Being told to “Call him Julian” was probably one of the more shocking interactions I’ve ever had with a publicist. On the surface, my statement seems rather odd, but when the person we were referencing is an Oscar winner and a member of the House of Lords, at the very least, I would have expected that I’d call him Mr. Fellowes. However, about 3 seconds into my discussion with the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Gosford Park, it made perfect sense. Julian is a very humble man and isn’t someone who seems too interested in titles. Besides, if I had referred to him by his proper title, Lord Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, Baron Fellowes of West Strafford, I’d undoubtedly have mangled it.
Fellowes spent a portion of his childhood outside of the United Kingdom. His family was the British Land Gentry in Cairo, Egypt. His father was a diplomat. His Great-Grandfather was the founder of Downtown Agricultural College. I guess being associated with Downton is his DNA.
A large portion of his life was spent living in Chiddingly, East Sussex. During this period, his family befriended David Kingsley, President of British Lion Films, who jettisoned the likes of Peter Sellers to superstardom. Seeing this type of success occur had an impact on Fellowes.
Having studied at Webster Academy of Dramatic Art, he decided it was time to jump to Hollywood. Julian had several minor roles and was even considered a replacement for Herve Villechaize when he left Fantasy Island, but the part ended up going to Christopher Hewett. He didn’t end up moving back to the United Kingdom until 1987. He wrote the screenplay for Gosford Park in 2002, leading him to win an Oscar for his original screenplay. That success, plus the popularity of a show he created called Julian Fellowes Investigates: A Mysterious Murder which he wrote and introduced on-screen, got him on Hollywood’s radar, but it was British television company ITV who was able to secure the rights to his latest project, Downtown Abbey. ITV gave him the green light to make Downton Abbey around 2010. The success and critical acclaim it received made Fellowes one of the hottest names in Entertainment.
The success of Downton allowed Fellowes to have numerous opportunities to pursue projects in film, television, and theater. In 2015, it was announced that The Gilded Age was coming to NBC. Would it be a prequel to Downton? Fellowes was quick to shoot down that rumor. It did seem, though, that this would take some time to get off the ground. Julian spent much of our discussion outlining how meticulous he is when crafting his projects. With The Gilded Age, it was even more complex as he was very focused on making sure the series was historically accurate. Changes in the upper management at NBC ultimately led to The Gilded Age moving to HBO. NBC/Universal’s loss was Time Warner Discovery’s gain. It’s hard even to imagine a show like this on network television.
Fellowes shared that the move to HBO allowed them to ramp up activities towards the beginning of production. Then the pandemic happened, and everything was shut down. While Julian was still trying to figure out how to move forward in these circumstances, he shared that his casting director gave him the idea to seek theater actors for his series as Broadway and the West End were shut down. Julian proudly asked me, “ How many shows can say that they have seven Tony winners in their cast?” He had a point. A cast with the likes of Carrie Coon, Christine Baranski, Audra McDonald, and Denée Benton doesn’t usually happen. For Fellowes, he already has his 2nd season pretty much locked in and has a rough outline of what a third series would look like. Julian won’t begin writing the third series until it is, in his words, “commissioned.” With the number of fans and critical acclaim, The Gilded Age has received, it’s just a matter of time.
Julian Fellowes is Emmy eligible for Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series (episode “Face the Music”), both for The Gilded Age.