Phyllis Logan starred for six years in Downton Abbey, but as much as her character, Mrs. Hughes, commiserated with Mrs. Patmore the cook, they never had a proper girls’ night. Not so in her latest series, Girlfriends.
Logan plays Linda Hutchinson, one of three out-of-touch friends who reunite when Linda’s husband vanishes during a cruise. The six-part first season from writer Kay Mellor currently is streaming on Acorn TV.
Linda turns to her girlfriends Sue (Miranda Richardson) and Gail (Zoe Wanamaker) for support after her husband is presumed dead. They each have problems of their own, which leads Sue to move into Linda’s house and Gail to spend a lot of time there. With all three women leaning on each other like they did when they were younger, their friendship grows even stronger despite the years apart.
Scenes featuring the three friends were special to Logan, who was reminded of her own girlfriend with whom she traded sleepovers when she was younger.
“We used to share a bed together, have a cup of tea, do the crosswords. That was our late-night routine,” she said. “It just reminded me of all those times.”
Although she enjoyed filming those scenes, Logan said, she thought it was amusing to see older women having sleepovers.
“You can’t imagine women in their ’50s doing that,” she told me in January during the TV Critics Association winter tour. “It’s just so silly, isn’t it?”
And touching, it turns out. “Girlfriends” has plenty of funny moments, but also drama. Family, work, lovers—even the police—challenge each of the women.
Over a cup of tea, Logan talked about “Girlfriends,” “Downton Abbey” and the joy of hair extensions.
Things don’t start off too well for Linda, do they?
Well, I don’t want to issue too many spoilers. But in Episode 1, we don’t know what’s happened to Micky, her husband, played by the wonderful Steve Evets. And throughout the series, things chop and change. Suspicion over Micky’s death falls in various directions and then it gets cleared up and then it falls back. So it’s not a simple answer without telling you the whole plot of the six episodes. So I’ve got to be careful about that. But, yes, there are certain things that get thrown up where suspicion may lie.
Does Linda feel really betrayed when she finds out that her girlfriends question whether she offed her husband?
Yes. It’s a bit of a phase, though, isn’t it? We see that get very quickly resolved when the cops show up and they’re there for hours. I think that’s such a funny scene when they are doing the investigation and you can see from an audience point of view and from their point of view why they might be a wee bit suspicious.
How was filming in Leeds?
It was fun. It was blooming hard work I have to say. We only did five-day weeks, which makes it sound like it was a breeze. So we get the weekends off normally, but we were up in Leeds. I would normally go to my home in London and spend some time there because for once my husband [actor Kevin McNally] happened to be working in London.
The one time he’s in London, I’m shooting in Leeds! So I thought I’d come home. I used to get home every Friday night—midnight or something. Then I’d have to leave again Sunday afternoon to go back out to Leeds. And then he was doing the theater during the day, but I did get to see him for five minutes here and there. So that was quite exhausting and I’m not sure that it’s the most sensible thing to do. I should’ve just stayed up in Leeds and hung out there—lay out me lines.
Well, viewers will be happy it all worked out. The three of you are terrific together.
Working with Miranda and Zoe was such fun. It was really nice having all those scenes together—and there are lots of them. We have these moments together—be they dramatic, funny, sad. There’s just lots of nice threesome moments where we can all be individual characters doing our individual character thing in this one moment in time. It was really, really lovely.
The actors who play all three of your adult kids are very good as well.
They are fantastic. And of course, Matt [Lewis, who plays Zoe’s layabout son, Tom], you can’t help but like him. You think, “Oh, what an idiot.” But you can understand why because she’s his mother. He’s her son.
She makes excuses for him all his life.
She makes excuses, but that’s what mothers do. Hands up. That’s what mothers do. My two—[actors] Chris Fountain and Daisy Head—they’re so gorgeous. It was almost like they really were my kids, which is so lovely. I adored them. And Phil Cumbus, this was his first television job. He’s terrific as Miranda’s son.
Did you choose the project because of the cast?
It’s got to be the script first of all. The script is the be-all and end-all. Who else is in it is kind of this secondary thing. But is it going to be fun? That’s a major question that has to be addressed and answered. And if the answer to that is no, then forget it.
When you get a bit long in the tooth you don’t want to do a job that is not fun. But this looked like it had potential to be fun—and it was.
And working with Kay?
She’s extraordinary, Kay. She’s very good at editing herself as well. She had written too much for each episode. … We were like, “Do you think that’s even going to be in?” Poor Kay, when it came to the editing suite she had to cut so much and she did throw out or chop some scenes. And we were like, “Oh, I really liked that bit.”
She’s a force of nature, that woman. I don’t know where she gets the energy. She’s so full of ideas and energy. And of course, she directed the first three episodes. They are real “kick bollocks scramble,” as we say. It really trundles along like a train.
Do you prefer the six-episode series as opposed to what you did for “Downton Abbey?”
Well, that was only meant to be six episodes with a possible second and third series. So we basically had to sign on for three, but we weren’t even sure if it was going to be on past one season.
And then it went to three, and that was like, “Well, do you fancy another one?” And then it went up to six, but that was never the intention. It was just that it became a bit of a rollercoaster, as you know, and none of us wanted it to stop until it did.
Had they told me I’d be signing on to one thing for six years, I might have said, “I’m not so sure about doing that.” I was well happy that it did last that long. And we all had a great time. And I love playing the character and I love working with the rest of them and we all had a fantastic time.
But you said on stage during the panel, it’s nice to be able to do something else.
Fantastic. No, I loved doing it; I loved it. But it’s great to spread your wings and do other things. When something like this or “Good Karma Hospital,” which I did recently and then doing this with its twists and turns, is great fun. I’m very lucky.
My last question is totally frivolous. Were you wearing a wig or hair extensions?
[Laughs.] They’re extensions, but they did dye my hair and perm it. Permed it, dyed it, what else? Did they abuse it? They abused me.
I bet that was a lot of fun.
That was a bit dreary—until we got a new method of doing it. At first they would glue them into my hair. When getting them out, half my hair would come out with them. That was a nightmare. But then we got this new method of doing it with clips. I’d have a nice big band at the back, clip in here, clip in here, clip in here. And that was much easier. And they came out like a dream. But, I was quite rocking my hair.
It’s strange seeing you with your hair down, not to mention so long, after years of Mrs. Hughes.
I know! It’s Mrs. Hughes with this sort of 1970s hippie look.
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