*An executive producer of TV’s hottest series “Downton Abbey” said the decision to cast its first actor of color did not come from outside pressure to make the show more diverse.
The BBC series, which airs in the States under PBS’ “Masterpiece” banner, follows a family of English aristocrats and their servants in a countryside estate during the early 20th century. The show remains loyal to the racial makeup of the era. A compound like Downton Abbey would not have black servants, and the upstairs folk rarely had social interactions with anyone of African descent – unless the family members visited London clubs to hear African American jazz singers.
Enter London-born actor Gary Carr, who joins the series for its upcoming fourth season as “a charming and charismatic” jazz singer named Jack Ross.
However, executive producer Gareth Neame said the casting of Carr was not the result of cries for more diversity. Joining five of the show’s actresses at Tuesday’s Television Critics Association press tour, Neame would only echo sentiments expressed by the show’s creator, Julian Fellowes, who has said in past interviews that he wanted to include more black and Asian characters if he could do so in a manner that was “historically believable.”
“Downton Abbey” returns to PBS on Sunday, Jan. 5.