Life On The Set of Downton Abbey..

The year is 1914 in this Sunday’s Downton Abbey, so alarm bells are ringing. There might be bigger issues than the family estate for the cast to worry about before the series ends next weekend, could Julian Fellowes be thinking of a war-time backdrop for the recently announced second season? We had a quick look behind the scenes of the ITV drama last month, but this week we’ve been chatting to JoJo Dutton, a member of the hair and make-up team on the hit period series..


What was a usual day on set like?
An average day would involve the first round of actors arriving in the makeup chair at around 6/6.30am, it would vary depending on which cast members were working. It was a very big production so some days were crazy busy with everyone in and other days you would be shooting scenes with just two actors, so it would feel a bit deserted. Once rehearsals were done and the lighting was sorted, the day’s filming would begin.

You must have done a lot of hairstyles…
Oh yes! As a period drama set about a century ago the focus was much more on the hairstyles than the make-up. The producers wanted to create a very natural no make-up look. Obviously the maids and staff of the house had minimal make-up on, as in those days they wouldn’t have worn any at all. The ladies of the house had very intricate hairstyles however, back then the maids would have been responsible for getting those sorted everyday, so we had a lot of sympathy for them by the end! There was always a lot of thought going into each character though, the writers put a lot of effort into imagining what a normal day for these characters would have been like..

So after you’d done everyone’s make-up you could take the rest of the day off? That’s not bad..
Unfortunately not! None of it was shot in sequence so some actors had to have their make-up changed several times a day, sometimes we were working flat out all day long. Actors would always have their make-up done first thing and generally freshened up after lunch if there were no scene changes, but throughout the day it would have be touched-up on set. You have to be aware of continuity throughout different takes as you never know which ones they will put together when editing the episode and it can mean reshoots if you get it wrong! Then you’re pretty unpopular on set..

And what about the wardrobe department? That must have been massive?
I didn’t spend much time in the wardrobe department but the set-up was very similar to make-up, downstairs would have their day and evening uniforms and then one or maybe two of their own outfits, whereas the ladies and gentlemen upstairs would have loads of rather more elegant pieces. We were working on a costume drama, so obviously wardrobe was crucial..

Of course… So how many hours a day were the cast shooting for?
We would be on camera for about 10 or 11 hours a day, doing various scenes with various different cast members all across the set.

How long did the series take to shoot?
It was a 16 week shoot.

The house itself looks beautiful. Did you spend much time in it?
The house was beautiful! Most of the upstairs stuff was shot in the house, so yes we were in there a lot. The downstairs stuff was shot in the studios so its very clever when you see the staff walk up the stairs from the kitchen to the house as those scenes will have been very skillfully edited together.

How many people work in the make-up and hair dept for a production like this?
There were five in the main team, including myself, and then on days when we had large crowd scenes extra make up artists would come in.

Where did you sleep at night? Were there trailers or were you all carted off to a hotel?
If we were filming a Highclere Castle cast and crew would stay at various hotels in the local area, unfortunately we weren’t allowed to sleep in those rather plush four-poster beds!

That’s a shame. Anyway we’re all excited about the second series. Are you excited at the prospect of returning to Downton?
It’s great that there is a second series of Downton Abbey on the way. I would love to be a part of it again, working on such a grand production is definitely something very special.

And lastly, how much fun was it to work with such a high quality cast?
All the cast were wonderful to work with and you really couldn’t have a more talented line-up. I think everyone put everything they had into it and it was amazing to see artists with years of experience work alongside artists who were much newer to the business. We were like one big family by the end…