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Jim Carter – What le butler saw

Julia Llewellyn Smith / 19 April 2022

He is best known for playing Downton Abbey’s grumpy butler Carson, but in real life Jim Carter is much more jovial, as Julia Llewellyn Smith finds out. He tells her about his trip to France for the new film and life with his wife Imelda Staunton.

Jim Carter pointing at a serving tray with a cocktail on it.
Jim Carter photographed for the Saga Magazine by Suki Dhanda.

Behind the scenes – Jim Carter in Saga Magazine

The mind boggles when you imagine the selfie opportunities on offer at family dinners in Jim Carter’s house in Hampstead, North London. At the table you have Jim himself, 73, one of our most beloved actors who, for the past 12 years, has gained a new international fanbase as Downton Abbey’s magnificent butler Mr Carson.

Beside him, there’s his wife of 39 years, actor Imelda Staunton, 66, who – when Jim and I meet – is finishing filming her role as no less than Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s fifth series of The Crown.

Thirdly, there’s the couple’s daughter Bessie, 28, currently appearing in another Netflix smash-hit Bridgerton, playing social climber Prudence Featherington.

Jim met Imelda in 1982 while rehearsing for the National Theatre’s hit musical Guys and Dolls and married just a year later, a day Jim touchingly describes as ‘the best of my life’. Now they have a seemingly nigh-on perfect relationship.

They certainly sound like a delightfully close unit. Last year, despite Covid, all were busy working on their various projects. Now we’re seeing the results with Bridgerton’s second season ‘out the traps first’, as Jim puts it, adapting a racing commentator’s tones. But close on its heels in cinemas will be the second Downton film, Downton: A New Era (although, as in the first film, Imelda has a part in it too as Maud Bagshaw, a relative of Robert Crawley). ‘So it’s The Crown in third position,’ Jim declares, as the fifth season of the Netflix series is not due to air until November.

A New Era sees matriarch Violet Crawley (Dame Maggie Smith) inherit a villa in the Côte-d’Azur which her family visit along with Carson, who, Jim explains, is brought out of retirement principally to keep him away from a film crew who’ve descended on Downton.

‘He’s so grumpy about the crew it’s thought the best thing to do is whisk him out of the way.’ Does Carson react better to foreign climes? ‘No, he shows fairly typical xenophobia. He’s very suspicious of the French and their ability to do anything properly.’

Generally, Jim’s undaunted by the ageing process. ‘We're all 25 in our heads. Physically I don't suffer from any ailments and I feel I’m quite sprightly until I pass a plate-glass window and see my reflection and think, “Oh God!”. Though we actors always see our ageing process on screen, it shows up angles of yourself you don’t normally see.’

Time will tell whether or not there will be a third Downton film. ‘That’ll be down to the economics of the box office but I do think people enjoy it because it’s escapism – especially this film with big skies and the Mediterranean, it’s a welcome relief from the horrible world we’re in right now.’

Whatever the next job, now Covid restrictions have been lifted, Jim will be keeping busy. ‘I’m trying to re-engage mentally – going out to exhibitions, seeing people, getting back on the bandwagon. I want to end the year younger than I started.’

After all, as Carson said: ‘The business of life is the acquisition of memories. In the end, that’s all there is.’

Downton: A New Era is in cinemas from 29 April 2022.

The full version of this interview was published in the May 2022 issue of Saga Magazine. To subscribe to Saga Magazine, simply click on the link below.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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