Sunday 24 September 2017

'Downton is huge in the US – but I'm no Niall Horan'

Dubliner Allen Leech talks to Stephen Milton about stardom, Hollywood and playing Tom Branson

Downton Abbey's Allen Leech once struggled to pay the rent and agonised over the whereabouts of his next job. Now, he struggles to juggle Hollywood co-stars.

It's a rather striking contrast for the young Dubliner actor who can't quite believe his own success.

With a feverishly anticipated new season of the costume drama phenomenon headed our way, the handsome 32-year-old has also landed a string of big screen leads, including psychological thriller, Grand Piano alongside John Cusack and WWII epic, The Imitation Game with Keira Knightley.

And while Tinseltown rolls out the red carpet for its latest Irish acquisition, Leech is determined to remain grounded. At least, for now.

"It's pretty astounding to think who I'm working with," explains the star, who plays former chauffeur Tom Branson in the glossy ITV drama.

"I never thought I could be so blessed to act with Maggie Smith and Hugh [Bonneville] and all the amazing actors in Downton.

"Like any actor, you're concerned about your next job, and I'm not saying that hasn't fully gone away, but the show has definitely given me a bigger profile, and with that comes opportunity.

"I don't think I'll be moving out to Hollywood any time soon, though, not quite at that stage yet. But give me time," he jokes.

Already in its fourth season, Downton has become an unprecedented international success, landing a slew of gongs and an army of dedicated followers on both sides of the pond. And while he enjoys fan attention in Los Angeles, New York and London, where he's currently based, Leech is rarely bothered on home soil.

"You do get people coming up to you in London and the States. I mean, it's huge over there but it's hardly One Direction proportions. I'm no Niall Horan.

"But no-one bats an eyelid when I'm in Dublin. I know people watch it there, but it's a different attitude to fame."

Landing early roles in RTE dramas, Legend and Love is the Drug, the Killiney-raised star quickly moved onto historical fare, The Tudors and Rome before securing his big break as Downton's token Hibernian holding.

The ex-chauffeur made it to the regal surrounds of the big house after marrying Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay), but struggled to find his place in the family after she died during childbirth.

In the new season, Tom finally establishes his position at the top table and potentially enjoys a new love interest, rumoured to be in the form of a governess played by newcomer, Daisy Lewis? "It's not for me to say, but I hope he does," Allen teases.

"Tom definitely comes into his own this time round and starts to feel relatively equal with Lord Grantham, yet still feels uncomfortable in his surroundings. There's a contemplation of where he sits and who exactly he is.

"He wants to maintain his politics and his Irishness. It's a massive part of his identity, but that's being lost in his life over in England."

Former screen wife, Jessica Brown-Findlay, and close friend, Dan Stevens, whose character Matthew was sensationally killed in the Christmas special, both quit the show to make full-time tracks for Hollywood.

Surely it's only a matter of time before Leech does the same?

"I don't see why I'd want to leave a series that's so loved and so successful. But I don't think it's going to run and run. I'm not going to be sitting there with talcum powder in my hair in my old man make-up."

While he remains in Downton, Allen, currently in a relationship with an as-yet unrevealed Scottish make-up artist, may have to start divulging show secrets if he wishes to maintain good relations with his mother, Kay.

"She is a big fan and gets very annoyed if I don't reveal any imminent big shocks. When Sybil died on the show, she texted me saying, 'you didn't even tell me, and give me fair warning. And I'm your mother'.

"And then, last Christmas Day, I'm at home, chatting with my brother by the fire and it's the episode where Dan's character is killed and my mother runs in from the other room shouting, 'You wretched child'.

"She's there screaming at me, saying 'I can't believe you let me watch that with no prior warning. You've ruined Christmas.'

"I think she might be over it by now."

Downton Abbey returns Sunday on UTV

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