung on to but otherwise making adjustments as things settle now differently. There’s none of that about ”The Gilded Age.” This is about a group of gunmen arriving in town and shooting it up, really. And I like the difference in the energy of the two shows.

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