Rob James-Collier tells us why he’s relishing his new role as a bad guy in Downton Abbey

What was your reaction when you first got the script for this?
“Wow! It’s a dream job and I’ve always wanted to play a gay Edwardian footman, every actor wants that job! No, it’s just fantastic. The cast, Julian Fellowes, Dame Maggie Smith. It was fantastic to even audition for it, even greater when they asked me to become a part of it.”

Is that the first time you’ve had to kiss a man?
“Yes. Originally the kiss wasn’t in the scene. But during rehearsal it dawned on me that Thomas would naturally kiss the Duke in the scene and that it would make his fall from grace even more humiliating. I think it added an extra dimension to the scene.”

Did you get stubble rash?
“Not off Charlie Cox, who plays the Duke – he was very clean-shaven!”

Thomas is quite an unpleasant character; does he have any redeeming qualities?
“At the end of the first episode you see the vulnerability of a man who genuinely felt something for the Duke. You could argue that he was genuinely in love with him because he’s absolutely cut up. But is he cut up because he’s in love with him or because his ambitions have been thwarted?”

And does he improve as the series continues?
“No! Thomas gets worse as the series goes on – a lot worse! He and O’Brien [Siobhan Finneran] up the ante and their efforts to get rid of Bates [Brendan Coyle] become more sinister.”

Do you get any sense of his background, why he is the way he is?
“Thomas has gone into service because, other than being a farmhand, it’s his only option. But he resents the opulent lifestyle of those he serves and has a chip on his shoulder.”

How do you feel about playing a baddie?
“I loved it. You can have a lot more fun with them and can say all the things you want to say in real life but are too scared to! I hadn’t played anyone particularly malicious before so it was an opportunity for me to do something different.”

*Downton Abbey screens on ITV1 on Sunday evenings