One of the main themes of Downton Abbey’s final season is facing the inevitable aristocratic-less future, and it seems nobody is more ready for this historic change quite like assistant cook Daisy (Sophie McShera). Once a very timid and reserved young woman, she had a radical personality switch since beginning her educational studies, going so far as to angrily — and publicly — confront a nobleman in the season premiere, almost getting herself fired. Now, having passed her exams with flying colors, the future is looking bright for Daisy, and we may soon find her choosing between her habitual life in Downton and new opportunities outside of the service industry. To learn more, Vulture recently spoke with McShera to discuss Daisy’s evolution, her potential, and what a cooking show starring Daisy and Mrs. Patmore would look like. (Definitely the anti–Barefoot Contessa.)
Between scolding the new owner of Mallerton Hall and nearly confronting Cora about Yew Tree Farm, Daisy behaved pretty irrationally this season. What do you think prompted this behavior more: her love of Mr. Mason or her newfound education?
Well, she’s having a little bit of a revolt. She’s definitely coming into her own and she suddenly found this voice. She’s become really politicized. But it’s personal for her, because she really loves Mr. Mason. It genuinely comes from a good place, but she maybe picks the wrong way of doing it. I don’t know if it’s the wrong way. It’s pretty amazing she’s gotten so modern.
Daisy definitely had a big awakening from her studies. Were you surprised that she became so political and outspoken in such a short amount of time?
It does seem a little bit short, doesn’t it? I’m very lucky I got to play this character that started out so naive and scared and terrified of getting fired and getting through the day … into what she’s become now, it’s just amazing. It was a surprise to me. I didn’t know any of those story lines were coming until we all got the scripts, and I really enjoyed it. We all had loads of fun on set [with the fact that] Daisy got clever and really, really rowdy. [Laughs.] It’s such good fun to play this new side of her. Especially doing the scene where she stands up to everyone in the auction hall. That was actually really scary to do, just as myself, because we never interacted with each other like that. My character would never, never, go in front of all of those people and shout at them.
And it’s a good historical time for her to begin raising hell — shifts in social classes are more evident than ever, and these grandiose lifestyles are slowly being rendered obsolete. Much to Carson’s dismay.
Yeah, exactly. Carson’s quite a good character to convey that times are changing. Daisy’s the youngest and she really had her eyes wide open this season that this is all possibly going to end, and that she wants something else. Whereas Carson doesn’t want it to end, and doesn’t see what the future holds for him and Mrs. Hughes. But she’s at that age where she can really get excited and her horizons are widening. That’s always going to cause tension with other people, especially Mrs. Patmore.
Going back to Mr. Mason, despite her loyalty to him and Mrs. Patmore, Daisy continuously tried to sabotage their growing romantic relationship. What’s her reasoning for that?
I know! We were in shock every time we saw how awful she was being. We couldn’t believe when Daisy hides the letter. Lesley [Nicol] was so angry with me. I don’t know where it comes from. I remember the scene a lot of seasons ago where she says to Mr. Mason, “I’ve never been special to anyone before.” And he says, “Well, now you’re special to me.” I think it’s so important to her to have this relationship; she’s always held on to that. She doesn’t have anyone else except him. He’s like a father figure. Mrs. Patmore is obviously so much like a mother figure, too. I don’t know if she’s not ready, or mature enough, to understand it. She doesn’t realize that she might be able to share them and it might be okay for that to happen. I think she wants them both separately to herself.
Why do you think Daisy is reluctant to move to the farm with Mr. Mason? I think it would be good for her — forging some independence outside the constraints of Downton.
Yeah. I don’t know if it’s becoming separate and moving away from the life before the house … it’s maybe scary for her at that age. It’s a good question, one I’m not sure about. I think she’s probably a little bit frightened at the change and what it entails. But she’ll get there in the end.
Now that she passed her exams, what does the future hold for Daisy?
Anything! I really love the fact that she’s got so much potential now, and you would’ve never thought that if you watched the first episode of season one. To an extent, she’s given herself so many more opportunities and options, which is exactly why she wanted an education. She thought to herself, “This can’t be it, this can’t be all I’m allowed to do, this can’t be all I’m allowed to achieve, and the only place I’ll ever be.” She developed this really powerful ambitious streak which led her through passing her exams. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m interested to find out. Julian [Fellowes] would know.
How long do you imagine she’ll remain a cook for?
That’s interesting because she still hasn’t reached the level of Mrs. Patmore. She’s a sous chef. She’s pretty high up now, though, and doing pretty well with that. If she moves to the farm she can still commute and do that job. I think the cooking can take her elsewhere, if she wants to continue with it. She toyed with the idea of moving to London and cooking there.
I can’t bear to think about Daisy and Mrs. Patmore separated.
Oh, absolutely. I just don’t think they can be apart. It would be too sad. Remember, she was going to move to London and Mrs. Patmore got so incredibly upset. Tears everywhere. I really loved filming that scene because they both had to admit that they loved each other and that they needed each other. That’s really special. I really love their relationship and I don’t think anything can break it. Not even Mr. Mason.
What was it like for you and Lesley when you filmed your last scene together?
We were extremely sad. We kept asking all the time, Is this our last scene in the kitchen? Is it? It can’t be! Since we film the show all out of sequence, we couldn’t quite work out what our last scene was. But we had a really lovely last scene that we filmed with all of the servants, it’s in the Christmas special. It was so nice to have this shared experience and wrap at the same time. We definitely had a good cry in the back of Ealing Studios. It was really sad, but really nice. It was a weird feeling to say good-bye to each other. But we still see each other all the time. So it’s quite nice that friendships outside of work can continue and we don’t have to never see each other again.
I’m sure the awards season helps a lot.
Yeah, we’ve seen so much of each other because a lot of us have been out here in L.A., starting with the SAGs. When we’re done talking I’m actually going to meet Joanne [Froggatt] and I’m probably going to see Lesley again. It’s really fun.
When you initially signed on for the role of Daisy, did you know she would become so complex and integral to the show?
I had no clue what would happen with the character because I only got one script, nothing more. But I did know that I really, really loved the character and I was so drawn to Daisy. I really wanted to play that part. I truly had no idea she would end up where she is now and the journey that she had. I’ve been so lucky with the arcs that Daisy has been able to do. I just can’t believe that all of these years later we’re still talking about Daisy.
For your audition —
Oh my god, I remember it like it was yesterday. I was the second-to-last person they saw. It was a Friday afternoon. I came down from Yorkshire, where I was living, to London. It was only about half an hour but I had a really, really good audition and I was given lots of good and helpful notes. I felt confident, but I didn’t feel like, That’s in the bag, I’ve got that. I had no idea. So I went back up to Yorkshire, and then a few days later I got a call that said I got the job. It was pretty quick.
You’re also currently displaying some excellent comedy and singing chops on Galavant. Where does your interest in musical comedy stem from?
My first job ever was when I was 12. I did the musical The Goodbye Girl where I played the daughter, and then I played Annie in the West End when I was 12 or 13. So my first experience in acting was through American musicals. I was a little kid from Bradford, which couldn’t be further away. I always really, really liked doing musicals and singing and that kind of stuff. But I just didn’t do any more; I didn’t audition for any more. When I read the scripts for Galavant I absolutely loved it. I thought it was so funny. I was excited to start singing again and do some comedy. It ended up being the most fun job. I got to do two seasons of it. We had a great time, we even filmed some of it in Morocco for the second season.
If Daisy and Mrs. Patmore had a cooking show on the Food Network, what would it look like?
[Laughs.] It would certainly be shocking for people. Sometimes when we walk around the kitchen set, we’ll be like, What the hellllll? There’ll be pigs feet and loads of weird birds and not many actual appetizing items. The show … it would be very messy and very busy. And it would be very shout-y. Lots and lots of shouting.