we all have different taakos, and that’s beautiful, and my taako is an ugly looking yet charismatic-ish almost attractive scumbag who wears a shirt that says “put the high in high elf” except he turned it into a croptop so it just reads “put the high”, and is also wearing a crushed velvet skirt that flares up very nicely whenever he spins and underneath he’s wearing neon blue sequin booty shorts, and it turns out they aren’t booty shorts, it’s just all his underwear is covered in sequins, and since the temporal chalice revealed to him that he wasn’t the one who poisoned all those people, he honestly needs to be reminded that it happened because hey my good man that’s not on me, taako is off the hook on that one, and all in all it’s like if some kind of horrific deep sea fish made a wish to his fairy godmother to be human (“but like better than human, you feel me? hmu with that immortality”) and born anew not from the sea foam but from the dumpster behind a forever 21
Phyllis Logan gained worldwide fame in Julian Fellowes’s hit drama. So what did she do next? Gabriel Tate finds out
No fan of Downton Abbey’s redoubtable Mrs Hughes would ever expect the Scottish housekeeper to let a little problem like toothache get in the way of her work. And the actress who played her, Phyllis Logan, is proving similarly stoic.
Sitting opposite me in an anteroom of a central London hotel on a wintry Monday afternoon, the 61-year-old is answering all my questions in the most solicitous manner possible, despite a painful cavity laying waste to one of her teeth.
“I’m sorry, I’m really not quite myself,” she says, sipping gingerly at a cup of tea. “But don’t worry; carry on.”
Logan, who will shortly be seen as a patient in ITV’s major new drama The Good Karma Hospital, has form on this front. Five years ago, while filming the third series of Downton, in which her character waited anxiously to find out whether she had breast cancer, the actress discovered a large black bruise on her own breast. Logan carried on filming and, thankfully, got the all-clear within a short period of time. (It turned out to be a popped blood vessel caused by the tight corsets she had to wear.)
But in other respects, the woman in front of me today seems worlds apart from Mrs Hughes. While the housekeeper eschewed make-up and was rarely seen in anything other than her servant’s uniform (except during her joyous wedding to Mr Carson), Logan is looking glamorous in a crushed velvet blouse, midi-skirt and kitten heels. There is also a twinkle in her eye that Mrs Hughes would only ever dust off for special occasions.
“Wearing a corset and wig meant I didn’t get recognised much from the show,” Logan says with a note of relief in her voice. “Us fuddy-duddies just got the upsides: we used to fly all over the place to [series] launches, to places which would have previously been out-of-bounds. It was the youngsters who got all the scrutiny.”
This lack of attention was a particular blessing in America, she says, where fans “take it up a few notches”.
“The Americans were much more voluble about their love of Downton. Rather than just saying, ‘I really love the show’, they would go, ‘Waaah!’ and go hysterical.”
There was one fan whom she was very pleased to cultivate, though. “My son David said, 'Mum, I’ve got to watch this thing you’re in, because everybody’s talking about it at school and I want to know what’s going on.’ I think, secretly, he was rather proud of me.”
Now 20, David (her son with her husband and fellow actor Kevin McNally) is studying music at university and not planning to follow in the footsteps of his parent
Brought up on the outskirts of Glasgow, Logan got her big break at the age of 26 when she was cast by Michael Radford in the 1983 film Another Time, Another Place. Her performance as a young woman left on a farm with a group of Italian POWs won her an Outstanding Newcomer to Film Bafta and Evening Standard Award for Best Actress. Hailed as “the next Vanessa Redgrave”, Logan looked set for a truly eye-catching career.
“Back then,” she says, “I just thought it was nice that they liked what I did and gave me a prize, then I went about my normal business. In retrospect, I can see it was a big deal. Now, I think: 'Crikey, why didn’t I capitalise on that?'”
Her next decade was dominated by the seven years she spent as the down-to-earth Lady Jane Felsham opposite Ian McShane’s antiques dealer, Lovejoy, whose roguish behaviour resembled a watered-down version of the actor’s notorious reputation as a hellraiser. “We can all be a bit tricky from time to time,” she says breezily, “but I always remember the laughs. We used to laugh like drains, and it always seemed to be sunny.“
After Lovejoy, her CV began to read as a reminder of the importance of the television crime drama (Midsomer Murders, Inspector Morse) in sustaining the British acting community. Logan, though, is sanguine.
“I did feel as though I kept myself busy. It was nice when I finished one long-running series [Lovejoy] to do one-off dramas, or two-parters, or a Mike Leigh film, so I feel like I worked as much as I wanted to. It might have been nice to have been involved in more films, but I was bringing up my son at the same time.”
That Leigh film was one of his finest, 1996’s Secrets & Lies, in which Logan played Monica Purley, a woman struggling to cope with her infertility. “It was an extraordinary experience,” she says. “The improvisation was very tough and quite debilitating, especially given Monica’s story. The rehearsals were intense.”
Would she work with Leigh again? She laughs. “I think I’ve recovered enough after a couple of decades.”
That this standout role came 20 years ago is further disheartening evidence of the paucity of good roles for women of a certain age. “I’ve been out of that marketplace for a while, [because of Downton], but it probably is the case that women of a certain age become more invisible. And that’s frustrating – there’s plenty of us out there and we need a voice.”
Is the situation improving? “I don’t know. You look at comedies and most women of my age are either a cougar or Mrs Hughes times 10, buttoned-up, tight-lipped and censorious. There’s not a happy medium.”
No surprise, then, that while the conclusion of Downton brought opportunities (starring opposite Samuel West in a touring production of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter), it also brought concerns.
“You can’t help but think: 'God, is there anything out there?’ For six years, I always knew that, once filming wrapped in August or September, if I didn’t fancy doing anything else, then January would come around really quickly and I’d be back at Highclere Castle. There was a certain trepidation in being out on the market.”
Now, though, she is returning to our screens in The Good Karma Hospital, an ITV series about a British doctor (Game of Thrones’ Amrita Acharia) who leaves behind a stuttering personal and professional life to begin again at a chaotic south Indian hospital run by Amanda Redman’s brassy maverick. Blending evocative visuals with life-affirming stories and sobering social context, it’s as if Call the Midwife has been brought forward a few decades and moved 5,000 miles further east.
Logan plays Maggie Smart, a woman whose brief holiday to attend her daughter’s wedding becomes much more significant when a serious health scare forces her to consider staying – perhaps even for good. “Because her time might be a bit limited,” says Logan, “Maggie thinks: what the hell have I been worrying about all these years?”
And coming next? While Downton co-star and on-screen beau Jim Carter let slip earlier this year that the cast had been asked to “keep ourselves available”, Logan is more circumspect, although equally enthusiastic.
“Never say never,” she counsels with a knowing smile. “There is talk of a Downton movie, but it’s hard to get everyone together again. Quite a few of us in the cast would be happy to have a last hurrah.”
The first episode of The Good Karma Hospital is on ITV on Feb 5 at 9pm
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