Dame Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Danny Boyle speak to Downton Abbey’s Jim Carter

Downton Abbey's Jim Carter

Downton Abbey's Jim Carter - Credit: ITV

Bridget Galton talks to actor Jim Carter who is hosting a series of Q&As with top names in aid of his local theatre The Tricycle

Jim Carter says he “should be the only nervous one” when he hosts a series of Q&As with directors Paul Greengrass and Danny Boyle, and dynamic dames: Maggie Smith and Judi Dench

But he’s such a genial interviewee himself, it seems likely he’ll put his famous guests at ease during the In Conversation sessions in aid of The Tricycle Theatre.

The West Hampstead resident hosted similar talks at his local theatre two years ago to help with the cost of staging original drama.

“The last series with major figures in the industry went well and I wanted to give the theatre ongoing support. It’s closed for a major capital project but the cinema is still open and it helps to keep the building alive. It’s an amazing place that is so well respected, its work reaches all over the world.”

First up is Bourne director Greengrass who appears alongside clips of his work.

“I’m a big admirer,” says Carter. “He’s such a fascinating, clever guy, more from a journalistic than a theatre background. I hope film buffs will be excited because the way he shoots films is unique.”

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From Bloody Sunday and The Murder of Stephen Lawrence to the Bourne movies and Captain Phillips, Greengrass is renowned for using hand held camera and favouring fact-based stories.

When Carter worked with him on a TV adaptation of philosophical novel Sophie’s World, he got the script at short notice.

“He said ‘Jim we are doing it in four days next week’. I said it was impossible to learn 50 pages by then and he said ‘don’t worry we’ll chuck it on autocue. Come on let’s dive in and have a go’ He inspires you with confidence.”

Carter played a policeman in 1994’s Open Fire about the mistaken shooting of Stephen Waldorf, which was filmed around Belsize Park.

“He didn’t have time so he sent me off with a cameraman to do linking shots driving around London with me doing the clapper board and ad-libbing radio calls. It’s fantastic to be trusted to do that.”

Of Greengrass’ move to Hollywood, Carter adds: “I have worked on a few American things where the interference from the studio has been evident, but he seems to have managed that very well and kept them at bay. He doesn’t do sexy casting. The Bourne films have Matt Damon but aren’t crammed full of rent a faces.”

Boyle, whose follow up to Trainspotting, T2 is out on January 27, immediately said yes to Carter’s invite eager to support The Tricycle.

“He’s a phenomenon who started off in fringe theatre and has won Oscars but still has his feet on the ground. He has such variety from the Olympics opening ceremony to Slumdog Millionnaire and Trainspotting.”

Carter pulled off a coup persuading the dream team of Smith and Dench to appear. He famously starred as butler Carson alongside Smith in Downton Abbey, but has also appeared with Dench in Shakespeare in Love and costume drama Cranford.

“I’ve known them both a long time and they were straight on the phone to agree. The only issue was finding a date because they both work non stop.”

Carter points out he didn’t so much act opposite Smith as stand behind her. “I was kept in my place by my position as butler but we used to love playing Bananagrams during shoots, which is a less complicated version of Scrabble. The upstairs people were addicted to it whereas downstairs it was more gossip and mucking about.”

The only problem will be narrowing down the 82-year-old’s six decade screen careers.

“It’s more about how they met, the work they have done together and other people they worked with, otherwise you’d be there for six weeks,” says Carter who ascribes their on-screen chemistry to “the fact that they are such old friends”.

“You can see the bond in what they do. They play sisters in Ladies in Lavender and the caring underneath for each other is absolutely evident in that film.”

He adds: “Their age is sort of irrelevant, they are both so energetic, but to have two women of a certain age at the top of their game has set a benchmark and forced the industry to write for them. Who would have thought a story about old folk going to a hotel in India would be such a success?”

Jim Carter is in conversation with Paul Greengrass on February 5, Dame Judi Dench and Maggie Smith on February 26 (now sold out) and Danny Boyle on March 26.

All events start at 5pm. Box office: 020 7328 1000 tricycle.co.uk