Phoebe Nicholls

Phoebe Nicholls is Countess De Courcy

Q: What was your initial reaction when you heard about this adaptation of Doctor Thorne?

“I loved it. I played the Marchioness of Flintshire for Julian Fellowes in Downton Abbey. But with the Countess what I enjoyed was her supreme confidence and her total belief that she is right all of the time. That’s very enjoyable to play. Lady Flintshire was a broken, unhappy woman. And the Countess is the total reverse of that. Julian has his own way of doing drama like this which is completely wonderful. You just embrace it. I always have fun with his characters.”

Q: Who is the Countess?

“The Countess is Lady Arabella’s (Rebecca Front) sister‐in‐law and she feels superior to everyone else. She is guiding Lady Arabella through a problem with her son Frank (Harry Richardson) and agrees he must marry for money to secure the family’s future. The Countess helps orchestrate Frank’s future. Certainly one that does not include Mary Thorne (Stefanie Martini) who, as far as she is concerned, is a sweet waste of time.”

Q: Marrying for money was essential for survival back then?

“Yes, it was. Isn’t it awful? It did have to be done. You have to look at history and how everything has developed. The way we are now and the freedom that people have, to a certain extent, has all been paid for down the line. Everybody owes a lot to how we’ve developed through history.”

Q: Doctor Thorne describes both the Countess and Lady Arabella as “a pair of snobbish and selfish old crones”.

Is that fair? “Snobbish, yes, definitely. They are. They’re very limited in how they think. Their world is very small and they don’t look outside that world. Certainly with Countess De Courcy, she reigns supreme. She has this extraordinary confidence and belief in herself and the belief she is right and that everybody should take notice. That’s quite unusual, to play those kind of characters and I’m embracing it in every way. It’s rather wonderful to play a supremely confident person. I just want to relish her as a character and the audience can make their own comment.”

Q: Were you a Trollope fan?

“I love Trollope. He’s very modern in the way he writes. He also always presents his voice. I’m not a great Trollope expert but inevitably the writers of that period comment on their own time. He does so with huge talent.”

Q: Have you ever experienced snobbishness?

“I think snobbishness is the worst possible thing ever. Have I been a victim of it? No. I try not to make myself a victim of anything. But yes, there is snobbishness and it always is alarming in the modern day when you see it. It’s very out of place and inappropriate.”

Q: Do the costumes help get into character?

“The moment you put on those extraordinary crinolines…I felt like this grand ship sailing through all these characters. The costumes did half the job for me. To begin with it was quite strange but also fantastically good fun moveing in very different ways. The costumes are extraordinary, along with the amazing make‐up and hair.”

Q: What about the locations used for filming?

“There isn’t a stately home around London now that we haven’t filmed in. They are amazing locations. This quality of drama needs those top class locations and we have done that.”

Q: Why do audiences love period dramas?

“I think it’s a distance. It’s not about your everyday life. You can watch it and identify with it and understand it. But it’s from a distance.”

Q: How would you sum up Doctor Thorne?

“It’s a fantastic production. When you make a film, it only works when every department works together. It’s absolutely extraordinary what all these departments have created. And as far as the Countess is concerned, I do feel she is this huge ship that is gliding with supreme confidence and belief and huge snobbishness. But it’s great fun to play. We also have a fantastic young cast and they are all new faces which is very refreshing. It’s wonderful to be a part of all that.”