“It’s good to be brave and to follow your heart, and stick up for what you believe in.” Laura Carmichael says that’s the message of A United Kingdom, the political yet romantic drama that sees the actress best known for playing Downton Abbey’s Lady Edith leaving high society behind to immerse herself in the early days of 1940s apartheid.
Laura, 30, plays Muriel Williams, the sister of the English woman who (in real life) challenged colonial racism to marry Seretse Khama, who would become King of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) in 1948.
Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo play the star-crossed lovers who overcame immeasurable hurdles to find their happily ever after. “I didn’t know the story,” says Laura, but “I’m really excited for people to know it because it’s such an incredible moving tale.”
We spoke with the engaging British actress ahead of the film’s world première at the Toronto International Film Festival, where she reflected on the courageous women of A United Kingdom, Hollywood glamour and life after Downton.
What was it about this project that made you want to be part of it?
It’s such an extraordinary story. I just couldn’t believe that it was based on true events and I was very moved by it. It was a thrill to play a real-life person and to look into the Williams sisters and imagine this life that was very extraordinary.
‘The red carpet is still nerve-racking! It would be a crazy thing to get completely used to it, but I enjoy it. I feel very lucky’
Your co-star David Oyelowo has said this is his passion project. Did it feel that way on set?
Absolutely. It’s been a project that he has been developing for a long time. Rosamund and I really wanted to honour these women. It’s something we talked about. Getting the sister relationship right felt very important to us as well.
With more movies come more red carpet premières! Are you accustomed to all the attention yet?
It’s still nerve-racking! It would be a crazy thing to get completely used to it, but I enjoy it. I feel very lucky I’ve gotten to know a very good team of people to help me gear up for events, so it’s become something to look forward to.
Do you have a style icon?
Without sounding too cheesy, my grand- mothers were always so glamorous and inspired me as a kid to make the most of it. It wasn’t about buying expensive clothes, it was about feel- ing good in what you were wearing and taking pleasure in it.
Looking back at your time on Downton Abbey, is there something that you learned from your castmates that you still carry with you?
I felt really lucky because it was like a training ground to work with such brilliant and experienced actors. They’re all so kind and [showed me that] working on-set can be a really beautiful thing. You get to know one another and support one another. So I hope that’s something I’ll always feel.
Highclere Castle, where much of Downton Abbey was filmed, is now open to the public. Have you ever been on a tour?
You know, we got a voucher saying you can come back once. I haven’t used mine yet, but I look forward to it. [Laughs]