Focus Features releases Downton Abbey: A New Era nationwide on May 20th, 2022.
NYC MOVIE GURU: When it comes to entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually, which of those three elements was most challenging to tweak in the editing room?
Simon Curtis: I don't really know. I don't really think in those terms. With Downton Abbey: A New Era, I was trying to be mindful of all the different stories, the journeys that these characters go on, and maximizing the emotion and the entertainment value of those journeys.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you find the right balance between the film's light and dark elements?
SC: My job is to make the most of the script. The script has variety---in fact, in most scenes, there's emotion and comedy. That's what I like about it. You don't really know how it's going to land when you put it all together.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Downton Abbey: A New Era has exquisite costume design, set design and scenery. Do you think that its visual style is part of its substance?
SC: It's part of the whole experience, isn't it? There are very brilliant costume and make-up designers all of whom had a long history with the show, so I was very happy to let them do their work. My job was to find the humanity of it all. I think that, sometimes, when you see these period shows, the costumes take over, but I wanted it to be about the cast to feel free to be human beings.
NYC MOVIE GURU: I believe that truly special effects are everything related to humanism. What do you think?
SC: Some of the critics are very harsh on Julian [Fellowes], but I think that he's a genius. I think that he writes great humanity for his characters which is the reason, I think, that Downton Abbey is a success. He treats all of his characters with love and affection. That attracts great actors to give great performances.
NYC MOVIE GURU: All of the actors and actresses exude plenty of charisma in Downton Abbey: A New Era. How would you define charisma?
SC: I don't know. There are some actors who have it and some actors who don't. It's not so much about charisma, but I think that these performances are so deep in these actor's psyche. I think that we, as the audience, benefit from that. It's a bit like Boyhood when you saw that family through 12 years. We're like that with Downton Abbey. This is a group of actors playing characters that they never expected to still be playing in 12 years. They've all grown together.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging was it to edit the Downton Abbey plotline with the South of France plotline while avoiding choppiness?
SC: When you're filming, you obviously don't know how that's going to come together. I think that we did slightly rearrange some of the scenes together in the two locations so that we weren't jumping back and forth quite so much. I can't exactly remember, but that was definitely a discussion that we had.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the process like to find the right pace for the film?
SC: There's no, sort of, answer to that apart from just that we can go on with it. You try it out and show it to people and they say, "That scene could do with a few less lines." or "We don't need that look at the end of the scene." It's an instinctive thing. Adam Recht, the editor, whom I've worked with many times, and I, we just did our best.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Hitchcock believes that some movies are a slice-of-life and some movies are a slice-of-cake, but I think that some movies, like Downton Abbey: A New Era, can be both. What do you think?
SC: I would completely agree. Again, I hand that back to Julian [Fellowes]. Is it real or not? It feels real at its core, yet fanciful things happen. I think that that's part of the magic of it.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that Downton Abbey: A New Era would work as a play?
SC: I think that part of the joy of it is the upstairs and downstairs locations, and the upstairs' and downstairs' characters. So, it would have to be a big play.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How would you define the term "cinematic"? What makes a film "cinematic" to you?
SC: Somebody on the set said to me, "We don't do close-ups on Downton Abbey because they're not cinematic." I thought that that was nonsense. I think that a pair of eyes in close-up can be the most cinematic thing of all. For me, right now, what cinematic means to me is, "Does it justify an audience paying their money to go and watch it in the cinema?" I would argue that Downton Abbey: A New Era does. It's a big, shared experience with lots of faces, lots of emotion, lots of humor, and lots of characters. I would urge people to see it on the big screen while they can.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that there's a villain in Downton Abbey: A New Era?
SC: No. If anything, time passing is the villain. It's coming to an end---it's life. But I don't think there really is a villain, no.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that Downton Abbey: A New Era would work in black-and-white?
SC: I don't know. I was happy that we got little bits of black-and-white in it from the old films. I think that they looked very beautiful.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Downton Abbey: A New Era is a true ensemble. How do you allow every actor and actress to shine while directing such a large ensemble?
SC: It's nothing to even argue about---it's the greatest ensemble of all time. As a director, in every scene, you try to do the best that you can for that scene and with this cast. And that's the result.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Downton Abbey: A New Era deals with a major change in filmmaking technology during that time period: silent films to sound films. What's a major change in filmmaking technology throughout your career as a film director that made a huge impact for you?
SC: I think going to digital which meant that you were free to shoot as many takes and as many angles as possible. It was very liberating. Whereas when it was on film, you had to be much more guarded with it.
NYC MOVIE GURU: I think that it's refreshing to see a movie for adults and purely about human beings these days at the multiplexes. No one has any superpowers on screen. How do you feel about that observation?
SC: I'm drawn as a filmmaker and as an audience member to films about human beings. That's one of the attractions of this film for me and, I hope, for the audience, too. We're landing at a time somewhere between Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Top Gun: Maverick. I hope that we'll find our audience as well.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Which film do you think would pair well with Downton Abbey: A New Era in a double feature?
SC: I chose Andrew Dunn to be the cinematographer of Downton Abbey: A New Age because he had done Gosford Park. Obviously, that was the film that launched Julian Fellowes on the world. I'd like to think that this is a companion piece to that.