As millions eagerly anticipate the return of Downton Abbey for its third season PBS, Out caught up with Rob James-Collier, the actor who plays the villainous gay footman-turned-valet, Thomas. He's featured on the February 2013 cover of the magazine and gave a cheerful, fun interview about his time acting on the series with Aaron Hicklin, Out's editor in chief .
As James-Collier and the show moved into season 2, he joked that his character’s sexuality became so muted that he called up creator Julian Fellowes, and asked, “Am I still gay?” Yes, as it turns out.
In season 3, we get to see Thomas outed in a powerful sequences of episodes that James-Collier considers the best acting of his career. “It’s the series where we really get to grips with Thomas’s sexuality and the impact that must have had on him, being gay in Edwardian times,” he says. “If you’re including a gay character, there’s an onus and responsibility to at least show what the impact of the time will be on him, and of him on that time. Thankfully we’ve done that, and I’m so proud as an actor that I’ve been used to tell that tale.”
A confrontation between Thomas and the butler, Mr. Carson, proves to be a high point, and one that confers uncommon dignity on the footman. “It’s a lovely, beautiful moment,” says James-Collier, clearly delighted by the opportunity to redeem his character. “If you were gay in those times, the fact that you’re even functioning, how you’re not completely fucked up by that, is beyond me.”
Read the full story, "Oh, You Handsome Devil!" here.
Season 3 of Downton Abbey premieres Sunday, January 6 on PBS.