HFPA in Conversation: Allen Leech, Getting Lost in his Imagination

by Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros October 9, 2019
Actor Allen Leech

theo wargo/getty images

Allen Leech’s character Tom Branson has become the audience’s eye to discover an aristocratic lifestyle in Downton Abbey. On the Golden Globe-winning series Branson, a former chauffeur, a political rebel and the husband of late Lady Sybil Branson became an estate manager of Yorkshire country estate. The movie continues the storyline in 1927 when King George V and Queen Mary and their court sojourns with the Crawley family. The event might affect significantly to Branson’s life – if there is another movie.

“He is seeing everything for the first time in the same way that the audience are. And that was kind of interesting about Tom Branson and possibly also why Julian Fellowes made him Irish. It allowed him to jump that class barrier because he was already an outsider, even downstairs, so when he did jump it, it probably wasn’t as jarring within the storytelling,” Leech tells HFPA journalist Gabrielle Donnelly.

Like Branston, Leech is born in Ireland. Acting started to interest him at the age of eleven when he played the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz”.

“I’d never done a play in that way before and I got very excited about the idea of acting and being on stage and being able to completely lose yourself in this world. I found it awfully fascinating to use imagination in that way.”

He met a schoolmate’s dad after one of the shows. He was an actor. “And then it hit me, you can do that for living. I was just fascinated from that point on and then any work experience we had in school I tried to get in theater. I went into the Gate Theater in Dublin and I said, “can I do my work experience here?”

When he got to know the people in the theater they asked Leech to audition for a play, “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Frances McDormand was playing Blanche Dubois. “I got the part. At the time I was quite naïve. I didn’t really know who Frances McDormand was. I think we ran for three months with rehearsals and everything else. Frances McDormand was living very close to where my parents lived so sometimes she used to give me a lift home in her car or in the taxi.”

Leech’s parents insisted he get an education before he concentrating on acting.  “I got into Dundee University for architecture or engineering. I was fascinated by that.  Before I got Downton my mom used to always go, “you know maybe you should look into architecture again.” Maybe two years before Downton started I’d just done The Tudors, I was back in Ireland and I think I was going to the shops with her. And she bumped into one of her friends and she turned around, “this is my son Allen, he could have been an architect.”  Once Downton came out that rapidly changed to “this is my son Allen who is in Downton Abbey. But I always remind her of that; he could have been an architect.”

Listen to the podcast and hear if whether he talked about the English Class System with Elizabeth McGovern; how he keeps in touch with Downton Abbey cast; what kind of childhood he had; what kind of memories he has from school; why d he visited his old teacher in hospice; what Frances McDormand said to him at the Golden Globes; why theatre was a great foundation; why he moved to London - and why he was nervous when he moved to London; why he thought about quitting acting and what made him change his mind; why Bryan Cranston’s advice was important; why the first season of Downton Abbey was nerve-wracking for him; what kind of feedback he got about Downton Abbey from an American customs agent; how he got a role in Bohemian Rhapsody; what kind of praise Brian May gave him; how he met his wife, Jessica; when he knew he wanted to marry her; how the wedding was connected to the Golden Globes; how he feels about being married; how he feels about becoming a father; whether he enjoys living in Los Angeles; and what he is doing next.