America was the last place Michelle Dockery imagined she’d end up when “Downton Abbey” closed its doors in 2015.
But the Essex-born actress, 36, was lured by casting directors who saw her in a very different light than Lady Mary Crawley, the haughty aristocrat she played for five seasons on the hit British period piece.
First came the starring role as Letty Raines, a thief and ex-con adrift in the South, on the contemporary TNT series “Good Behavior,” which has aired for two seasons. That was followed by Steven Soderbergh’s series “Godless” and by renewed interest in Dockery, and “Downton Abbey,” courtesy of the show’s traveling exhibit.
“I wondered if ‘Downton’ would stick [to me],” Dockery says, alluding to being typecast.
In “Good Behavior,” Dockery traded the “antique furniture and rolling hills” of “Downton’s” Highclere Castle for the “suburban streets and diners and gas stations” of Wilmington, NC. “It was a quintessential America I had known from watching American TV shows,” Dockery says of Wilmington. “It was like being in a movie within a movie. Wilmington is really a beautiful part of [your country]. It has beautiful beaches and the food is really amazing.”
(TNT has yet to announce if the series will return for a third season.)
Soderbergh then cast Dockery as sharpshooting prairie widow Alice Fletcher in “Godless,” his stark Netflix Western, which transported Dockery to the Georgia O’Keeffe landscape outside Santa Fe, NM. “Godless’ is something I wasn’t expecting,” Dockery says. “I was looking forward to a holiday. I was on that job for four months.”
While Dockery was having her American odyssey, the “Downton Abbey” nostalgia machine was gearing up for a New York exhibition of costumes, sets and other memorabilia, such as Mr. Bates’ (Brendan Coyle) arrest warrant. It opened last November and has proved so popular that its run has been extended through Labor Day. Lady Mary’s bedroom set is on view as are some of her glorious costumes.
The flood of memories puts Dockery in a sentimental mood — and makes her ponder why she didn’t keep some of the better frocks. “I wonder why I didn’t take anything with me,” she says. “The first wedding dress was exquisite. That French lace! I was being ushered around by five people that day because the train was so delicate.”
There’s a “Downton Abbey” movie rumored to be in the works, but Dockery hasn’t even seen a script. “Getting everyone together is proving to be a slow process,” she says. “I can’t really tell you any more so I have to leave it there.”
Meanwhile, she’s also heard chatter about a second season of “Godless,” even though the Scott Frank series was intended as a one-off. “We’ll see,” she says. “I would be there in a heartbeat.”
And, with all these TV and movie projects, Dockery was able to fit in her co-starring role opposite Bryan Cranston in the West End adaptation of the 1976 movie “Network,” with Cranston as ranting anchorman Howard Beale and Dockery as nervous network exec Diana Christensen — roles for which Peter Finch and Faye Dunaway won Oscars.
One night during the run of “Network,” Dunaway was in the audience, and came backstage to meet Dockery afterward. “I nearly fainted,” Dockery says. “I told our stage manager, ‘Thank God you didn’t tell me, I would have been so nervous.’ It was quite an emotional experience for her. She said I did a great job. It’s been such a great couple of years.”