Meet Downton Abbey‘s Jessica Brown-Findlay and the new wave of British screen queens.
Chosen as one of Screen International’s Stars of Tomorrow 2010, Jessica hit our screens in last year’s ITV smash hit Downton Abbey, playing Lady Sybil Crawley. She also appeared in the E4 drama Misfits and plays the lead role of Emelia in Niall MacCormick’s forthcoming film Albatross. She is currently filming the second series of Downton Abbey.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
At the age of eight I decided that I was going to be a professional ballerina and trained with the National Youth Ballet. When I was 17, and at the point of auditioning for professional companies, I had an ankle operation that went wrong, meaning I couldn’t dance any more. I was crushed and felt completely bereft. A teacher suggested that I pursue art instead as I’d always loved to paint, so I enrolled on a fine-art course at Central Saint Martins in London, where I also took acting classes. I was spotted by an agent who cast me in the film Albatross with Felicity Jones and Sebastian Koch. I discovered there was life without ballet after all and have realised that acting is my true passion.
Did you have any idea that Downton Abbey would be so big?
It’s been such a whirlwind. I felt lucky to even be allowed to audition for Downton because the names involved – such as Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville – were so amazing and so well established. Right from the very first read-through it felt electric. To go to work every day with such a brilliant cast and to be part of something so huge is an amazing experience for a young actress.
Most actors have a part that got away. Has that happened to you?
I got down to the final three actresses in the running for the role of Alice in Tim Burton’s 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland. Mia Wasikowska eventually got the part, which was gutting. But with the benefit of hindsight, if I’d been cast as Alice I couldn’t have been in Albatross, and I also met my now agent through the Alice auditions, so everything happened for a reason.
Are you ever recognised in the street?
Never! I think I look very different in real life. A teenage girl approached me last week and I thought she was going to ask for pictures and autographs – in fact, she wanted me to buy her cigarettes from the corner shop as she was too young! That brought me down to earth with a bang. But I’d much prefer to remain anonymous. I want to be an actor – I don’t want to be famous.