‘Downton Abbey’ Star Phyllis Logan Did the Same Thing Before Every Season

Phyllis Logan went to Highclere Castle seven times for Downton Abbey. She arrived at the beginning of each of the show’s six seasons, and once again for the movie. The story of Downton Abbey evolved in unexpected directions every year, but there was one thing Logan did at the beginning of each season. 

Downton Abbey: Phyllis Logan and Lesley Nicol
L-R: Phyllis Logan and Lesley Nicol | Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television

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Logan spoke with Showbiz Cheat Sheet by phone to discuss Downton Abbey. All six seasons of the show and the movie are now streaming on Peacock. Read about her annual ritual below. 

Alastair Bruce was a highlight every season of ‘Downton Abbey’

One member of the Downton Abbey family who does not appear on screen is Alastair Bruce. Bruce was the show’s historical advisor. He was the one who taught Logan and her costars all the procedures of early 20th-century castle life. 

“He would come and give us a pep talk at the beginning of each season and describe to us how it would have been, how we would relate to each other,” Logan said. “He does lots of things for Sky News because he knows so much about the Constitution. So anything to do with royalty or government dealings, he’s always on the news being asked about that. He’s a bit of a holy man. He knows a lot of stuff about mostly everything.”

Alastair Bruce taught the ‘Downton Abbey’ cast how to coordinate the upstairs and downstairs

Bruce taught both the upstairs and the downstairs cast historically accurate ways to conduct their business. Logan wondered how the downstairs staff, whom she led as the housekeeper Mrs. Hughes, would interact when they ran into their employers.

Downton Abbey kitchen
L-R: Lesley Nicol, Sophie McShera, Jim Carter and Phyllis Logan | Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features, LLC

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“We wouldn’t be burying, scraping or cowering in a corner,” Logan said. “We bumped into them every day of our lives. It’s like walking down your local street where you see the same faces. You don’t scurry away from them or ignore them. So you would just politely say, ‘Good morning. Hello, good morning, my lady.’ Likewise, they would just treat you not like the staff but in a kindly manner. Alastair was great from that point of view and it sort of stuck with us.”

Phyllis Logan did some research of her own 

Bruce was always on the set if Logan had any questions, and she relied on him frequently. She also did some homework on her own. 

Downton Abbey: Phyllis Logan and Jim Carter
Jim Carter and Phyllis Logan | Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television

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I did read a few memoirs from housekeepers of that time which were very interesting. It’s great to look back in the past and try and get a real sense and feel of what it was actually like. You really only get that I suppose if you’re reading people’s memoirs about it. You can put as much of a spin of your own on it as you like, but also [Downton Abbey creator] Julian Fellowes is so clever. So he made it easy for the actors to do it because he just had the character all there, had the social mores all there in the piece so my work was made very, very easy I have to say.

Phyllis Logan, interview with Showbiz Cheat Sheet, 7/2/2020

Phyllis Logan would attend Alastair Bruce’s talks every year

Bruce had a Downton Abbey briefing at the beginning of each season. It was intended to bring new additions to the cast and crew up to speed, but the veterans enjoyed it so much they kept coming back.

“Even though we’d heard his pep talk many times, we would do it at the start of every season for the newcomers,” Logan said. “We would always go to listen to anyway because he’s just so good at that sort of thing. So yeah, that was more than helpful.”