Doncaster actor Thomas Howes happily admits he will be ‘going over the top’ when he returns to our TV screens next month in the much-anticipated second series of Downton Abbey.
After making his major TV breakthrough as a footman in the first series of the costume drama last year, young Thomas has been enjoying more of an action role after being dragged into the horrors of First World War trench warfare.
His character, William, is initially forbidden by his father from volunteering for the Army but when he is presented with a white feather, branding him a coward, he goes against his family and enlists.
The new Downton Abbey, due to start in mid-September, moves on to 1916 with several of the characters from the stately home suffering the hell of the Battle of the Somme.
The Woodlands-born actor, who recently appeared as the Manchester United captain Mark Jones in another TV drama, United, says that William departs “filled with hope and patriotism and thinking it will just be a great adventure”.
“Because at that time they were so used to just taking orders from their masters, they didn’t question it - the orders came from above and they were followed,” he said. “They felt it was an honour to go out and fight. One of the interesting things about the show is that, in the first series, that is how it is and it is unquestioned.”
Thomas filmed several scenes in trenches near Ipswich, which he found fascinating.
“I like all that stuff. I’ve always got into stunts. Even at drama school, I was falling down trap doors, swinging in on ropes. I really love a challenge, but in Downton it was really hard going because there’s no CGI - what you see is what you get.
“These were real explosions right in front of our faces, and you just had to make sure you cleared out of the way.
“There was one scene I adored where I had to run and dive under a cart, which then exploded over my head.
“So I had to have earplugs in and crouch down really low very quickly because the whole thing went off over me. Then I had to reach straight out and fire a rifle for real, and they’ve got quite a kick.
“I hope it will look amazing because we really are going through those extremes.
“To film it was quite tricky. But it was worth it because I think we got some really good footage.
“It was a really great experience to film.
“The fact we get a war drama as well as a period drama is such a privilege.”