On Sunday, Jan. 6, the U.K. smash-hit Edwardian drama “Downton Abbey” returns for a third season on PBS’ “Masterpiece Classic,” continuing to follow the lives of the aristocratic Crawley clan above stairs, and of their servants below stairs.
One of the fans’ favorite characters is John Bates, a k a Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle), the valet to Lord Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), Earl of Grantham. At the end of Season 2, Bates was wrongly sent to prison for the murder of his vindictive former wife, Vera (Maria Doyle Kennedy). Just before being put behind bars, Bates married his lady love, housemaid Anna May Smith (Joanne Froggett).
Fortunately, though he originally was to hang, Bates’ sentence is commuted to life, preserving the hope that he can be proved innocent and released.
Here’s a few facts about the man who brings Bates to life …
* Brendan Coyle was born to a father from Northern Ireland and a mother from Scotland on Dec. 2, 1963, in Corby, Northamptonshire, England — and not in a hospital.
“I was born in my Granny’s bedroom,” he says, “only because we were snowed in.”
* His mother deserves respect.
“I was 12 pounds,” says Coyle. “My Irish grandfather was very, very tall, but my mum and dad weren’t so tall, so maybe I got it from the milkman. I don’t know.”
* Coyle knows what it’s like to do a hard day’s work.
“My old man was a butcher,” he says. “I was working in his shop from the age of 9. I used to work for a living before I was an actor.”
* While the role of Bates didn’t start out being huge, the first few scripts intrigued Coyle.
“I was really drawn to it,” he says. “I was really curious about what he didn’t say. There were a couple of moments where he really tugged at my heartstrings. Those three episodes, when he was asked to leave, and people didn’t like him because he was a liability, and there’s this little moment, a glimmer, between him and Anna … I just thought, there’s something about this guy I’m really fascinated by.
“What he conceals is as interesting as what he reveals.”
* He’s glad the Anna/Bates romance wasn’t immediately hot and heavy.
“It’s a very slow burn,” says Coyle. “I think that’s what people have been drawn to as well. It’s very incrementally developed, very delicate, very tender, how this relationship grew. It’s lovely.”
* Theorizing what might have drawn Bates and hot-tempered Vera together, Coyle says, “Hell hath no fury. There’s a dark and twisted relationship. We talked about this — I imagine, back in the day, they were probably very passionate and very tempestuous.
“But the flip side of that is dark and troubled and manipulative and controlling and vicious.”
* He’s quite different from Bates at heart, as revealed in a quiz that told users what “Downton Abbey” character they most resembled.
“I did take that quiz, and I was Lady Mary,” he says, referring to Lord Robert’s strong-willed eldest daughter, played by Michelle Dockery. “She’s quite rebellious, isn’t she, Lady Mary? There you go, I’m a pain in the a**. Belligerent Paddy.”