Allen Leech from 7th Man magazine. Now with the complete (I think!) interview and HQ photos. I know the lovely repmet typed up the first page earlier, but I did it here again so it would be in one place.
Typos are all mine. Punctuation is all the author’s.
Allen Leech is a charming man, as loveable as his alter ego as Tom Branson on ITV’s behemoth Downton Abbey and infinitely more charismatic. As conversations digress quickly from his acting career to the education system and the effect of technology on the current generation, it is fairly clear that our interview is less of a job for Allen and more along the lines of a casual get-to-know; all be it with prepared questions and a carefully positioned iPhone capturing his every word. We discuss the forth-coming series of Downton, his new role as alleged Soviet spy John Cairncross and how a certain Mike Leigh play almost made him into an alcoholic.
Downton Abbey has had such a massive success internationally. What do you think it is about the show that attracts international audiences so much?
I’m amazed at the fact that it’s big now in places like China. Recently I had to do idents and one of them was “Hi, I’m Allen Leech from Downton Abbey and you’re watching North Korea’s favourite channel” and I just thought, what the hell are they doing watching Downton Abbey in North Korea? I think the appeal is that Julian [Fellowes] not only shows you a voyeuristic insight into the aristocratic life, but he shows you have that worked and he shows you, equally, the people who made that a possibility; the whole hierarchy from kitchen maid all the way up to Lord of the manor and everyone gets an equal amount of attention; really, there are 22 main characters on Downton.
Do you see Downton Abbey progressing into the late 1920s or even into the 1930s?
The pace of the show has really come down this season, so at the moment we’re in the early 20s. I would love to see it progress to the late 1920s, the only problem is the longer the show goes on the older I have to get. It’s coming to the point where they might have to start recasting if it goes any further! I’m now the right age to play Tom; in season 4 I am my character’s age and it’s strange to think that I’ve only been working on the show for four years by my character has aged 10.
You recently acquired a role in a file about the life of Alan Turing, how are you preparing for that?
I find that period fascinating. The film is based around the time time when he was at Bletchley Park and the Enigma Code, but it also deals with his homosexuality; it’s a great story to tell and a great time to tell it. I play John Cairncross who was a cryptographer and actually turned out to be a Soviet spy. At the moment I’m doing research about him and about the period; it’s just amazing what they did and the sacrifices they had to make. I’m very excited to start rehearsals for that.
You also have Grand Piano due for release soon with Elijah Wood and John Cusack, what can you tell us about that?
Grand Piano is a thriller and it’s set around a pianist played by Elijah Wood who suffers from stage fright. He sits down to perform one of the most difficult pieces ever written and when he opens the music on stage there’s a note that says, “Play one wrong note and we’ll shoot your wife.” It was fascinating to was how Eugenio [Mira] directed it; he wrote a piece of orchestral music that lasted the length of the movie, and we filmed along side an orchestra that played the piece throughout. It was like being choreographed to a constant beat.
That sounds like a very intense way of filming what was the atmosphere like on set?
You would think so, but it was in fact the nicest set, or at least one of the nicest sets I’ve ever worked on. It was just brilliant and so chilled; we shot in Barcelona so there was a lovely Spanish vibe even thought the film is set in Chicago.
Your career in acting began in theatre, have you had much chance to explore that recently or is it something you would like to go back to in the future?
If you start in the theatre it tends to be something that never leaves you. I was lucky enough to do a Mike Leigh play called Ecstasy during the second series of Downton, and that was one of the most amazing acting experiences that I’ve had. His process in relation to characterization is something that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I’d love to do another play, the only issue is the window that we have for Downton, doing a play whilst filming was insane because I would be on set from early in the morning, finish around 6 pm and then get straight in car to head to the theatre. Plus I had to drink 8 pints a night on stage, in an hour and a half. Eventually we had to stop drinking real booze and moved on to a fake lager called Calibre, which is disgusting. Eight pints a night and then 16 on matinee days, it nearly killed me!
What else do you have in the pipeline?
On November 8th I’ve got a film called In Fear coming out, which we shot over four weeks, on night shoots in Cornwall last December. We shot that on tiny little D5 camera so you couldn’t get further away from Downton, though weirdly enough the Director of Photography was the same man who worked on season one, David Katznelson. I’ve written a screenplay as well so that is something I’d like to get onto next or perhaps try my hand at directing. I’d love to give that a shot, although I don’t know whether I’d be any good at it! (x)