"Nothing in the town is what it seems, from the mayor all the way down," promises Allen Leech about his new mysterious CBC drama Bellevue. The Irish actor swapped the country-chic tweed jackets and formal tails of Downton Abbey for flannel and puffer vests to step into the role of Anna Paquin's on-screen estranged lover, Eddie, in the eight-part Canadian series.
"Their relationship is really fragile and tense and it’s almost like they need to be away from each other but they can’t leave each other," the 35-year-old tells Hello! Canada, adding that it was the complexity of the character that had him eager to pack his bags for Montreal, where the series was filmed.
"I [also] love that the main character is a woman who doesn’t have it all together. I thought it was such an honest portrayal," says the actor. To say the show's leading lady Annie Ryder (Anna Paquin) is having a few bad days on the job is an understatement. While investigating the case of a missing teenager, the police detective and mother of one finds herself at the centre of a lifelong mystery rooted in her father's death.
"Anna is an absolute force in this show and she brings this character to life in a such a believable way," notes Allen. "She is absolutely brilliant."
Also brilliant is Allen's memorable turn as Tom Branson on all six seasons of the hit period drama Downton Abbey. Naturally, our conversation turned to Maggie Smith and co., with the handsome actor sharing what he knows about the hotly rumoured follow-up film.
Here, Allen also opens up about his first experience with a Quebec winter and why his beloved mother is his biggest fan and best critic.
Is Bellevue the first project you've worked on in Canada? Yes! I absolutely loved it. Montreal is incredible. The only thing is, the time they chose to shoot it was coming into December. Night shoots in mid-December wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had in my life but I have to say, I love the Canadian people and the crew were brilliant.
The wardrobe in the series is much different than that of Downton. Do you miss the costumes? When you get to throw on a pair of jeans and a Henley shirt and you don't have to spend 45 minutes getting into 1920s black tie, it's an absolute joy (Laughs). It also takes infinitely less time to put the microphone on as well.
Will we see you getting back into Tom's wardrobe anytime soon? I know as much as you do at this stage. Everyone keeps talking about a script that no one has read. I think a lot of the cast are up for it and if we can get everyone together and if the script is good, why not have a bit of fun? We all had dinner as a cast just after Christmas and I asked Maggie Smith, “Would you do a movie?’ and she said, “I mean, I’d rather die, darling.” So I think we’d probably have to start with her funeral.
Will your family get to watch this made-in-Canada production? Well, my mom loved Downton because she said “You’re not nude and you don’t swear,” so I don’t think I can show her Bellevue [Laughs].
Is she one of your most important critics? She’s quite an interesting critic. Whenever Downton was on she used to ring me wherever I was in the world and say, “You were good in that scene and you were good in this scene.” And I’d say, “I was in a lot more scenes than that” and she’d say, “I know.” Sometimes she wouldn’t ring at all!
Is that a bad sign? I think that’s a bad sign. My mother would be the woman who would think if you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all. So that was obviously her take on that.
Do you have a favourite moment or memory from your time on Downton? I couldn’t really pick one. I remember the first press tour that Michelle [Dockery], Hugh [Bonneville] and I were on in the States and we just looked at each other like “How is this coming out of that show we make in that house?”
We always really enjoyed every moment and none of us ever took it for granted. I got to travel all around the world and feel people’s affection for the show and I’ve never been part of something before that touched people's hearts so much. Rather than one place or occasion, it’s any time people come up and say they love Downton. It's really special and I don’t think you always get things like that in your life.