Laura Carmichael is experiencing something of a streaming Renaissance. The new Peacock service now offers every season of Downton Abbey and the series’ companion movie. You’ll find her in the first season of The Spanish Princess, in which she plays Maggie Pole in the court of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, on the Starz site, on demand, in the app, and on partner sites. And today, her new show The Secrets She Keeps launches on SundanceNow.
The series is the tale of two women: Agatha (Carmichael), who is eight months pregnant and working at a grocery store to make ends meet, while Meghan (Jessica De Gouw) is pregnant with her third child, this one unplanned and causing tension in her marriage. Agatha is only just informing naval officer Hayden (Michael Sheasby) that he’s the father and is taking an overzealous interest in Meghan.
Carmichael, who recently wrapped a second season of The Spanish Princess, shared her pandemic-influenced TV viewing with Rotten Tomatoes and discussed all three series.
I have been watching I May Destroy You as it comes out pretty religiously. So the finale was last night in the U.K. — I just devoured it and looked forward to Mondays when we get another installment, another fix. It’s phenomenal and game-changing work.
Nightly at the moment we’re watching The Sopranos and have been working our way through. That’s been a real treat of lockdown and we’re sort of savoring them now as we’re coming to the end of the show, but it’s been a real treat … I had never seen it before so it’s a real thrill.
I am a religious watcher of RuPaul’s Drag Race. That show comes out on Saturdays for us. It airs in the U.S. on Fridays, but that’s another, tracking that down immediately. I really enjoyed Shrill. That’s a good one. I loved it. I thought it was so smart and funny, and I thought the casting was just great.
Fred Topel for Rotten Tomatoes: About The Secrets She Keeps, did you go to some dark places to portray Agatha’s stalker behavior?
As the episodes go on, you learn more and more about her backstory, which is incredibly dark and painful. So yeah, it was a real kind of playing detective with her life really and building up the layers so that it doesn’t just feel like she’s not just creepy. It comes from this truthful pain that leads her to do quite outrageous and heartbreaking things.
The more you learned about how Agatha suffered, did it give you more empathy for her?
That’s it. It does feel like she has the most extraordinary, painful life in such a short time. It gives you a lot to build on and I think the way I saw that was that it’s another thing on top of another thing. It leads her to be so volatile that she’s kind of a coiled spring, one more thing on top of the other that any minute she could go nuts. That was my feeling with her and how that led her to do something so drastic and so awful.
I think that’s right. I think there’s definitely a moment with Hayden where she panics and goes, “Oh my God, is this even what I want?” She is surrounding herself in a lot of lies so it’s a real web that she’s in. I think that she would find it difficult to be in any functioning relationship.
How much of this did you know about Agatha going into the series?
So I had the book which was a great help. I had, I think, most of the scripts going in, so we knew where we would be headed. So that was a combination of just research and piecing together things. I had a good basis going in, which I think you need with something that jumps around a lot.
Was this a really intense step into darkness after Downton Abbey or were there more parallels than we might imagine?
It’s different from a lot of things I’ve done. I’ve done a bit of crime thriller before with Marcella, but this is definitely the most intense. It had to be that way, I guess, because of the nature of the part. Yeah, it was really different from the world of Downton certainly.
Did you have to do your video seduction scene to a blank screen so they could add the video of your partner in later?
We had all sorts of things, because it’s a complicated setup having a laptop and then there are times when you need to have a camera. So we had all sorts of interesting versions of it where we could see each other or not see each other. We were both involved in all of the takes, so it was never nothing, but yeah, it was odd.
When you’re working on something as intense as The Secrets She Keeps, are you able to leave it on set?
There’s a bit of a mixture. It’s a funny thing being far away, the other side of the world to where I normally live, and doing something so intense. I did feel at times kind of raw, but I was lucky I was able to check it and come home and relax and thankfully, be surrounded by a really warm and friendly cast and crew that got me out of my head a bit.
What are your hopes for people who now have access to all of Downton Abbey on Peacock, whether they’re revisiting it or watching it for the first time?
I hope it’s an enjoyable watch. I feel like it’s great viewing for times like this when you’ve got time to binge it and just relax into it. It’s a really warm hug of a show. It’s a really relaxing thing to watch. I hope people who are coming to it anew get that same feeling.
Was it heartwarming for you that Lady Edith became such a sympathetic character for audiences?
Absolutely. I felt very lucky the arc that she went on. I loved that she went from not being people’s favorite to being a good one in their eyes.
Are you hoping to do a movie sequel?
There are rumors of it, which is thrilling because it wasn’t the idea of it. So we’ll just have to see what Julian [Fellowes] comes out with and hope that he’s been busy during lockdown.
What can we expect from season 2 of The Spanish Princess?
It’s carrying on into their marriage now. Series 1 ended with the marriage, and we see how Henry and Catherine do as newlyweds and further into their marriage. It’s a fascinating unraveling of what we know is a doomed romance really. For my character, she’s restored to her wealth and titles, but there’s still tension within the court. It’s a fresh court and a lot of characters died in the last series, so there’s lots of fresh faces and shuffling of positions. It really sees Henry becomes the king we recognize as Henry VIII, where he is a bit of the philanderer and the drinker, leaving behind the young romantic we got to know in the first series.
The Secrets She Keeps premieres July 16 on SundanceNow.