Michelle Dockery shares her favourite music
Downton Abbey star Michelle Dockery chats to Freya Parr about the music that has influenced and inspired her
Michelle Dockery is best known for her longstanding role as Lady Mary Crawley in the ITV period drama Downton Abbey, which she has reprised for the show’s subsequent films. A trained singer as well as a stage and screen actor, Dockery has performed with bands and as a solo artist on and off over the years. She has recently teamed up with fellow Downton Abbey actor Michael Fox to form a folk duo known as Michael and Michelle. Together, they release their debut EP, The Watching Silence, on 13 May on Decca Records.
Here she chats about the music that has influenced her
"Having played Lady Mary, you’d think I’d be sick of Downton Abbey’s theme tune but I’m not, surprisingly. I even play it on the piano, which people find hilarious – they see it as me breaking into my own theme tune. The Downton Abbey composer John Lunn is a complete genius –the way he creates a theme tune with such a recognisable hook absolutely fascinates me. As soon as the music begins, you can see the castle and the characters in your mind’s eye.
"Soundtracks have always been a big obsession for me, as I wanted to be an actor from a really young age. If a film really struck me, I always wanted to dive into its soundtrack. I had the double cassette of the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, which featured all the tracks by various different artists as well as all the original music used in the background of the film written by Nellee Hooper, Craig Armstrong and Marius de Vries. Every time I listened to the soundtrack, it was as though I was in the film.
"If I was ever on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, my choices would be really eclectic. I grew up on Motown, but as I entered my teenage years I became more influenced by folk music. I was introduced to Joni Mitchell when I was about 14 and learnt to play River on the piano. I still don’t know if the chords were even correct. I remember going to a restaurant and my family made me get up and play it on the piano there, which must have been such a funny image. There’s something jarring about seeing someone so young singing such a mature song. I was a 14 year-old who hadn’t learnt anything about life, but was singing a song like River, which is all about the complexities of a heart-breaking relationship. Joni Mitchell is someone that stays with you throughout the different stages of your entire life.
"When I was younger, my sister and I were always harmonising to the music we heard. I think that’s why Michael Fox and I have formed our new folk duo. I’ve always loved that kind of unison singing. It was around this time that Oasis influenced everything for me: how I dressed and who I hung out with. Their songs were some of the first I played on the guitar when I was going through an indie-grunge phase as a teenager. I went to a brilliant stage school when I was growing up and very nearly went down the musical theatre route. I auditioned for a few musicals but wasn’t successful, which actually turned out to be pretty fortunate, because my career could have taken a very different direction. I was always much more disciplined as an actor than as a singer or dancer. That said, the music of West Side Story, Les Misérables and Guys and Dolls have always stayed with me, because I sang so many of those songs and learnt dance routines from them.
"Classical music has always been part of my life. I remember first hearing Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis when I was listening to Classic FM while studying for my GCSEs and was completely sucked in by it. If I’m learning lines for an acting role, I always turn to piano music to help me concentrate. The first thing I listen to in the morning and when I’m driving is Ludovico Einaudi. Music plays a big part in my acting career, and I often build and create playlists to help me tap into the character I’m portraying.
There are certain pieces of music that seem to represent the course of an entire life through their narrative. Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending is one such piece that I’ll never tire of. It takes you through birth, adolescence and adulthood within the space of 15 minutes or so."
Interview by Freya Parr
Photo: Getty Images
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Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.