Jim 'Carson' Carter on the Downton Abbey film in Yorkshire
PUBLISHED: 09:16 10 September 2019 | UPDATED: 09:16 10 September 2019
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Yorkshire has a starring role in the blockbuster Downton Abbey movie this September. Tony Greenway talks to one of its best-loved 'made in Yorkshire' characters, Jim 'Carson' Carter
Jim Carter, he of the deep, rich and resonant Yorkshire voice which, by the sounds of things, starts somewhere in his boots, is musing about being a well-known face from the telly. He's been in so many films and TV series over the years, from Cracker and Shakespeare in Love, to Silent Witness, Red Riding, Cranford and Ella Enchanted (he co-starred with Anne Hathaway and played a blue ogre called Nish), that you'd think he'd be have got used to public scrutiny early on his long career.
But something happened in 2010 which unexpectedly rocketed him to a whole new level of fame: he was offered the role of Carson, the butler from Downton Abbey, which was a massive TV hit all over the world. Now wherever he goes people shout: 'Ah - Carson!' Which can be wearing, to say the least.
'I've never sought fame,' says Carter. 'Fame as a concept is pointless. I'm uncomfortable being recognised for doing my job when there are those who do far more worthy jobs than me. People probably think I'm Jim Broadbent anyway. I don't like the present celebrity culture, but if I can use it effectively for fundraisers and charities, that's a bargain that's worth it.
He stops himself. 'I don't want to sound too worthy and holier than thou. There's worth in being an entertainer and bringing pleasure into people's lives, and I don't denigrate that. I'm not complaining about it! It's worked out as a positive. But I do my job and live a normal life.' Having said that, 'living a normal life' for Carter includes being married to British actor and 'national treasure' Imelda Staunton, not to mention receiving scripts in envelopes with Hollywood postmarks. (In 2017, for example, he provided the voice of Cogman in Transformers: The Last Knight.)
Downton ended its run on television in 2015, much to fans' dismay; but a big screen version is released in cinemas this month and the character of Carson is back with it. The thing is, Carter used to play down the idea of a Downton movie in interviews but now, undeniably, here it is in glorious technicolor. So what changed?
'The desire for the film was led by the fans because their excitement over Downton has never abated,' he says. 'They always asked us: 'Is there going to be a film? When will it happen?' So it was logical. Julian (Fellowes, the creator and screenwriter) came up with the film, and I think it'll delight the fans because it has every element they love. The TV series was cinematic, beautifully filmed and lush, with great costumes, stately homes, grand cars, balls and parties… and all of that expands very readily to the cinema screen. I can sense the excitement now.'
Not that HE'S excited, you understand. 'I'm too long in the tooth for that," he says dryly. 'I save my excitement for the snowdrops appearing in the spring. But making the movie was lovely. We'd had a (three-year) break, and some of us were in touch socially, so it was nice to get back together. And playing Carson was like putting on an old, familiar pair of shoes.' There's even a role for Staunton (who plays Lady Bagshaw), although they hardly appear in the same scene together.
Carter was born in Harrogate, he was head boy at Ashville College, so it must have been nice to get back to Yorkshire where some of the Downton Abbey movie scenes were filmed. He laughs. 'Ha! Only the posh people' - he means the 'above stairs' characters - 'filmed in Yorkshire. They stayed in Harrogate and shot scenes at Harewood House and Wentworth Woodhouse. Us servants didn't get to go. But Imelda did - and she enjoyed it.'
Carter and Staunton live in London, but they visit Yorkshire regularly. 'My mum was 100 in February, she got a card from the Queen! and still lives in Harrogate,' he says. 'And my sister and nephew and niece still live there, so I come up several times a year. I visit Harlow Carr, which I love; and we do a spin around the Dales and always go through Pateley Bridge because that's where my granny used to live, and we have fond memories of the playground down by the river and watching cricket on the cricket field. I used to love Brimham Rocks, but I haven't been there for ages. I haven't been to Wentworth Woodhouse, but Imelda and I go to Harewood because we're both keen gardeners and it has some pretty impressive gardens. Also Newby Hall (near Ripon). That's lovely. The herbaceous borders there are FANTASTIC!' (Wow: Carter really IS a keen gardener).
When the Downton movie comes out, Carter's global fame will get another turbo boost. So next time he's pottering around Harlow Carr, he'll be ready for any cries of 'Carson!' that might greet him. The funny thing is, he's always tried to avoid starring in TV series because he didn't want to turn up in people's living rooms for weeks on end. 'Until Downton came along, I'd never done a returning series,' he says. 'And, of course, none of us - and I include Maggie Smith in this - had done anything which has been so globally successful.'