LOS ANGELES (AP) — Respect is due Julian Fellowes, who as a prolific writer has conquered TV with Emmy-winning “Downton Abbey,” film with “Gosford Park,” which earned him an Oscar, and theater with “School of Rock — The Musical,” a Tony Award nominee. So which author does he most admire?
Anthony Trollope, at least among the 19th century’s array of superstar novelists that includes Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.
Fellowes has fulfilled his goal of adapting Trollope for the screen with “Julian Fellowes Presents Doctor Thorne,” a four-part series debuting Friday on digital screening service Amazon.
The Weinstein Co. production stars the versatile and remarkable Tom Hollander (“The Night Manager,” ”Mission Impossible-Rogue Nation”) in the title role, with Stefanie Martini as Mary, the physician’s adored niece.
She lands in the crosshairs of Lady Arabella (Rebecca Front), who’s determined to quash her son’s love for the commoner and steer him toward an American heiress (Alison Brie, “Mad Men”).
“Doctor Thorne” marks Fellowes’ first TV series to air since — a moment of silence, please — the end of “Downton Abbey.” He’s also written an online serialized novel, “Belgravia,” about class conflict in 1800s England, and is starting work on an as-yet unscheduled NBC series set in 1800s America, “The Gilded Age.”
In an interview from London with The Associated Press, Fellowes discusses how he sees the past, what he’s working on for the future and, succinctly, competing at the June 12 Tony Awards with Broadway sensation “Hamilton” in the category of best book for a musical.
The Associated Press: Why is Trollope a favorite of yours?
Fellowes: There is something about Trollope’s voice that I have always found very appealing. He has a kind of mercy, a sort of non-judgmental quality which actually I find very modern. None of his characters are all bad or all good, they’re somewhere in the middle. And even his heroines make mistakes, which in Dickens you never get. Trollope’s women are real, and I find that very beguiling.
AP: How is “Gilded Age” coming along?
Fellowes: I’m trying to clear my decks of everything else, because when I start ‘Gilded Age’ I don’t want to be writing it with three other things going on at the same time. At the moment, I’m up to my neck in research. It is extraordinary, the whole business of 1880s New York, this amazing city rising up, this city of the rich, as they build their great (homes) up Fifth Avenue. … This life that established itself in the 1870s, ’80s, ’90s, it was like nothing the world had seen. … These huge fortunes in the days before income tax, suddenly springing up everywhere.
AP: You’ve done several popular projects set in earlier periods. What is the appeal for you and the audience?
Fellowes: I also enjoy doing contemporary stuff, I enjoyed ‘School of Rock.’ But there is something about letting people understand that people in the past were just men and women with ambitions and emotions that are much the same as our own. Obviously, in a different social context or slightly different political system, but nevertheless the impulses that made them get up in the morning, made them cry or laugh, were much the same as with us. When I was young, there was a tendency to teach history as if these people were sort of alien and they didn’t have the same impulses as us, which I think is very misleading.
AP: Is a “Downton Abbey” movie, which has been discussed, still possible?
Fellowes: I think it would be a good idea and I think it would be fun for the audience. As far as I’m concerned, I’m in. But I’m not the one who makes the decision. We have a pretty good idea of what we’d make the film about.
AP: You started out acting before becoming a sought-after writer. How would you rate yourself on-screen?
Fellowes: Someone once asked me, ‘Would you rather have won an Oscar as an actor?’ My reply: No one offered me one as an actor. In the end, your life is partly what you make of it. It’s also partly what you make of what it is. … If you keep saying, ‘I don’t want to be a dancer, I want to be a singer,’ then you bat away your own good luck.
AP: Have you wondered why you had to vie for a Tony in the year of “Hamilton”?
Fellowes: The truth of the matter is I have a Tony nomination, which I never thought I’d have. Sufficient unto the day.
Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/lynn-elber and she can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber
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