They play mother and daughter in "Downton Abbey," which makes its highly-anticipated return to PBS "Masterpiece" on January 6, and Elizabeth McGovern and Michelle Dockery are of like minds when it comes to green living. "I'm very focused on my kids and my husband, but when I can make an effort to do something that I feel will make the world a better place, I will. It doesn't cost me much and it makes me feel good. I like to lead my personal life in a responsible way. So I'm very good about recycling and riding my bicycle and taking the 'tube,' as you would call it the subway," says McGovern. "I do use a car when I'm grocery shopping or picking up my kids, but I really try and make an effort to not do that."
For Dockery, "recycling is something that I do pretty much every day." And these last few years of dressing in period finery for the series, in which she plays Lady Mary Crawley, has inspired a real-life love of vintage clothes. "That's something the show has influenced. There are lots of charity shops in the area I live in that my sisters and me enjoy rummaging through." McGovern, who plays the American-born Cora, Countess of Grantham, credits her friend Livia Firth (wife of Colin) for turning her onto to eco-friendly designers like Henrietta. "She does great clothes and she's very ethically committed."
As for the show wardrobe, Dockery says that this season, which takes place in 1920-21 and begins with her character's wedding preparations, "is my favorite for the fashions, because we're becoming a lot freer in the costumes. The corsets are slowly being abandoned. Women were becoming more liberated during that period, so, as a result, everything becomes a little looser, the waists drop, the ankles are showing. I'll be interested to see how 'Downton' influences fashion now because there's something quite adaptable about the '20s. There are some dresses that I wear in the show that I think I could actually wear in real life or on the red carpet. It's wonderful to wear such elegant clothes."
She credits the show's costume designers, Caroline McCall and Susannah Buxton before her, for their "phenomenal attention to detail and style, and they know exactly what works for each character. I pay a little bit more attention to fashion now. My sense of style has changed since being on the show," she says, favoring British design houses Burberry and Erdem.
Recently on view in two other period pieces, "Anna Karenina" and "Restless" on Sundance Channel, another British import, Dockery loves everything about Lady Mary. "She's an incredibly complex character. I love the way that she has this kind of exterior that hides her vulnerability, and she's very good at pretending everything's OK when, inside, she's going through turmoil. But in the third series, she's certainly a lot happier. I think Mary started out as a bit of a brat. She was far colder in the beginning, but the incident with Pamuk"—whose inflagrante delicto death in her bed was covered up—"made her much more vulnerable, sympathetic and sensitve. I've really enjoyed that journey that I wasn't expecting."
McGovern's Cora faces the possibility of upheaval after her husband loses a fortune in a bad investment and in turn may lose the Abbey, faces the future without fear. "I love that she's so calm in the face of adversity," she says admiringly. "She is somebody who is extremely flexible and resilient and can roll with the punches and is strong in a quieter, more self‑effacing way. And it's nice to resurrect that idea of female strength, because I think that that has churned the wheels of history for many centuries, that quiet, strong woman that just sort of connects all the dots in the family."
"Downton Abbey" picks up where the Christmas special left off a year ago, continuing the Mary-Matthew romance and Lady Sybil's pregnancy stories upstairs and downstairs plots including Mr. Bates incarceration and the Thomas vs. O'Brien battle of evil wills, plus new developments like a cancer scare for Mrs. Hughes, and a romance for Lady Edith. Some threads will be resolved, but it's a fair bet that others will leave fans salivating for Season 4, which goes into production next month.
Tune in: Dog training maven Cesar Millan rehabilitates damaged, unadoptable dogs and finds new homes for them, interviewing potential owners and preparing them for their new pets in "Leader of the Pack," premiering Jan. 5 on Nat Geo Wild. It's preceded by the season premiere of "The Incredible Dr. Pol," following the titular vet as he handles animal emergencies.
Discovery's new series "Africa" showcases the wildlife and natural wonders of the continent, beginning January 8 with "Kalahari."