Rob James-Collier of ‘Downton Abbey’

Celebrity Q&A, Featured Article
on February 13, 2013
Downton Abbey Joss Barratt Photographer

What can you tell me about the actor who plays Thomas Barrow on “Downton Abbey.”
—Kenneth Ambrose, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Rob James-Collier, 36, is actually nothing like the character he plays on “Downton Abbey.” He is not gay, for one thing, and he’s “not evil and twisted. I am actually a nice guy.

“You have no reason to believe that,” he says. “You have no proof, but I am giving you my word.”

Born in Salford, England, James-Collier had no early interest in pursuing acting as a career. In fact, he began a career in business—earning a degree in marketing from the University of Manchester—before realizing it wasn’t for him.

“The British show ‘The Office’ was on at the time, and I was looking at it with its crazy hideous characters and thought, ‘Those characters are exactly the same as the ones in my office.’ That is why it was so successful. It was art imitating life. I just didn’t fit into a 9 to 5 from day one. It wasn’t me. So I started looking for something.”

As hard as it is to believe, James-Collier let his fingers do the walking through the yellow pages to select an acting teacher. But it worked. He studied for a year and a half before inviting an agent to see him. Out of his class of 15, he was the only one chosen, and three auditions later, he landed his first job for the BBC on “Down to Earth,” which was a six-month job.

Next he landed a role on the British soap opera “Coronation Street,” which was his first big break. After two years on the soap, he decided to leave. It was 18 nail-biting months of wondering if he had made the right decision before “Downton Abbey” came along.

Now, with “Downton Abbey” bringing him international attention, the actor, who didn’t land his first role until he was 28, is looking forward to the chance to work in the U.S.

“I am not super gifted with accents,” admits the father of one son. “I am not one of these people who can listen to something and pick it up straight away. We are doing [season] four of ‘Downton,’ so I will be doing that for six months. For the immediate future, my career is still British-based, but I will be going to a dialect coach to fill in the time and prepare.”