Downton Abbey | News | Rob James-Collier

Downton Abbey's Gay Footman Rob James-Collier on Being an 'Edwardian Sex Pest'

[SPOILERS - Don't read if you haven't seen last night's episode]

Rob James-Collier on the reaction to the action in last night's Downton Abbey episode:


It could be proper HBO. It’s quite gritty and dark, isn’t it? Thomas becomes besotted. Let’s face it, he borderline stalks Jimmy. He turns into an Edwardian sex pest. It’s pretty bad. But then he goes on this huge journey and he’s being manipulated by O’Brien into thinking this guy feels the same way. And he knows he doesn’t. The fallout from my kissing Jimmy was really dramatic....

It’s great to see there’s an impact downstairs and it’s not just those bastards upstairs. Thomas gets quite choked up, doesn’t he? And then after he kisses Jimmy, he’s just completely distraught and destroyed and vulnerable, and you feel sorry for him. I’ve had people come up to me in the street and go, “Oh my God, Thomas made me cry last night, and I hate you for making him make me cry because I love to hate him.” I’m messing up people’s lives. There was this punter who came up to me on the tube and goes, “Listen, mate, I don’t normally watch period drama.” That’s how it always starts, and the next line is, “my missus watches it.” And then the third is, “but I’ve actually started liking it. You f**king the man, man. Last night, the tears…” and then he just walks off! And you think, This is what I do it for...

...I just want to say thank you to everyone who watched and tuned in and loved my evil gayness.

More of his Vulture interview here.

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  1. It was actually far more touching than I expected. Best part was when, despite Thomas admitting he was a totally broken man by the horrible experience resulting from his being outted, he insists to Mr. Carson that he is not "Foul" for being homosexual. It was so tender and proto-activist. Loved it.

    Second best part was Lord Crowley reacting nonchalantly and admitting he couldn't go two minutes at Eaton without encountering a gay lad on the make, and so coming pretty squarely to Thomas's defense.

    The plot point was handled with suitable drama and resolution. I really was impressed. And yes, it made evil Thomas a quite sympathetic character - at least for one episode.

    Posted by: Zlick | Feb 11, 2013 3:43:51 PM

  2. I am struck by how in Julian Fellowes' script, much of the staff tolerates Thomas' sexual orientation but not Ethel's fall into prostitution. Perhaps this is more sexism; men's vices are tolerated but women's suffering is not.

    Posted by: Jeff Atwood | Feb 11, 2013 3:47:58 PM

  3. I loved the lines from Lord Crowley, and Thomas insisting he is not "Foul". But I had a really hard time buying the amount of support Thomas received from so many of the characters. It seemed a little to much "wishful thinking". Fun to watch, but hard to believe.

    Posted by: Don | Feb 11, 2013 3:48:09 PM

  4. My lack of anything approaching a proper Brit-level education shows in me misspelling Eton as "Eaton." But I don't see that too many characters supported Thomas. Just Lord Crowley and Mrs. Hughes by my count, only the former being unexpected - and nicely explained by his -- ooh, perhaps intimate - encounters with gay boys at, ahem, ETON.

    Posted by: Zlick | Feb 11, 2013 3:57:37 PM

  5. It's a mistake to think that anything in this series bears any relation to reality--it's all just a silly, albeit pretty, little fantasy.

    Let's see: The Crowleys remain a socially acceptable family, despite having a financially incompetent head of household (who has--so far--almost lost the Abbey on at least two occasions), an eldest daughter who was involved in the mysterious death of a diplomat, a butler suspected of murder, a daughter and son-in-law involved in deadly terrorist activities (after a transgressive cross-class relationship), and a number of below-stairs sex scandals.

    Moral: If you value your life or reputation, stay far away from the Crowleys.

    Posted by: bcarter3 | Feb 11, 2013 4:05:33 PM

  6. Interwar sex pest would be more accurate.

    Posted by: jd | Feb 11, 2013 4:06:59 PM

  7. I agree with Don. If this had really happened, Thomas would have been cast out immediately, without a moment's hesitation. And he wouldn't have been given a recommendation either. I thought everything was well-done on the show, but it wasn't very believable at all.

    Posted by: Rick A. | Feb 11, 2013 4:08:34 PM

  8. It was very interesting, well written and acted story line.
    This series has already been shown, where I live and it is better than the second series, but for me the first one is in its own class. Let's hope the fourth one continues to get better.

    Posted by: Matt26 | Feb 11, 2013 4:10:27 PM

  9. It's not evil gayness - it's sexual frustration.

    Posted by: Jack M | Feb 11, 2013 4:11:58 PM

  10. PS A nitpick. Thomas didn't "...turn[s] into an Edwardian sex pest."

    Edward VII died in 1910. This series of DA takes place in the 1920s, when George V was king.

    Posted by: bcarter3 | Feb 11, 2013 4:15:28 PM

  11. Yes, it wasn't very believable (neither is Branson's sudden revision from Irish nationalist/socialist/revolutionary to proper ambitious capitalist). But it was emotionally satisfying, particularly Thomas' statement to Carson that he is not "foul."

    Posted by: Joseph | Feb 11, 2013 4:18:12 PM

  12. I think his anecdote is incredible. Thomas' gayness is used to HUMANIZE him (although he's a meanie) to the eyes of the audience. The producers expect the audience to feel sorry for him because his love is unrequited and because he's persecuted.

    30 years ago they would have used his homosexuality to VILLAINIZE him. To make sure to everyone he's a bad guy.

    It's incredible.

    Posted by: G.I. Joe | Feb 11, 2013 4:28:39 PM

  13. He'll be fine...the sad thing about this season is Matthew dies at the end :( gosh!

    Posted by: Bosie | Feb 11, 2013 4:31:15 PM

  14. He's still foul in the sense that he's manipulative and mean, but that often counts in high regard in British society. The Dowager is manipulative and tactless, in a sense mean, but so sly about it it's hysterical. Thomas still needs a dressing down about his bad behavior.

    However, all the rumors so far that he'd be severely punished for being gay have not come true, though there is one more ep this season. Is there going to be a gay bashing next week? Why were the rumors so far wrong?

    Posted by: anon | Feb 11, 2013 4:42:56 PM

  15. I love the Thomas character, but I read that ten characters will "jump the shark" in Season Three.

    Posted by: Gary | Feb 11, 2013 4:52:51 PM

  16. Jeff, it wasn't so much that Ethel was a fallen woman is that Ethel was a "notorious fallen woman." Had James or Alfred actually reported him to the police and there was a scandal, there would have likely been a different reaction. Its not the action so much as the scandal. And Ethel did get support from not only Mrs. Crawley but from Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Padmore. I think Mr. Carson's attitude toward Thomas was pretty in keeping with his attitude toward Ethel...and the thing governing his disgust in relation to his actions in both situations is the level of dishonor the behavior brought to the family.

    Posted by: Jay | Feb 11, 2013 4:59:08 PM

  17. Don - I made a similar comment to my husband last night: "It's not so much a snap-shot of Edwardian England as it is early 20th century values meets early 21st century idealism."

    Posted by: Jay | Feb 11, 2013 5:01:23 PM

  18. @Jeff Atwood - I totally agree. This is what struck me as well, especially in relation to Lord Grantham's sympathetic reaction. He even used the Biblical quote about "casting the first stone" to defend Thomas, yet the origin of that quote would directly apply to Ethel being like Mary Magadalene. Rather out-of-synch morality on his part.

    I think what I would have liked to have heard (aside from the reference to life at Eton) would have been something more personal from Robert. Perhaps a story about a beloved uncle, now dead, who was like Thomas, or in Mrs. Hughes case perhaps some reference to a younger brother or nephew who could show up as a future love interest for Thomas.

    Posted by: Rexford | Feb 11, 2013 5:09:48 PM

  19. I reality this character would have ended up like Oscar Wilde did for his homosexuality.

    This show is a piece of superficial, inaccurate CRAP!!!

    Posted by: Dominique Devereaux | Feb 11, 2013 5:15:35 PM

  20. I really felt sorry for Thomas- who must be desperately lonely if that he fell for that pretty obnoxious Jimmy. It made me wonder about what he did for sex- is there a cruising spot in the village? Does he go to London? In reality I would imagine he would have been kicked out of Downton Abbey but this is an idealistic high class soap opera so almost everyone is extremely kind.

    Posted by: jaragon | Feb 11, 2013 5:16:14 PM

  21. The Thomas character is a predatory queen.

    Posted by: Biff | Feb 11, 2013 5:18:10 PM

  22. A friend who watches DA more faithfull than I (he was a huge fan of DYNASTY long ago when I pretended not to watch) says the grand climax for the season should have been an IRA attack on the Abbey in retaliation for Branson's apostasy. The gunmen would shoot the appropriate targets, O'Brien would shoot nearly everybody else then do a Mrs. Danvers thing, accidentally torching the house and any survivors. Thomas would escape to Singapore.

    Posted by: gregorybrown | Feb 11, 2013 5:24:34 PM

  23. One key difference between Ethel and Thomas is that Ethel actually did prostitute herself, whereas all Thomas is known to have done was to attempt to kiss the unwilling Jimmy. That is, no actual sex occurred. Granted, if consummated it would have been the "wrong" kind of sex. Yet even in Victorian times educated people understood the difference between a mere attraction to other men and out-and-out sex between men.

    In any event, both parts are brilliantly portrayed (as are those of Lady Mary, O'Brien, Lavinia, Mrs. Hughes, the Dowager and Mr. Carson). The quality of the acting draws us in even if some of us are not too sure about the plausibility of Thomas' escape from punishment in 1920's England. The central theme of the drama relates to the breakdown of old traditions. In that regard, we must remind ourselves that even though the Dowager and Lord Grantham came of age under Queen Victoria, Victoria is no longer on the throne.

    Posted by: John | Feb 11, 2013 7:04:38 PM

  24. The resolution of Thomas' story line in last night's episode didn't bother me. It might have been historically inaccurate and wildly optimistic (especially the behavior of Bates), but it served the dramatic purpose of moving his character arc forward while keeping him in the Abbey. What bothered me was Thomas' decision to kiss Jimmy while Jimmy was sleeping. It would be a bad (albeit legal) decision even for a heterosexual advance. Thomas is a student of human nature--he's needed to be to survive. How he could let his own sexual frustration and O'Brien goad him into making such a silly decision seems completely out of step with his character. Sure, people get horny and stupid when it comes to love/lust, but Thomas seems like he would have been around the block enough times to be more sensible.

    Posted by: Stefan | Feb 11, 2013 7:12:12 PM

  25. Maybe some other Brits have my experience(s) when it comes to Thomas ;-)

    I'm the first Out member of my family, but certainly not the first "gay" - great aunts and uncles do indeed tell stories of their own Spinster Aunts and Bachelor Uncles... with a sad yet wistful bit of Knowing in their voices.

    in any way, i'm obsessed with the Abbey. can't wait for series 4!

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Feb 11, 2013 7:20:37 PM

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