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'Downton Abbey' star Phyllis Logan sees 'great love' in Elsie-Carson romance

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Phyllis Logan (L) and Jim Carter can now be seen in "Downton Abbey: A New Era." Photo courtesy of Focus Features
Phyllis Logan (L) and Jim Carter can now be seen in "Downton Abbey: A New Era." Photo courtesy of Focus Features

NEW YORK, July 5 (UPI) -- Phyllis Logan says her housekeeper character Elsie's new marriage to Mr. Carson is going well in Downton Abbey: A New Era, even though the snooty former butler is in the South of France with their employer for most of the movie.

"They get on each other's nerves like all married couples from time to time, but there is a great love there. She knows what a curmudgeon he can be, but, even withstanding that, she loves him," Logan told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

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"They are just settling in," she added. "It's like they've been married for years. It's all comparatively recent, their wedding, but they've known each other so well being butler and housekeeper ... and always had time for each other -- having a wee sherry and discussing the day's business, which was lovely.

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"I love those scenes because it meant they could slightly take off their housekeeper and butler hats and show themselves as human beings."

Set for DVD release Tuesday, the movie is set in 1928 and finds Lord Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), steward of the cash-strapped titular British estate, making the difficult decision to accept a lucrative financial offer to allow a Hollywood film production to shoot at Downton. This is much to the chagrin of most of his family, but excites the household staff.

At the same time, Robert's ailing mother, Lady Violet (Maggie Smith), inherits a villa in the South of France from a mysterious man, prompting Robert, his wife Countess Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), who has secrets of her own, their daughter, Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), and their son-in-law, Branson (Allen Leech), to head out on holiday to inspect the new property.

That leaves Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Elsie (Phyllis Logan) at Downton's helm.

To get the fussy Carson out of the way so the filmmakers may get on with their work, the women concoct a ruse and convince him that Robert desperately needs him on this trip.

Logan categorized the plot as a "bit of subterfuge."

"Lady Mary suggests it because I say Mr. Carson is going to make trouble. He's not going to countenance a film crew -- a bunch of vagabond actors who are stealing the silverware," she laughed.

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"She thinks Lady Mary is going to have to get rid of him, not through homicide, of course. So, she says, 'Well, he's going to have to go to France.' That will get him out of the way," Logan added.

"Robert needs a stalwart to help go through the trauma of a holiday abroad. Carson buys that, and off he goes, leaving us to have fun with the movie stars."

Protective of the estate but not quite as steadfast as Carson is, Elsie found the film company, including fictional screen icons Guy Dexter (Dominic West) and Myran Dalgleish (Laura Haddock), to be a major disruption to the household.

But Elsie, as always, was able to rise to the occasion, stepping "into the breach to save the day" when needed, Logan said.

"In the beginning, she might seem slightly fazed by all these theatrical types just wandering about the place," she admitted.

"She was a bit overwhelmed to start with, but she quickly caught on to how to deal with these people and got quite actually interested in the making of [the film] and got quite excited along with the younger members of the staff like Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Daisy (Sophie McShera), who were thrilled to see their idols from the magazines and movies.

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"She wasn't impressed to begin with, but I think Dominic West won her over."

Logan doesn't know if there will be another Downton story to tell, but she is all in if there is one, just as long as it doesn't jump too far into the future.

"I love doing it. I love all the people. I love the character that I play. It's just one of life's great gifts that we've been given," she said.

"Some of us who are senior members of the cast, we'd probably be long dead if we leap forward too far. We could keep it to a year or a couple of years."

The actress said she is grateful to the viewers who made the franchise a global success.

"They are the most loyal bunch of fans you could ever wish for," Logan said.

"Ultimately, it's they who enabled a second film to be made because enough of them went to see [ the first] and loved it enough. The studio felt, 'Well, it's popular still, there's an appetite still, why don't we do another?'"

Logan said she is is pleased to put A New Era out in the world at a time when so many people are trying to resume some normalcy after the coronavirus pandemic.

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"It is just a real joy with a touch of sadness, of course, but that's what life's about, isn't it? It is a real, feel-good, walk-out-of-the-thing-with-a-big-smile-on-your-face [movie]," she said.

Bookending A New Era are heartwarming group scenes with the whole cast turning out for one beloved character's joyous wedding and another's tearjerker of a funeral.

"It was just wonderful to kick the whole event off with that wedding when we were all there at the same time, which doesn't happen a lot within the filming," Logan said.

About that mournful sendoff at the end, she added, "You need to have a heart of stone not to be affected by that."

Logan and some of her castmates were crestfallen to read the script and see they would be staying at Downton while others headed off to France.

"We were all a bit [disappointed,] to tell the truth, but then we were having so much fun doing the stuff we were doing. Having seen it on film, it looks stunning and they all came back [from France] with raging tans," she recalled.

Not that the British cohort didn't enjoy themselves in between filming scenes. Because the movie was made during the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the cast members found themselves blissfully isolated together in posher quarters than they are used to.

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"We stayed in this gorgeous hotel near the castle. Normally, it's just Maggie Smith who gets to stay in the place," Logan dished. "We were given a wing of the thing to be kept separate from the other residents or visitors. We had our own garden and dining areas. It was like going on holiday with your pals."

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