Lesley Nicol, who plays the hard-working cook on the hit British TV show "Downton Abbey," traveled to New York to promote the show's fourth season, which premieres Jan. 5, 2014. The screen star, who has also performed onstage in England for years, chatted with Playbill.com while sipping a cup of Earl Grey tea with just a bit of skim milk.
It's hard to think of Nicol, who plays the plain-spoken cook Mrs. Patmore on "Downton Abbey," as shy, but she said she was. An introverted 16-year-old, she became "besotted" with a small theatre and began watching the company's rehearsals; eventually she was asked to join the cast of one of their shows, making her debut as a boy in Shaw's Androcles and the Lion.
Nicol went on to study theatre at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and performed in various productions, including Jesus Christ Superstar, Mamma Mia! and Our House, as well as Blood Brothers, a play she said she enjoyed greatly because her character was "feisty."
Nicol currently plays the cook for the wealthy Crawleys, an aristocratic family in post-Edwardian England. The award-winning series has received worldwide acclaim and notoriety, with everyone from Chelsea Clinton to Joan Rivers professing their enjoyment of it. Nicol, who conversed with Clinton about the show over Twitter, mentioned several different charities and raffles the cast members participate in, and said she enjoys that the show can "do useful things" as a result of its success.
"It's kind of sweet," she said of the show's wordwide fan base; 24 million viewers tuned in to watch Season Three, making it PBS' most-watched drama to date.
The popularity of "Downton Abbey" has benefited Nicol as well. Despite hearing rave reviews of the London production of The Book of Mormon, she said, "I couldn't get a ticket!" Then she was invited to attend the opening-night performance with "Downton" co-star Sophie McShera, who plays kitchen maid Daisy.
Nicol, who said she has requested a second love interest for Mrs. Patmore, as well as a scene with Maggie Smith, who plays Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, stressed that her success has come later in life and disputed the idea that there is no hope for interesting roles written for actresses after the age of 40.
While "Downton Abbey" has been renewed for a fifth season, Nicol said she would love to return to the stage eventually — perhaps playing a different kind of cook.
"Sweeney Todd is my favorite Sondheim musical," she said of the tale of a butchering barber and his cannibalistic friend, Mrs. Lovett.