Ex-National Youth Theatre member Michelle Dockery (pictured above, right) has become something of a household name since starring in ITV’s Downton Abbey. As well as landing TV roles in Red Riding and The Turn of the Screw, she’s an award-winning stage actress. She talks about audition monologues, the popularity of period dramas and being patient…
Have you always wanted to be an actress?
I guess so, yes. I went to the Finch Stage School in Essex from the age of four, so I was always prancing around and doing funny voices. I really knew I wanted to be an actress when I got a place at the National Youth Theatre. I was also encouraged by my teacher at secondary school, Jude Burt – she believed I could do it and wrote all my references for NYT and drama school.
How did attending drama school and NYT benefit your practice?
At both places [what I learnt] more than anything – because there was a lot! – was to be gracious. And by that I mean to work well with others and to be generous. There is nothing worse than working with an actor who thinks it's all about them: there's more than one person creating whatever you're working on.
Can you remember what you did for your drama school audition?
I did a monologue from Shirley Valentine, the “chips and egg” speech. I guess I chose it because it was funny. My advice would be: do what you feel comfortable with and something that shows a bit of your personality.
How do you prepare for a role?
Depends what it is. If it's a script that covers a part of history I know nothing about, then I'll research it. But you can scribble down as many notes as you like, trawl through every book on the subject or period – doesn't mean you'll act it any better. Ultimately if the writing's good, then it's all there in the script. You can never read the script enough.
What was your experience of filming Downton Abbey like?
A lot of fun! We all have such a brilliant time – we're a real giggly lot. Especially when Maggie's around – she has us all in stitches! Being a part of such a successful drama is really special: all you want to do is work as an actor and I feel extremely lucky to have landed this job. Even Hugh Bonneville, someone who has worked far more than I have, said to me, "This is so rare. Aren't we lucky?"
Why do you think period dramas are so popular at the moment?
Period drama will always be popular because people feel comforted by the nostalgia. It's escapism from the modern world. I think the difference with Downton Abbey is that it's not an adaptation of a book or a remake. The audience is experiencing the story for the first time.
What’s the best piece of advice that anyone has given you?
Joseph Blatchley at Guildhall told me: "Expect nothing, be patient, and trust your instincts." It applies to all aspects of being an actor – it's the most the valuable advice I have ever been given.
Downton Abbey will be returning for a second series on ITV1 on 18 September 2011.
Want to audition for National Youth Theatre? Find out how to apply.