Dishing with a Downton Abbey Star

Lunch At Michaels

LunchAtMichaelsThere are Michael’s lunches and then there are Michael’s lunches. Over the course of all the years I’ve been chronicling the scene on Wednesdays at 55th and Fifth for this column, I’ve had plenty of occasion to dine and dish with the famous and infamous, strivers and stars and more than my fair share of pop cultural icons. When I think about what I love most about this gig, I have to paraphrase Forrest Gump: Each Wednesday at Michael’s is like a box of (very expensive) chocolates because you never know what you’re going to get. Today, I got the chance to spend a delightful few hours with Lesley Nicol, who plays Mrs. Patmore, the blustery and big-hearted cook on Downton Abbey, my absolute favorite television show. As anyone who follows my posts on Facebook and minute-by-minute recaps for XFinity knows, I am beyond obsessed with the PBS hit, so I was more than a little excited about the chance to have a lengthy sitdown with one of my favorite actors of the series. And Lesley didn’t disappoint.

Diane Clehane and Lesley Nicol
Diane Clehane and Lesley Nicol
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She arrived — and looked quite chic in leather pants and high heel boots! — right on the dot of 12:15 for our lunch and promptly charmed everyone in the place, telling GM Steve Millington the dining room was “gorgeous” and graciously chatting with a few fans who stopped by the table to say their hellos. As she looked around the mercifully subdued dining room, I explained that Michael’s was the place to be for all sorts of movers and shakers and, of course, the random celebrity. “Joan Collins was here a few weeks ago,” I told her searching my mental Rolodex for the name of a British star I could mention. “Probably ate a few lettuce leaves,” said Lesley. I knew I’d love her.

We quickly dispensed with ordering (Dover sole for two) and settled in for our chat — and after five minutes I felt as if I’d known her forever. Lesley told me she was in town for a flurry of meetings with her new New York agents at Bauman Redanty & Shaul, who she’d hadn’t yet met, and with casting director Avy Kaufman. Her PR rep, Andrew Freedman, who moved his firm from New York to Los Angeles a few years ago, had managed to arrange our lunch between all these big doings.  She’d also found time to take in a Brooklyn production of Julius Caesar, whose all-female cast included her good friend Susan Brown as Casca. But, she confided, she was really looking forward to tonight’s after-party for Thor on the off chance she’d get to meet her celeb crush, Sir Anthony Hopkins, who appears in the film. “He is just gorgeous,” she said as she speared a Brussels sprout, “If he’s there, I’ll probably be too tongue tied. I’ll just drop down and die.”

Her own encounters with Downton fans have been “wonderfully positive,” said Lesley. “I don’t get recognized a lot at home (in London). Last night at the theater, I saw a man who was looking over at me, and he got that look and then he said,  ‘I love you’ and I said, ‘I love you, too.’ I think it was lovely of him.” As for the difference between the show’s British and U.S.-based fans, Lesley explained, “It’s a breath of fresh air being here, really. [America] celebrates success while in Britain some of the reviews can be a bit vicious.” One reviewer, she said, inexplicably compared cinematic Downton  to UK soap Crossroads, which is known for its “wobbly sets.” Said Lesley: “They actually called Downton ‘Crossroads with butlers.’ I think that’s rather harsh.” Luckily, the show’s fans are universally rabid about the show. Lesley told me her most surprising fan encounter — besides learning that a woman in the UK had created a Mrs. Patmore porcelain figurine she was selling online (“I think they’ve told her to stop”) — happened at Costco in Los Angeles, where a young Mexican girl “who couldn’t have been more than 17” was checking her membership card at the door and asked, “Are you Mrs. Patmore?” Upon learning she was face to face with one of the actors from her favorite show, the girl said, “My whole family loves your show. We watch it together.” Marvels Lesley: “I thought it was wonderful to think of this Mexican family in California sitting around watching our show.” Lesley also told me she’s traded tweets with Chelsea Clinton, who told her Downton was a family favorite.