Robert James-Collier interview: ‘Downton’ star on his new drama ‘The Inheritance’

Robert James-Collier returns to our screens next week in The Inheritance!

The 46-year-old English actor is best known for playing Thomas Barrow in all six seasons of Downton Abbey, and its two subsequent movie spin-offs.

He’s also appeared in Fate: The Winx Saga, Ackley Bridge, and Coronation Street, as well as episodes of Death in Paradise, Vera, and Shameless.

Now he’s back in Channel 5’s new four-part thriller from Doc Martin writer Aschlin Ditta, reuniting with his Downton co-star Samantha Bond.

Watch the trailer here:

The Inheritance follows the story of three siblings who are left reeling after the unexpected death of their father.

When it turns out they are not left anything in the will, they embark on a dangerous journey to figure out whether his death was truly a tragic accident, or whether it was in fact murder. So, a family who look harmonious and loving start to show the cracks borne of years of secrets and jealousy.

Secrets are exploded, relationships ripped apart, and lives lost as the siblings try desperately to claw back their inheritance and make sense of what is happening around them… asking the question, is blood really thicker than water?

The Inheritance begins in the UK at 9pm on Monday 4 September on Channel 5.

Here Robert James-Collier chats about his role as Daniel in the show…


What first intrigued you about this drama?

“It’s a story about the fallout from a will, and that’s something that most of us will experience at some point – people inevitably die and there will always be wills, and there will always be some kind of friction around them.

“I’ve not been through this yet, but I have friends who have fallen out with family members over wills. You can uncover an ugly side of people when money is on the table, money is a corrupter after all.

“So, as in our drama, you can have what looks like a normal, middle-class family who would say they’d never fall out about a legacy, and then they inevitably do.

“There are loads of twists and turns in the drama too, which will make it great to watch. I definitely didn’t envisage the story ending up where it did, it was non-stop. You have no way of knowing where it’s going.”


How would you describe Daniel?

“I have some sympathy with Daniel, but if I’m being honest he is quite selfish. It becomes apparent that he’s used his dad all his life.

“He kept taking from the pot, only thinking of himself and his ego. He’s quite focused and singular, and he lets his passion overrule his brain.”


How does he react in the aftermath of his dad’s death?

“It’s a weird situation for him, because when the pressure is on self-preservation kicks in – it’s like he shelves what he thought about his dad, and his immediate concern is that he needs the inheritance because his business is going to go bust.

“That fight or flight instinct overtakes his emotions for his father, but as the story unfolds we begin to see more of the grief.

“And it’s not just the grief of losing someone – as secrets are revealed he has to contend with the fact that the person he’s grieving for is a completely different man to the one he thought he knew. That must be a really tough place to be in.”


It’s interesting to see adult sibling relationships explored on screen isn’t it?

“Yes, I have siblings and I could definitely draw on the odd bickering row with them! But after you’ve slept on it you all just crack on and realise you’re overreacting a bit.

“Also, for me personally, I would say 60-70% of my scenes across my career have been played opposite men, so one of the reasons I was keen on this job was the chance to play most of my scenes opposite two sisters, played by Gaynor and Jemima.

“It was really fun and a different dynamic – I’ve observed that female actors tend to work differently to men, often in a more collaborative way, and that was fantastic.

“It was also quite a bizarre experience, because we got on really well, so we’d going from bickering one minute in the scene to calling cut and then just chatting about houses! It was definitely nice to see the dynamic between brothers and sisters explored as the main crux of the story.”


Did you have to learn any cooking skills to play a professional chef?

“Well, they asked me if I was OK cooking on camera, and I said I was… then on the day I realised I wasn’t! Well not at the speed and with the level of finesse required.

“It’s really hard to chop an onion super-fast when there’s a massive camera on you. Thankfully, we were filming at a proper restaurant and a couple of the chefs stood in for me for the close-up work.

“One of them had a tattoo on his hands, and his hands were arguably twice the size of mine, so I’m not sure how that’s going to work for continuity! They kept trying to teach me and then just looking at me in dismay.

“It was quite harsh because my very first scene was flambeeing Crepe Suzette, and I was like “Are you having a laugh? Can we not start with peeling spuds?!” I did get the flame going and I managed to get it in one take, but the professionals still weren’t that impressed!


It must have been interesting filming in a professional kitchen?

“Yes, there’s a great camaraderie in kitchens but it’s also a very focussed environment, the chefs are under constant pressure to deliver top cuisine while working 14-16 hour shifts.

“It was fantastic to watch because at the top level those chefs are like artisans, what they can do with food is just extraordinary, both in terms of how it looks and how it tastes. I really drew off that level of focus, they operate with military precision.”


Did you enjoy filming in Ireland?

“Yes, we were in Kilkenny, which was stunning. I’d never been there before – my mum’s Irish so I know Ireland quite well, she’s from Donegal and I’ve filmed in Dublin a lot, but not Kilkenny.

There’s a beautiful town, a historic castle and Kilkenny has got 67 pubs and restaurants all within walking distance, so if you like a drink it’s a great town.

“It crossed my mind to try to visit all 67, but we were only there for a few weeks so I thought that would be ridiculous – you’d need to be filming a long Marvel series to achieve that!

“We did have some great meals out with whoever was around, but particularly me, Gaynor [Faye] and Sam Bond, it was really nice.”


What do you hope viewers will most enjoy about The Inheritance?

“I hope they invest in the relationship we’ve created between the siblings. At the heart of it this is a family drama focusing on your average family facing huge life events.

“I think the series is quite a truthful portrait of a family’s response to a will, because wills can really mess up families, and that’s fascinating to explore.

“Hopefully it will resonate with the audience if they’ve been through something similar, and they’ll know these things can get really nasty.

“Some people might even be changing their wills after watching the show too, they might think, “Wait a minute – if that’s how my family is going to react I might need to change it!”

“But seriously it is food for thought because it is such a common thing and it’s not been explored a lot on TV.

“I also know that the series is going to look amazing because our director has a lot of experience on Scandinavian indie films, which look incredible and he brought those standards to our set. It was like being in a Scandi film on a TV budget which is no mean feat.”


Did your role as Thomas in Downton Abbey change your career?

“I certainly think it created more awareness and exposure – Downton is a brand and if you belong to that brand it definitely leads to more opportunities.

“It’s just about picking the right opportunity because it can lead to jobs in other fields beyond acting too.

“Early doors when Downton was in its second and third season there would be a lot of offers coming in for me to play the villain, which is quite understandable, but since then I’ve been able to show a different side to me too, so I get offered different roles.

“I always knew Downton was going to be huge because of the all-star British cast in it, with people like Maggie Smith and Jim Carter, and everything was right behind the scenes too.

“Throw in an Oscar winner’s script and we’d have been doing something drastically wrong if it had failed. It was great to be part of it.

“I don’t know if there’s going to be a third film yet, but if there is I’d love for Thomas to come back.”


The complete Downton Abbey box set is available on DVD on Amazon.