What happens when Bates is released from jail?
“Bates steps out of the prison gates, Anna’s there to greet him and they come together in each other’s arms. It’s a fantastic moment for the show and the characters, and it’s beautifully done. The only thing that’s sustained Bates in prison has been receiving letters from Anna and her faith in his innocence.”
Why do you think people feel so strongly about the relationship between Bates and Anna?
“It’s a romance of its time, which has developed very slowly and with so much against them. At first Bates didn’t feel he was worthy of her love, then there was the rules of the house and the fact that he was a married man. So people invested in their relationship and wanted them to be together. It’s an old-fashioned love story.”
Does Lord Grantham give Bates his job back?
“Yes, he does. He’s immediately welcomed back as his valet – you have to remember that they were once comrades in arms and Lord Grantham has always given tremendous support to Bates.”
What happens to Bates and Anna going forward?
“They’re given a cottage and we see them setting up home together. There’s a great deal of tenderness and there’re some lovely moments between them, which they deserve.”
What about children?
“Well, it’s something they’d like…”
Is everyone thrilled to have Bates back at the house?
“There’s still some doubt in the minds of certain characters over his guilt. There’s also an extraordinary storyline between Bates, Thomas and O’Brien. It sees the relationship between Bates and Thomas develop in a very surprising way.”
What have you made of Joanne Froggatt’s performance as Anna?
“I shot a lot of my stuff separately from Joanne, so I’ve been watching her performances as Anna on television and I’ve found them very, very moving.”
What’s the relationship like between you and Joanne off-screen?
“It was sort of instant and I’m a huge admirer of her work. I just think we’re in tune with each other and she’s a great mate. I was at Joanne’s wedding the other week, which was superb. There was a big Downton Abbey crew there and it was a lovely, lovely day.”
You went to the Emmys in America this year. What was that like?
“Steven Spielberg’s daughter came bounding over to us to say how much she enjoyed it and how they watched it as a family, which was kind of hilarious. One of my favourite moments was meeting all the cast of 30 Rock, who love the show, and we’re going to be referenced in Family Guy next year, which really tickles me as it’s something I love.”
When you started on the show, did you have any idea it would be so successful?
“Nobody did. I was cast quite late, so I knew Maggie Smith [the Dowager Countess] and Hugh Bonneville [Lord Grantham] were in it, so I thought: ‘This is going to be a solid bums-on-seat piece”. But I could never have predicted it would become this phenomenon.’
You’ve been labeled as a sex symbol. How do you feel about that?
“I think that’s all in the eye of the beholder and all that. When I thought about playing Bates I thought about both of my grandfathers, men of a different time. He doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve and he’s not a modern man. What I love about Bates is the things he doesn’t say.”