To get the cast of Downton Abbey back together after four years off the air, the stakes had to be high. And what’s more exciting than a visit from the royal family? In the Downton Abbey movie, in theaters now, the Crawley Family has to deal with the stress of King George and Queen Mary staying at their estate in 1927, while their downstairs staff tries to deal with the drama that comes with the royal family’s employees trying to take over run of house.
At the center of preparations for the royal visit are Mrs. Patmore and Daisy, the dedicated kitchen staff who are thrilled to create a menu fit for royalty. But when the royal chef takes over, they take matters into their own hands, and you’ll have to check out the film to see how it all plays out.
Since stars Sophie McShera (Daisy) and Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore) were both born and raised in the England, when we sat down with them in New York City, we brought a slew of British snacks and had them rank them while chatting about memories from the show.
Read on to see why Twiglets reign supreme, what they ate behind-the-scenes, what they’d make for the queen, and their favorite on-set hijinks from almost a decade of Downton.
Rachael Ray Every Day: On the set of Downton Abbey, was any of the food real, and did you get to eat any of it?
Sophie McShera: It was all real, but sometimes it was not great, because they spray things to make them last longer under the lights. They freeze things that are on the turn and bring them back.
Lesley Nicol: We had a lobster and it caused what we called “Lobstergate.” It was beautiful and looked terrific on camera, and was very expensive. They took it away as it was beginning to go. They froze it, and then brought it out another day, and by the time it had thawed it was bad.
Sophie: Sometimes it was very smelly in that kitchen.
Lesley: Lisa, the home stylist, used to make these elaborate dishes, these funny jellies with no taste. Aspic with olives! But it would preserve the food, and you'd think, “Well I can see that, but I wouldn't want to eat it."
Sophie: It all looked really amazing, but not all of it was actually tasty.
We’ve got a spread of British snacks here—prawn cocktail crisps, Jelly Babies, Custard Creams, Cadbury chocolate fingers, Wotsits, cheese and onion Hula Hoops, milk chocolate digestives, and Twiglets. Out of the bunch, what’s your all-time favorite?
Lesley: God it's been years since I had a Twiglet! They're quite nice, but I just like them as a savory snack. Sophie, what do you like? I'd have you down as a Hula Hooper.
Sophie: I am a Hula Hooper; I like the plain salted ones. I'm going to have a Twiglet because I'm sort of getting the whiff of the Twiglets and it's drawing me in.
Lesley: They're a bit moreish.
Sophie: They are kind of meaty.
Lesley: They used to be all the rage in the ‘70s. No party was complete without a Twiglet.
People are team milk or dark chocolate for digestives. What are you?
Sophie: I would definitely be more of a milk chocolate person.
Lesley: And I'd be more of a dark! The digestive biscuit with a lump of chocolate on top is very popular in London. I'm having a sentimental moment here. My dad used to have a dark chocolate digestive every night of his life, with a glass of milk.
What was your ideal snack when you were in your trailer between takes?
Lesley: When we were filming at Ealing Studios in London, we would visit Lorraine in reception, who had bunches of sweets. She had everything. So if someone went missing, you'd go “They’ve gone to Lorraine.”
Sophie: If you couldn't find someone on set you knew they were with Lorraine. She did have a bit of fruit as well, but nobody wanted the fruit. It was all snacks and sweets.
Since you were last on Downton Abbey in 2015, a lot has changed in the world. How have your eating habits changed in the past four years? Is there anything you’re surprised you’ve learned to love in that time?
Lesley: I think just being vegan. Like anybody else, veganism sounds horrific, like a punishment or a life sentence for anyone who is a foodie. But the fact is, you just have to look around and there’s some good stuff out there. Now I’m on that road. I don’t have any interest in eating meat anymore. I haven’t missed it—not at all.
Sophie: I’m just a vegetarian. She’s a saint. Hm, I don't think we'd eat all those sweets now that we used to eat when we’re filming. We did used to get real sugar highs.
Lesley: She was impossible, frankly.
Sophie: We were like children that had too many smarties.
Is there a memory you have in the kitchen of just being so sugar high that you couldn't get through a scene because you were too giggly?
Sophie: Not really a sugar high, but it’s awful when you get the giggles on set. It should be fun, but it makes you feel ill because you cannot get rid of it.
Lesley: We had them before we went to do, for me the only scene in the entire six years with Maggie Smith. We did.
Sophie: Oh my God, we got hysterical. We couldn't stop giggling.
Lesley: We were absolutely beside ourselves. But it was that thing where after a while, people would go, “Yeah, alright, it’s not that funny anymore.”
Sophie: We had the whole of the cast there and Daisy had to give a speech. I don't even know what it was that set us off, but then we couldn't stop.
Do you have a favorite scene between Mrs. Patmore and Daisy?
Lesley: I was watching a little snippet of it, the other day in the hotel room here, of an old, old episode, which I'd forgotten. And it was the sweetest conversation between Mrs. P. and Daisy, where at that time I'd forgotten, you had a crush on Thomas.
Sophie: That's my audition scene!
Lesley: And she was a bit dopey in those days, quite honestly. She was a bit slow, and she had a crush on Thomas, and I was trying to say to her... well in the end I say, "He’s not a ladies’ man." And she goes “No, and that's good isn't it?" She's got no clue what she's talking about.
How would you rank your cooking skills on a scale of Daisy, a beginner, to Mrs. Patmore, the expert?
Sophie: We're both as bad as each other.
Lesley: Are you bad, really?
Sophie: Not great. I think practicing more helps.
Lesley: We're in different stages of our cooking journeys, I think Sophie's probably always has been better than me.
Sophie: You're going to overtake me now.
Lesley: Well, I'm going to cooking classes now, for the first time in my life. And I'm 60, so yeah, I'm having a late spurt.
Sophie: You're going to get really good. And she's going to teach me so it's fine.
What's the most impressive thing that you've cooked in your life so far?
Sophie: I'm always impressed if I cook anything. I'm so lazy with cooking so if I make a meal, then I'm thrilled at myself.
Lesley: I made a thing the other day that I was proud of. You know that French dish beef bourguignon? Since I am vegan and don’t eat beef, I made bean bourguinon! I'm telling you, that sauce was fully delicious. It had loads of herbs and red wine in it, and just beans instead of beef. It was really, really good.
If you could cook for the Queen, as they were preparing for in the film, what would you make?
Lesley: Bean bourguignon. She probably wouldn't want it, but that's what I would cook her.
Sophie: I'll bake her some vegan brownies for dessert.