Actress Lesley Nicol has been surprised by how many people have recognized her in this country, when she isn't even toting the signature white apron she wears on PBS' "Downton Abbey." She's even been stopped in the aisles at Costco.
Nicol doesn't consider herself a cook (Hello? Does Julianna Margulies of "The Good Wife" practice law in her spare time?), but she appreciates the Downton pros around her who keep the whisk and kettle action true. How else would the culinary disaster of a broken hollandaise be saved by a yolk in Season 3?
We caught up with Nicol before she headed back to her West London home and the February filming of "Downton Abbey's" Season 4.
Q So Alastair Bruce, the historical adviser to the show, does he find stuff wrong in the kitchen?
A He's very strict. It's as simple as this: We've got more people in the kitchen, because there are more kids around now that the war's over. The director said, "So, I think Mrs. Patmore comes in with Daisy, and she's got a tray ..." and Alastair goes, "No!" And we go, "No? No tray?" He says no, because now we have plenty of staff back, and Mrs. Patmore does not carry the tray. You won't find her doing the menial tasks in the kitchen because she doesn't have to. Her job is Gordon Ramsay. She's seasoning, she's checking, she's making sure everything is up to speed like a proper chef.
Q What about the food?
A One of the prop guys is a chef. I try to avoid doing anything technical, so nobody will be able to say, well, that doesn't look right. We also have a home economist, who creates those big dishes when there's a dinner party and amazing elaborate dishes.
Q What are some of the challenges you've had in that kitchen?
A Usually there's a scene going on that is not about the cooking. Cooking is happening on the side of it. Every time we're in the kitchen, in order to get the right activity happening and the energy level, we always say, "What part of the day are we in? Have we made lunch?" That dictates who's doing what and at what speed. Alastair said at the very beginning, "This is a really, really busy part of the house. When there is action, you are going at it like a rocket." This house was providing food for the family, maybe guests and the servants. There was a real urgency to do it efficiently and fast, so you will never see a kitchen scene slow. It's kind of organized chaos.
What's also helpful, they have a couple of working rings on the stove. So if things are being cooked you will see steam always. If a cup of tea is poured, it will be coming out boiling.
Q On set, your meals are served aboard a double-decker bus. Are there any good cooks on the set?
A The wardrobe department, there's a girl who bakes beautiful cupcakes and things. Sophie (McShera) can bake, the little girl who plays Daisy. She does bring stuff in.
Q There are lots of great TV cooks in England, do you have a favorite?
A Delia Smith -- everybody swears by her, don't they? Everyone goes, "Oh, Delia, you can't go wrong with Delia."
Q I know you don't cook, but I bet you boil an egg occasionally?
A It's not my joy to do it, but of course I can up to a point. But I do have disasters and then that throws me. I have a few things I can do like mince and potatoes -- that's ground beef. Roast chicken. Shepherd's pie. I can do eggs and bacon.
Q Your husband cooks, right?
A He does a very good curry. The first meal he ever made me was chicken curry. It was the most delicious thing I'd ever tasted in my life.
Q What about all the spoofs, "Downton Arby," the BBC's. Do cast members get offended?
A I don't think anyone's ever been offended. It's the highest form of flattery for a start -- and mostly they're very funny.
Q And Maggie Smith off camera?
A I love 'er. I haven't worked with her at all, haven't done any scenes with her, but I get to sit with her when there are big group scenes. She's a very witty lady.
Q There was life before "Downton," of course. Any role you've particularly enjoyed?
A I played Rosie in "Mamma Mia" in the West End. I stayed for two years because it was such a fun job. I mean, three women in their middle years running around in Lycra with great roles and at the end, singing "Waterloo" to an audience all on their feet. (It) was a bit like playing a rock concert.