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The Most Un-Downton Roles Taken by the Downton Abbey Cast

Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Images by TNT, Big Talk Productions, BBC, HBO

It’s been a year since the dust settled on Downton Abbey’s small-screen reign, and there’s only so many times you can rewatch Lady Mary pursuing dignified romantic exploits or Carson meticulously holding court in the Crawley family dining room. Blimey! If you’re still not ready to pick another period drama (or two) to fill that post-Edwardian era void, here’s another idea that’ll surely please any Downton devotee: Why not explore other TV work from each of the show’s leading actors, but for roles that are the complete opposite of their well-known Crawley personas? With Downton’s very own Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) starring in Harlots, a new brothel drama for Hulu, Vulture dug into all of unexpected roles where Downton’s familiar faces have popped up.

Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil Crawley)

The “whore’s eye view” of Harlots takes place in gritty 18th-century London, and Brown Findlay is tasked with playing one of the city’s most desired courtesans at her mother’s brothel. That’s not all: The mother and daughter team have to constantly compete with a rival brothel owner, ensuring that their unique family business remains on top.
Where to watch: Hulu

Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley)

The dignified Lady changed gears for a decisively undignified role on TNT’s Good Behavior. Dockery plays a con artist fresh out of jail who, despite trying her best to rehabilitate her life and gain back custody of her son, falls into a spiral of dangerous schemes. (The world of contract killing is as frightening as you’d expect.) You’ll see a lot of wigs and a lot of accents.
Where to watch: TNT On Demand

Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley)

Bonneville went full goofball for Twenty Twelve, a spoofed series that follows a group of slightly incompetent employees tasked with organizing the (successful!) 2012 Summer Olympics in London. He plays the head guy in charge with a penchant for wearing bright cycling shirts, so you just know things will go awry before the opening ceremony kicks off.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith Crawley)

Carmichael kicked off her post-Downton career by nabbing a supporting role in the crime-noir series Marcella, where she plays a student who strikes up a friendship with a suspected serial killer in the hopes of cracking open the case. Marcella is a surprisingly violent show, and Carmichael’s scenes are peppered with gruesome images. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Where to watch: Netflix

Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley)

With the lead role in FX’s Legion, Stevens has the most well-known of all non-Downton projects on this list, and it’s the most bizarre of the lot too. He plays an immensely powerful psychic named David Haller, who struggles to figure out what’s real (and what isn’t) while running from the authorities and his own inner demon.
Where to watch: Hulu

Brendan Coyle (John Bates)

While he filmed Downton, Coyle also starred in the simple, charming dramedy Starlings for two seasons, playing the patriarch of the working-class family in rural England. The Starling house might be cramped with generations of odd family members, but their spirits never dwindle.
Where to watch: YouTube

Maggie Smith (Violet Crawley)

Though Smith has generally shied away from television work throughout her career, she netted an Emmy for My House in Umbria, a made-for-HBO film that finds the Dame playing a hoity-toity romance novelist. The character opens up her villa to a trio of people who, along with herself, survived a terrorist attack on an Italian train. She particularly warms to a young girl, and they form a close relationship bonded by mutual grief.
Where to watch: Available on DVD

Joanne Froggatt (Anna Smith)

The story of Mary Ann Cotton is an intriguing one, so much so that it propelled Froggatt to tackle another period drama. But Dark Angel is much, much creepier than Downton: Cotton is perhaps the most infamous Englishwoman serial killer of all time, with historians estimating that she poisoned as many as 21 people, including her husbands and children.
Where to watch: PBS, when it premieres later this spring

Rob James-Collier (Thomas Barrow)

James-Collier had a nice stint on the long-running British soap opera Coronation Street, which earned him a few “Sexiest Male” honors at the Inside Soap Awards. On his 300-plus episode arc, his bad-boy character had numerous quintessential soapy story lines, from romancing the town’s ladies to falling down ravines.
Where to watch: Hulu

Phyllis Logan (Elsie Hughes)

Between 1986 and 1994, Logan had a supporting role in the cheeky dramedy series Lovejoy as a friendly confidant to an antiques dealer (played by Ian McShane!) in East England. Watching Logan be the dignified yin to McShane’s roguish yang is truly a wonderful sight to behold.
Where to watch: Acorn TV

Sophie McShera (Daisy Mason)

McShera starred in this workplace sitcom during her Downton tenure, and her physical transformation is enough to leave the mouths of Daisy fans agape. She played a chav who, despite constant visits to the local job center, can’t (and frankly, doesn’t want to) hold a steady job to save her life.
Where to watch: DailyMotion

Allen Leech (Tom Branson)

As a devoted Roman soldier and confidant, Leech had a good run on Rome, the critically acclaimed HBO mini-series that aired a decade ago. You’ll see him do a lot of fighting, horseback riding, and having his way with the city’s ladies. A far cry from Tom and Downton!
Where to watch: HBO GO

Lily James (Lady Rose MacClare)

James popped up in the sexy drama Secret Diary of a Call Girl, where she played the daughter of a popular escorting agency’s owner. When she finds out what her mother really does upon her arrest for money laundering, let’s just say she’s not too pleased and starts to act out.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Hulu

Jim Carter (Charles Carson)

Carter honed his “bad cop” chops for this supporting role in Red Riding, a three-part mini-series that spans the ‘70s and ‘80s to tell various bleak narratives about murder, violent crime, and police corruption in Yorkshire. (This also serves as a reminder that Carter has a fabulous head of hair.)
Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley)

Set in the 1980s, Brief Encounters gave Wilton the chance to play a later-in-life woman who gets involved in the booming business of sex toys and lingerie. Her character starts off a bit hesitant, but ends up loving it in the end. She’s in the midst of a sexual awakening, after all!
Where to watch: Acorn TV

Elizabeth McGovern (Cora Crawley)

Funny enough, McGovern and her Downton beau, Hugh Bonneville, starred together as a husband-and-wife duo in this three-part comedy before they filmed the period drama. Freezing centers around the couple — McGovern plays a Hollywood film star, Bonneville is a book editor — who both find themselves out of work at the same time while living in modern-day London. Shenanigans and ennui ensue.
Where to watch: YouTube

Lesley Nicol (Beryl Patmore)

Although Nicol’s post-Downton roles have been more sporadic than her fellow castmates’, last year she appeared in a two-episode arc on ABC’s The Catch as a ruthless and glamorous matriarch of a mob family.
Where to watch: Hulu

The Cast of Downton Abbey’s Most Un-Downton TV Roles