'Downton Abbey' Season 4: Mrs. Patmore knows her place, but Lesley Nicol defies the rules

Lelsey-Nicol-Downton-Abbey.jpegAbout nine years ago, at the age of 52, British actress Lesley Nicol of "Downton Abbey" met a spiritual practitioner a few years older than her, named Da'aboth. About seven years ago they married -- a first marriage for them both.

"What I'm saying is, don't listen to anyone," Nicol tells Zap2it over tea and British pub food at the Ye Olde King's Head in Santa Monica, Calif. "And because, I'm proving here and now that the rules that say, 'Oh, you're over 45, there are no parts for you.' Well, actually, I've just got the best part I've ever had, and yes, I did just fall in love.

"We got married, and it's been amazing."

Nicol plays Mrs. Beryl Patmore, the cook at the Edwardian manor house that is the setting for the period drama, which returns for its fourth season Sunday (Jan. 5) as part of PBS' "Masterpiece."

The new season starts in the year 1922, six months after the tragic death of Matthew Crawley, heir to the Downton estate and husband to the Lady Mary ( Michelle Dockery), eldest daughter of Lord Robert Crawley ( Hugh Bonneville), the Earl of Grantham.

Below stairs, Mrs. Patmore is still keeping a close eye on her kitchen maid, Daisy ( Sophie McShera).

"She thinks of Daisy as a daughter," Nicol says, "except that she's her boss, so there is that in there as well. It's not just a straight mother-daughter relationship, but she's very protective of Daisy."

Daisy may be in need of some protection, as she's become involved in a love quadrangle of sorts with fellow servants Ivy ( Cara Theobold), Alfred ( Matt Milne) and Jimmy ( Ed Speleers).

"It's a small, little world," Nicol says. "Our world is so tiny, so you imagine they'd all be involved in each other's relationships, and so, she probably inteferes too much -- but she sees it all going on. The best line I had is something like, 'Everybody's in love with the wrong person.'

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"Mrs. Patmore obviously sees it, interferes maybe when she shouldn't, but lets them get on with it, really."

Asked what she admires about her character, Nicol says, "I like that kind of woman, really. There's a kind of Northern, working-class woman, from where I'm from [in Manchester]. I'm not from that kind of family, but I still love their wittiness. They have a soft heart, but they're not sentimental."

There is one resident of the house that Mrs. Patmore hasn't dealt with directly: Lord Robert's mother, the redoubtable Dowager Countess ( Maggie Smith).

"I want to have a scene with Maggie Smith," Nicol says. "That's my next mission."

When it's suggested that perhaps the Countess might one day visit the kitchen, Nicol laughs.

"Would she?" Nicol asks. "Or, either way, if I had to go up to her -- I'd be terrified!"

Nicol also had a brief encounter with another screen legend, Shirley MacLaine, who plays Martha Levinson, the outspoken mother of Lord Robert's American wife, Cora ( Elizabeth McGovern).

"I met her really quickly," Nicol recalls. "It was over a drink. I was done up a bit, and she said, 'You don't look like you at all.' I said, 'Thank you.'"

At the moment, Nicol is staying at a friend's house in Beverly Hills, enjoying the Los Angeles life.

"I quite like L.A.," she says. "I don't mind it being outrageous. I'm not very good with conventional, prim-and-proper people who are well-behaved, grown-up."

She's also seeing what opportunities America has to offer.

"One of the reasons my English agent encouraged me to come here," Nicol says, "is that I'm not Botoxed to death, and I'm going to age gracefully."

The experienced stage actress also has skills to bring to the table.

"My husband is a martial artist," she says, "and he thinks it's hilarious that I have a stage-fighting-proficiency certificate. He thinks that's ridiculous. Can't say I've used it much."
Photo/Video credit: PBS