Why Michelle Dockery Likes to Be Surprised by Letty’s Choices on ‘Good Behavior’ (Exclusive)

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Michelle Dockery
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On the TNT series Good Behavior, which returns with season two on Oct. 15, Michelle Dockery -- best known for playing the coolly aristocratic Lady Mary Crawley on Downton Abbey -- returns as Letty Raines, an American con artist sprung from prison with the intent of applying her relatively limited resources, chief among them her wits, to a fresh start.

It’s a 180-degree turn from her Downton character, says Dockery, who in fact was offered the part just as Downton was coming to an end in 2015. “But what I love about Letty and Mary is that they’re both complex, deeply flawed women,” she says. 

And like Lady Mary, who thawed substantially over six seasons, Letty is evolving. In this new season, having regained custody of her young son, Jacob (played by Nyles Steele), Letty aims to establish at least a semblance of domestic stability with her hired-assassin lover, Javier (Juan Diego Botto). 

But shunning crime and settling into a normal family life don’t prove easy tasks for Letty, whose complicated relationship with her own mother, Estelle (Lusia Strus), is also further explored. “Letty has a tumultuous background,” Dockery explains. “From the moment she could find her independence, she was on a rampage, wanting to rebel. I love the grifter in her, the sense of survival. She’s super-intelligent, and that makes her an outsider. It’s impossible for Letty to be normal -- it’s not in her blood.”

Dockery adds, “It’s a similar thing with Javier; they live on the outskirts, and that’s what makes them extraordinary. That’s what they learn about themselves. They’re sort of a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde.”

Jacob, meanwhile, “learns more and more about his mom,” Dockery notes. “That she lies. He’s a chip off the old block, in a way; he’s really smart, and having him in the mix makes (Letty and Javier) more vulnerable. It’s a classic case of ‘Be careful what you wish for.’”

Michelle Dockery
From top to bottom: Michelle Dockery on "Downton Abbey," at a Q&A for 'The Sense of an Ending,' on 'Good Behavior,' and on 'Godless.'
PBS / Getty Images / TNT / Netflix

Regarding her own input into Letty’s progress, Dockery feels “it’s really the writer’s job” to develop the character. “But it’s been two years now, and there is a conversation about the journey.” Behavior co-creator, executive producer and showrunner Chad Hodge “is a real collaborator and believes in making the show a team effort -- that input from people in every single department makes the show work.”

Still, Dockery enjoys sharing a certain level of suspense with the audience. “Some actors like to read ahead and always know exactly what they’re doing, where their characters are going. I like to be surprised -- I was like that with Downton Abbey, too. It’s a way of living in the moment with the characters you play. What’s so great about doing a series is that you get to discover things about them down the line.”

The actress had another opportunity to enjoy that process recently when she was cast in the Netflix limited series Godless, co-executive-produced by Steven Soderbergh and Scott Frank, who directed all seven episodes. Set to premiere Nov. 22, Godless once again casts Dockery as an American outcast -- in this case, a widow in a Western mining town where the majority of men have recently been killed in a horrific accident. The character, Alice Fletcher, takes in another seeming drifter, Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell), actually the protégé of notorious outlaw Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels), whose gang seeks revenge on Roy for breaking away.

“Every actress dreams of doing a Western,” says Dockery, who trained at London’s prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama. “And this is such a beautiful story, with a real theme of loss going through it.”

While Dockery is clearly intent on applying her talents to a variety of roles, she still carries a fondness for Lady Mary. Asked if she thinks a widely rumored, eagerly wished-for Downton reunion project will come to fruition, she says, “I can’t really say, but I would love to do it. I really do hope it happens.”