By Luaine Lee
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Despite 36 years in show business, it seems that actress Phyllis Logan has never quite escaped domestic service. Her first paying role was that of a maid, for which she earned 37 pounds.
Here she is again, as the starchy Mrs. Hughes in service at “Downton Abbey, which returns for its new season on PBS Jan. 5.
When Logan first read the part, she thought she’d have to assume a strange English accent. After all, as Mrs. Hughes is the senior housekeeper of the estate, and all the “downstairs” people come from the blue collar area of northern England.
But Logan is a Scot with a thick Scottish brogue, rolling her R’s and stretching out her vowels. And a revolutionary thought occurred to her: Why not make Mrs. Hughes a Scot?
“So I read the part and looked at the scenes and I thought, ‘Oh, this would also work quite well as a Scottish character,” she says, looking nothing like Mrs. Hughes in gray chiffon with sequins and extinguishing an electronic cigarette.
“So when I was there I went in and spoke to (the producer) and he said, ‘Oh, you’ve got such a nice accent, maybe we should try Mrs. Hughes as Scottish.’ I said, ‘Well, funnily enough that you should say that, I was going through and thinking that the syntax of what she said, the type of person she was I thought this could really work as a Scottish woman.’ They were delighted and said, ‘Yes, that’s fine.'”
While she may be deft with serving trays and choosing the proper linen, her first meaty role was that of a lady of England’s aristocracy in the detective series, “Lovejoy” with Ian McShane. That followed with roles in almost every popular British crime series there is, including “Wallander,” Mike Leigh’s “Secrets & Lies” and, of course, “Downton Abbey.”