Why I'm leaving Downton: It's one of the biggest shows on TV, but Samantha Bond says she's had enough of playing Lady Rosamund
22:30 GMT, 27 April 2012
Samantha Bond has had it with Downton Abbey. The actress, who plays Lord Grantham’s sister, Lady Rosamund, says she’s fed up with ‘popping in and out’.
Now, given that the show has been sold all over the world and made millions for ITV, you could be forgiven for thinking some of its stars are playing hardball over their contracts – indeed there are rumours Samantha’s good friend Dame Maggie Smith is threatening to leave.
What is certain is that when the third series airs this autumn, Lady Rosamund will definitely not be popping in anywhere.
Sustained career: Samantha is best known as Moneypenny from the 007 films
‘I didn’t want to do the fluttering in and out,’ she says. ‘The Christmas episode [in which Lady Rosamund, pursued by dodgy beau Lord Hepworth – played by Nigel Havers – stayed long enough to have a waltz] was lovely. If something happened to change the circumstances of the family and she was there more… But, because of the nature of the part, you just pop in and pop out so I’d have been unable to come into the West End and play the female lead in this play.’
This play is Joe Orton’s hilarious farce What The Butler Saw, in which Samantha plays a psychiatrist’s wife who stumbles upon her husband, Blackadder’s Tim McInnerny, conducting a compromising interview with a secretary. She’s been rehearsing for most of the day when we meet in a south London studio and is exhausted.
‘Tim and I were talking about plans for the weekend. I said, “Do you know what I’m excited about Lying in the bath.” Every muscle I have hurts. No one can pretend the ageing process is charming because it isn’t,’ she says, adding that today she feels ‘every one of my 50 years’. Not that she tries to fight it. When we meet she’s not wearing a scrap of make-up. ‘This whole face thing,’ she sighs, ‘I can’t pretend I don’t sit there doing this…’ she pulls her face back with her hands so the skin is taut and stretched.
On set: Samantha with Dame Maggie in Downton
‘But I’m really trying to go with it. If I pop off and do something drastic, everyone’s going to realise because they know I’m 50. Anyway, middle-aged women are sensational. I remember when Jude [Dame Judi Dench, another close friend of Sam’s] was about to go to LA for the Oscars when we were doing the play Amy’s View in 1997. She sat in the dressing room and said, “Sam, I’m going to have the only unlifted face in the room.”’
Samantha says she’ll miss working with Dame Maggie on Downton. ‘I love her evil humour. Mags can be very, very sharp. You must never forget she was a great friend of Kenneth Williams. She can be extremely wicked. She has a very naughty sense of humour and can be quite frightening. If you were having to play scenes in Downton with Mags and didn’t know her previously, it would be terrifying because there’s no time to get to know her. I keep trying to channel her for this play because she’d be hilarious in my part.’
Samantha is probably best known as Moneypenny from the 007 films – or, specifically, the Moneypenny who ‘snogged’ Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond in Die Another Day. She also locked lips with Sean Bean on stage in Macbeth and ended up with a blister. So come on Sam, who’s the better kisser ‘Oh Pierce was fun. The kiss was great,’ she says.
‘It took all morning. Normally when you do a scene like that they have a closed set so you kiss in front of a skeleton staff. However, because it was cinematic history – no one ever expected James Bond to kiss Moneypenny – the whole of Pinewood stopped filming and came to watch.’
Every muscle I have hurts. No one can pretend the ageing process is charming because it isn’t…
Then I tell her I’d prefer to kiss Sean
Bean. ‘No, I’d go for Pierce Brosnan any time. When I was appearing in
Macbeth, I was interviewed on Woman’s Hour. I’d been discussing the play
and Jenni Murray, the presenter, started talking about who you’d sooner
kiss, the bit of rough or the gentleman Some people like a bit of
rough but I like my gentleman.’ Which makes your husband ‘A gentleman,’
The actress, who also appears as Auntie Angela in the BBC family sitcom Outnumbered, has been married for 23 years – give or take the odd blip – to actor Alex Hanson with whom she has two children, Molly, 20, and Tom, 19. It’s mention of the blip that causes sparks. She is, she says, a woman of deep feelings whose moods can turn on a sixpence. After marrying Alex in 1989, they separated for a year when both children were little but, thankfully, reconciled. ‘I’ve been married to the same man – even after the separation – longer than most people in this business. I’m sick to death of people mentioning it,’ she says, beginning to whip up a storm.
‘I’m a very emotional person,’ she admits. ‘I cry regularly, but actors do our bonkers bits in public. We can go barking at work.’ She takes a deep breath. ‘The separation gave us the choice of whether we actually wanted to be married to someone. We decided we did. We had a hiccup and, yes, it did make us stronger.
‘In our situation, we have to have professional honesty, which is not true for most couples. I’ll go to see his play, then we’ll talk about it until 4am. He’ll come to see mine and we’ll do the same. It’s difficult to have your loved one say, “I didn’t believe it when you gave that line.” But it’s wonderful that your fiercest critic will give you a cuddle when he’s told you what he thinks.’
Born in 1961, Samantha grew up in a house overlooking the Thames where she, her film critic brother Matthew and actress sister Abigail enjoyed a childhood peopled by famous visitors such as Peter Bowles and Patrick Macnee. Her Welsh father, Philip, had starred in The Onedin Line. Her mother, Pat Sandys, was a feisty Scottish actress-turned-TV producer, who died 12 years ago from bowel cancer aged 72.
‘Nobody can prepare you for the loss of a parent,’ says Samantha. ‘Some friends of ours lost their father recently. I wrote a letter to them saying, “It is a terrible club to be in,” because, however well-intentioned people are, if they haven’t been through it, they cannot understand what it feels like. The most important person in my life disappeared. It can’t go away.
‘I lost a girlfriend when I was in my 30s. She was 46. It all sounds so trite but I put a Post-it on my dressing-room wall. It said, “The past is history. The future is a mystery. This moment is a gift, which is why it’s called the present.” The loss of my friend when she was incredibly young and the loss of Mum does make me strive to live life fully.’ Which, I suppose, means more holding out for meaty roles and less fluttering on and off in Downton.
What The Butler Saw is at London’s Vaudeville Theatre from Friday until 25 August. For tickets visit www.nimaxtheatres.com/vaudeville-theatre