Actor Playing ‘Downton Abbey’ Jazz Singer Inspired by Many Musicians
The jazz singer that Gary Carr plays in “Downton Abbey” is not based on a single individual, the actor said during an Internet chat with fans this week.
“My character was built upon studies of many different jazz singers of the time,” said Carr, 27, who plays band leader Jack Ross, the first black cast member on the hit PBS series. He joined “Downton” in its fourth season, which began airing in the U.S. last month.
“I’m a big fan of jazz from that period. So I was inspired by a lot of the less-known singers also,” he added.
The London-born actor said he had not watched “Downton” before he got the part. “I had to do a very intense watch through the seasons.”
Carr said he never felt like he was the “new guy” on the set. “They were so welcoming. Also, everyone is very down-to-earth and there is a humble vibe on set so you feel as though you’re on the same playing field as everyone else.”
When his agent told him about the role, he was out of town so he sent a tape of himself singing. A week later, he went in for an interview and he found out he had the job a day later.
To prepare for the part, Carr researched various aspects of the 1920s, including the political and social climates, in addition to the music. “I studied the lives of jazz singers who would tour Europe and … what I learned was life was big ride for them. They’d seen the dark side of humanity … but touring the world playing jazz, it was a truly carefree way of living. A great escapism if you like.”
Carr said he worked on his character a bit with the show’s historian Alastair Bruce, “but there wasn’t much work to do in the sense that the British aristocracy had so many rules and customs whereas a character like Jack didn’t. So I got away with a lot when it came to manners and etiquette.
“Jack is a soul guy, he flows his soul, his life is music,” he added. “He’s extremely well-traveled and educated, which is why he fits in regardless of the color of his skin.”
Asked what makes his character so charming, Carr said, “I think his carefree way of being. His love and confidence in life. Those are very cool qualities. He’s not bound by much. He’s on the earth to live and enjoy life and to love as well.”
The actor did work with composer Simon Whiteside on his singing for the show. Whiteside “was very passionate about Jack having a specific tone to his voice. Very similar to the jazz singers you’ll find in the smaller European clubs. A lot of twang rather than bass.
“My singing voice is completely different to Jack’s. I have more of a baritone and soul tone with bass whereas Jack is very tenor and more twang.”
Carr praised “Downton” creator Julian Fellowes’ “open mindedness” for adding a black character to the ensemble.
One part of the show he enjoys is the costumes. “The clothes are great! We don’t make clothes like that anymore. Everything feels like it was made to fit just you. You feel smart and dapper immediately.”
Asked what other time period he would like to depict, he mentioned the 1970s. “I saw ‘American Hustle’ the other day. I love that period for the aesthetic, music, lifestyle!!”
Carr currently is appearing in “The Pass,” a play about gay athletes, in London. After that, he has roles in two feature films. “In between, I hope to continue on my music and I’m launching my charity foundation this year also: The Beautiful World Foundation.” The foundation aims to help people in the developing world.
In addition to working in the theater, Carr has had roles on British TV series, including “Bluestone 42” and “Death in Paradise.” He studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art from 2005 to 2008.