We catch up with Iain Glen, aka Downton Abbey’s Sir Richard Carlisle, to find out what’s in store in the Christmas special…

Sir Richard seems to find Christmas at Downton rather bemusing doesn’t he?
“Yes, I think he does. It is all rather touchy-feely, which he finds rather disorientating. He has never been particularly comfortable at Downton and Christmas proves to be a particularly awkward time for him because all the family are together and they have their routines which are familiar to them and alien to him. He finds himself a bit of a fish out of water and finds it difficult to enjoy the fun of things like charades.”

What does he think of the Crawleys?
“I don’t think the Crawleys made him particularly welcome in the first place. They were always slightly suspicious of him. I think that is more to do with the fact that he is new money, which is slightly common in their eyes, and he comes from a world they know nothing about. Richard has a complex set of feelings about the world he wants to joins. Part of him doesn’t respect it, but in that period it would be good for him to belong to that world.”

Does he have any feelings for Mary or is she just a ticket into that world?
“I think during the course of the series he has fallen in love with her a little. I don’t think his motives were entirely pure to begin with but he’s a bold enough man to express that. At the beginning of the relationship it was all about a marriage of convenience that might suit them. But Julian Fellowes, who writes it, has always felt that they might actually be peculiarly suited to one another. What Richard would offer Mary is the freedom to express herself as a woman in her own house and I don’t think he would keep the shackles on her too much.”

And what about Lady Mary in all this?
“In Richard’s defence he made his position very clear. He didn’t say I’m madly in love with you. He said I think we could be a good match, we would pair off well together and do good things. But it was from a very honest standpoint. While during the course of the series, Mary has given him a fair amount of the run around. If anyone has been in a position where they love somebody who is not reciprocating, or emotionally or physically misbehaving, it doesn’t bring out the best in you.”

Lavinia’s death at the end of the last series has now made things difficult for him and Lady Mary again, hasn’t it?
“Lavinia was always a means to getting rid of the distraction of Matthew and, cynically, now she has gone, it puts a harsher light on their relationship – where they are going to go with it and when they are going to commit to marriage? He is feeling that quite strongly. Everything comes to a dramatic head in the Christmas special, but I can’t say anything more.”

Is Sir Richard evil and manipulative?
“No one is entirely black or white in Downton. I don’t judge him too strongly. I think he is in a very alien world and tries to make sense of it for himself and he uses means that objectively aren’t too appealing. He is a newspaper man and it is in his blood. The way he discovers stories and the way he operates as a businessman overflows into his emotional life as well.”

Downton is such a huge show – what reactions do you get when you are out and about?
“There’s an amazing buzz around the production and it’s a lovely thing to be part of. When you’re dropping off your kids at school or picking up your newspaper there are always comments about last night’s episode. I really don’t take it for granted. It is a lovely thing to be part of, something that it is so successful in terms of people wanting to watch it.”

What do you think is the secret of its success?
“It is a well-cast and a well-put-together production and the writing’s really well-researched and well-executed. Julian Fellowes conjures up the world very convincingly. He has the advantage of starting from scratch and creating his won plot lines whereas if a writer is adapting Charles Dickens or Jane Austen, they have to concertina events into a televisual format and shape it and all those novels are quite unwieldy. Julian is very aware of the shape of episodes even down to when commercial breaks might be. I also think there is a genuine love of period because it was a time when everything was understated. People like to bathe in that era when it took a long time for people to get to know each other and so much was unspoken.”

The Downton Abbey Christmas Special is on Christmas Day at 9pm on ITV1