By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—For six seasons, Joanne Froggatt played dedicated lady’s maid Anna who falls in love with and (eventually) marries valet John Bates in the worldwide phenomenon period drama “Downton Abbey.” She reprised the character in the 2019 feature film about the Crawleys and their trusted servants as they prepared to host the King of England at the country estate, and is about to return in the highly anticipated sequel, “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” which is set for a May 20 release.
Froggatt is excited about returning to the beloved world of early 20th century England about the waning days of the Britain’s class system as told by Julian Fellowes, but also is hesitant to give away any surprises about what transpires in the new film aside from what already has been previewed and whetted the appetites of eager fans.
In the meantime, Froggatt has another exciting project set in the contemporary world that viewers may want to join, albeit surrounding a subject that is much darker in tone. The British actress plays the title character in the psychological thriller “Angela Black,” a six-part limited series airing exclusively on Spectrum beginning Feb. 7. In this Spectrum Original, she plays a wife and mother who seems to have it all—a beautiful home, two children and a handsome husband. The façade of their modern suburban home hides a dark secret within. Angela is a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of Olivier (Michiel Huisman). As is the case with many victims of domestic violence, she tries to cover it up, fearing both her mercurial husband and hoping that somehow, his physical and mental torture will stop. After one particularly violent row, she leaves the house and meets a man (Sam Adewunmi), who tells her that he is a private investigator hired by her husband to follow her and who wants her “out of the picture.” He says he has taken pity on her and will kill him instead. Nothing is as it seems as Angela tries to save herself and her children from danger, which leads her to doubt what she thought she knew—including her own mind.
“Angela Black” is written and produced by brothers Henry and Jack Williams (“The Missing,” “Liar”) and directed by Craig Viveiros (BBC’s “And Then There Were None,” “The War of the Worlds”).
Front Row Features reached Frogatt via Zoom to discuss her latest project which aired in Britain last fall as it shed light on an oft-hidden danger, particularly now during a pandemic when so many people find themselves stuck at home with their abusers. She also spoke a bit about returning to “Downton Abbey,” and another miniseries project she recently wrapped.
Front Row Features: How many series have “Angela” in the title? What can you tell me about your interest in starring in “Angela Black?”
Joanne Froggatt: I thought it was a really great name. I’m really glad we were able to use it. When we first meet her, she’s very much a woman who has lost her sense of self. She’s lost her voice and her confidence. She’s in a (bad) situation that she’s been in for a very long time. One of the things that interested me in playing her was not only this Hitchcockian thriller that is extremely entertaining and edge-of-your-seat but it also has this very important subject matter underneath it.
For an actor, to play a character who starts off in a place of real vulnerability and uncertainty and is almost broken down further, and then is able to build herself back up and able to change the situation to some degree, was enticing. It was a roller coaster of a journey for the character and, obviously, for me as an actor, so it was a real challenge.
FRF: It’s such an intense and emotional journey, so could you talk about getting into that vulnerable place and walking in her shoes. Do you relish the opportunity of being the lead in such an intense journey?
Froggatt: I’ve played characters before that are based around very sensitive subject matter or going through traumatic experiences. Whenever I’ve taken on a role like that—and the same with Angela—I feel a huge responsibility to give the best performance I possibly can and will do whatever it takes to make that happen. I do as much research as I feel I need to do for the character as I possibly can. I want to build what I feel is a believable person onscreen.
To play Angela, I read three books: “You Can’t Run: The Terrifying True Story of a Young Woman Trapped in a Violent Relationship,” by Mandy Thomas, “Beautiful,” by Katie Piper and “Brutally Honest,” by (former Spice Girls singer) Melanie Brown. All three are different accounts about very different situations of their own experiences with domestic abuse—psychological and physical.
Also, Women’s Aid, a British charity that supports victims of domestic abuse, have been very involved with “Angela Black” from the get-go. They helped Jack and Harry with advice during the writing process. By the time I came onboard, they were incredibly helpful with me and pushed me in the direction of some really useful and interesting research material. They put me in touch with some counselors who literally are the first reached when people ring the help line. I also watched a lot of documentaries and just tried to immerse myself as much as I could in as many situations to try to get the psychology of the issue from all sides, and then try to build a character from around that. That informed my Angela—how I played her and what she might be thinking, what she might be feeling, how long she’s been in this situation and as the situation evolved, what that’s done to her personally, and what it’s done to her, psychologically. I just tried to weave in as much nuance and detail as I could.
FRF: Since this already has aired in the U.K., have viewers reached out to you through social media?
Froggatt: Yes, people have reached out on Twitter who, unfortunately, have been through similar experiences to this. It was overwhelming supportive from people who had been through domestic abuse, either in the psychological or physical form. Every comment I got from someone who had experienced this themselves was just so pleased that we were doing this show. Yes, it is supposed to be a form of entertainment and supposed to keep viewers on the edge of their seats, but also, its satisfying that we can highlight an important subject matter through entertainment. People might watch a drama but not a documentary or a news story on such subject matter. So, that meant so much to me that those people wanted to share their experience after watching the show. It was very moving to me.
FRF: You mentioned this has Hitckcockian elements and, of course, while watching this, I couldn’t help but notice a thematic similarity to “Strangers on a Train.” Did that strike you while you were reading the screenplay?
Froggatt: Definitely. It was a deliberate decision by Jack and Harry to build this story in that framework. It was a nice framework in which to work in.
FRF: “Downton Abbey” fans are waiting on pins and needles for “Downton Abbey: A New Era” to arrive in theaters. What can you tell me about reprising Anna again and having that reunion with your “Downton” cast and crew? Do the staff get to go along on the journey abroad with Crawleys?
Froggatt: (cagey) Some do. Maybe two or three of them.
FRF: When you get back together with the cast, how is it? Is it like riding a bike?
Froggatt: Yeah, kind of. I can’t ride a bike so I can’t compare it to that. (She laughs.) It’s not a good analogy for me but, basically, yeah. It’s strange. At first, it seems a bit surreal but then, as soon as I put that dress and wig back on, I’m like, “Oh, there she is!” It’s just a lovely experience to be able to go back to a character. She’s such a lovely and sweet character, as well. She’s a very positive character to play. To go back to it, years later, and work with people that you just love working with and have a fantastic time with them, it’s just such a treat. It’s just like going back to school after the summer holidays. I’m just excited about seeing my friends again. It’s just a lovely experience to go back and play (Anna) again.
FRF: Have you completed filming on the miniseries “Last Light?”
Froggatt: We just finished it. It’s a five-part miniseries for Peacock TV. Matthew Fox is the lead and I play his wife. It’s an apocalyptic drama about a cyber-terrorist/eco-terrorist attack that brings down the infrastructure of the world. Our family, which includes Matthew and myself and our children, get separated and are trying to find our way back to each other. It’s based on (Justin Bell and Mike Krause’s eight-book series) and it’s a terribly exciting and action-packed show, so I’m really looking forward to it coming out.