While chatting up her role as Miss Havisham in Masterpiece Classic’s upcoming Great Expectations in this week’s TV Guide Magazine, former X-Files star Gillian Anderson dropped an equally great tidbit: She’d been offered the role of Cora Crawley in Downton Abbey. Forget being shocked about Agent Scully living at Downton — Anderson has acted in enough English period miniseries in the last decade to make her a welcomed face in the genre (she even used to host Masterpiece Classic). And she could certainly play an excellent determined buccaneer.
But what kind of Cora Crawley would she have made? Anderson has a similar British-tinged American accent to the current Lady Grantham, Emmy-nominated Elizabeth McGovern. Yet, I doubt her Cora would have been all tilted head and soft sighs like McGovern’s (“Oh, Robert, the girls…”). Take Anderson’s current role as literature’s most famous jilted bride in Expectations. She’s one oddly ravishing Miss Havisham (chapped lips do not an ugly spinster make), the potty and vengeful matriarch of Charles Dickens’ Satis House — and it makes for a ravishingly good, strange, and standout performance. Plus any dedicated Downton fan will tell you that gingers and blondes simply do not fare well at the abbey (Rosamund, Lavinia, Ethel, Anna, need I go on?). So, there’s no doubt Anderson’s Cora would be very different. But how different — or how much better or worse, you tell me.