‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’ Stars Hugh Dancy and Joanne Froggatt on How Hollywood Shakes Up the Sequel

Dancy, Froggatt and Kevin Doyle tell TheWrap about the filmmaking twist in the new film

The Crawley family and their servants have welcomed royalty to the ancestral estate, but in “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” which opens this weekend in theaters, Hollywood is invading.

Hugh Dancy joins the franchise for the second film, playing director Jack Barber, who makes Lady Mary a lucrative offer to film a silent film at Downton. While Kevin Doyle’s character, Mr. Molesley, is no longer a staffer (he’s the school teacher these days), he can’t help but return to catch a glimpse of the stars in action.

“I’m playing a movie director who comes to Downton with the hope of making his movie there [who] writes a check to be able to do that,” Dancy told TheWrap. “And then as things start to go awry [he] discovers all these people that are willing and able to help him. Almost primarily, or at least, certainly at the top of the list is Moseley who has these gifts. He loves the movies. He can lip read.”

Mr. Moseley’s lip reading talents come in handy indeed when the silent film has to become a talking film (“talkies”) as a result of the rapidly changing movie industry of the late 1920s.

“It was fascinating, actually, because what we’re doing is we’re kind of tracking what happened in reality back then, which was that transition from silent movies, and then it suddenly became apparent that silent movies weren’t making any money at all, because the talkies are everywhere now and everybody was queuing to see them,” Doyle added. “And so there’s a decision to be made. We’ve got to change this movie into into a talkie.”

“And what we need? A lip reader,” Dancy added.

That transition amps up the drama for the film within the film.

“That was a really, really fun part of the job, actually, sort of exploring that and then seeing how that transition would be achieved,” Doyle said of the twist. “So you see sound equipment being brought in and different cameras being brought in. It was really fascinating.”

Dancy is joined as a newcomer in “Downton Abbey: A New Era” by Dominic West, who plays silent film actor Guy Dexter, and Laura Haddock, who plays the glamorous Myrna Dagleish. Joanne Froggatt, returning again as Anna Bates, said her character and kitchen helper Daisy (Sophie McShera) are entranced by the latter screen icon – at first.

“Anna and Daisy are very excited about Hollywood coming to Downton, and they’re very excited about meeting Myrna Dalgleish and Dominic West’s character, Guy Dexter, and they particularly are excited about Myrna, Laura Haddock’s character, because she’s come from very humble beginnings, sort of East End of London, and she’s become this movie star, which is the first sort of generation of women – although you’d have to be extremely beautiful, extremely fortunate for that to happen – but somebody that they can relate to in terms of working class life, doing yincredibly well in life and getting to that level of success,” Froggatt said. “So she’s a little bit of an inspiration to them. And then when they meet her obviously [and] at first, it’s disappointing, because she’s not quite as sort of friendly as they were hoping.”

The production returned to Highclere Castle to shoot many scenes in the film, especially the Hollywood silent film ones, and even after six seasons, and a previous movie, coming back to the historic location, doesn’t get old, Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes) said.

“It’s always a thrill to see the castle. It really is. I never tire of seeing that. That vision is really quite stunning,” she told TheWrap. “And to be there more often than we normally do. So, that was really fun as well. And getting to do things which we’d never normally get to do in the castle setup was great.”