If you’re a huge Downton Abbey” fan (like me), you won’t want to miss Lesley Nicol (the beloved Mrs. Patmore) this spring at the McKittrick Hotel. The classic thespian brings her real-life experiences to the New York stage with the original music she created for the production with Mark Mueller.
I got the chance to interview the star (and I’m still quietly squealing about it) about the production, the music and what’s in store for “Downton Abbey” fans when the new feature film “Downton Abbey: A New Era” hits theaters this May. Be sure to catch her New York City run of “How the Hell Did I Get Here?” from April 27 to May 8 in the Club Car!
Lesley Nicol Brings “How the Hell Did I Get Here?” to NYC This Spring
What inspired you to turn your personal journey into a musical?
Nicol: I was at a party with my friend, composer Mark Mueller, in Los Angeles. I mentioned to him that I wanted to write a show and he suggested that we meet to talk about it. Mark is a fantastic talent – he has had a long successful career. I never intended to write a musical, we started out thinking maybe we would have one or two songs in the show, and it just grew from there.
Mark would hear a story, go home, and the next day come in with a fully written song about that experience. And we would tweak the lyrics together. Once he started, he just couldn’t stop! We now have ten fantastic songs written just for me.
I love the title; it feels so relatable. Can you tell us what inspired it?
Nicol: While the show is my life story, it’s deliberately not “The Lesley Nicol show.” It’s a universal story about how we are all on the same journey; we all have our ups and downs. I hope that people will see themselves in the show. It’s just about being human. So the title is really a statement about all of us! I am pretty sure it came about because I was telling him a story one day, and like we’ve all probably said many times in our life, said, “how the hell did I get here!?” And we said, “ooh, that sounds like it might be the title!”
How has the production changed from your original concept for “How the Hell Did I Get Here?”
Nicol: The main difference is the amount of music in the show, but more recently, we’ve added a young director called Luke Kernaghan to the project. Together with Luke’s design team, it’s become more of a theatrical experience. We’ve had a number of false starts because of Covid (we were supposed to premiere the show in June 2020), but it feels that everything has come together at the right time. I describe the show as a bit of a hug, and who doesn’t need a hug right now?
Were there any parts of the show that were easier to write? Any parts that were more difficult?
Nicol: Not really. We were asked to extend it slightly—and we had to have a hard think about that, to make sure what we added really earned its place in the show.
How do you approach writing about yourself and doing so in a way that is emotionally relatable?
Nicol: Because I wanted the show to be universal, it is really important to me that we address the idea that if something hasn’t happened to you by a certain age, then it’s not going to happen for you. That’s absolute rubbish. The idea that a big success can only happen to you early in life, or if you haven’t met your person by a certain age, then that’s you done. I met my husband in my early 50s, and “Downton Abbey” came along for me later in my career.
So, I hope that what we’ve written is a show that tells you not to listen to those that say you can’t, especially those that say you can’t because you are of a certain age. Every single word of this show is true—everything I talk about happened. It’s authentic and honest – we’ve not made anything up. And I think that is really important.
My family and I absolutely adore Downton Abbey. We’ve made a tradition out of binge-watching together at the holidays. Would you mind telling me about the experience of coming back for a second feature film?
Nicol: What a great tradition! It was such a great job to come back to—especially after Covid—it’s been such a huge part of my life for over ten years, and my only complaint would be that filming a movie is so much quicker than a TV show, so it was over too quickly. We are all like a family, and it was like a family reunion shooting the sequel. I heard Michelle Dockery say the other day, “it’s joyful when we get back together”—and that sums it up beautifully.