Irish actor Allen Leech first gained notoriety for starring as upstart chauffeur Tom Branson on “Downton Abbey.” While that show has slowly crept through the first half of the 20th century, Leech himself is jumping forward a few years with “The Imitation Game,” starring as part of the WWII team of mathematicians who help Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) crack the Nazi Enigma machine.
How much of Alan Turing’s story did you know about before signing on for this?
I knew the name, certain key phrases that would’ve been involved with Enigma. I knew Alan Turing, I knew he’d built a machine, but I certainly didn’t know the extent that he went to during the time at Bletchley Park, how hard he had to fight for the opportunity to make this machine and how hard he’d have to fight for his own existence later on in his life. Turing was a war hero. His work and the work of the people at Bletchley Park ended the war two years early, with an estimated saving of 14 million lives. I mean, anyone who says that Turing isn’t a war hero just has to look at that fact and what they estimated his achievement gave the allies and realize how important he was. Secrets give you power. At the time during the Second World War, if you had knowledge then you became more powerful.
Are you suggesting that you’re holding something over someone right now?
Um … no I’m not, no. (laughs) But you know, in my lifetime have there been moments when I’ve known something that possibly could’ve influenced other people? Yeah. Did I ever act on it? Well, that would be telling. (laughs)
It’s amazing to think how Turing was persecuted, and now we have Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, coming out proudly as gay.
I know, and it’s crazy. It just shows how far we’ve come as a society that we can now turn around and celebrate that rather than what happened to Alan Turing. What could Turing have achieved if he wasn’t put under that medication? If his mind hadn’t been taken from him and he ultimately had no choice but to take his own life? So I think it’s wonderful now that the CEO of Apple can turn around and say, “Yeah, I’m gay” and it be celebrated. I think it’s fantastic. And I read that news off an iPhone, which couldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Turing’s ideas.
Between this film and “Downton Abbey,” are you looking forward to doing something that doesn’t require early 20th century period clothing?
(laughs) You know, it’s interesting how the amount of time that I have to wear period clothes adds up throughout my career. But yeah, I wouldn’t mind wearing a pair of jeans in a scene. It would be nice not to take about 45 minutes to get into costume in the morning.
The clothes do look good, though.
Oh yeah, it’s great. And the trendy hairstyles that are going around today are very ’30s and ’40s-esque, so that’s good.
The new season of “Downton Abbey” is pretty much finished airing in the U.K. except for the Christmas special, but it doesn’t start here until January. Do you find yourself having to watch what you say depending on where you are?
You know, we would love for it to be out at the same time. In this digital age, people can access the show whether it’s aired in this country or not, you know? Maybe that’s legally tricky, but people find ways of doing it. So I don’t see why it can’t be shown at the same time. Obviously PBS has their own reasons for doing that. But I find you do fall into certain traps of saying things that you shouldn’t. This year I thankfully have no major spoilers, but you do have to be careful. You learn to balance very carefully on that wire.
There’s been a lot speculation about what will happen to the dog on the show, since it unfortunately shares a name with an Islamic terrorist group.
I think it’s funny that that’s come up. Bear in mind that we shoot the show months and months in advance, so anything that does happen to the dog, Isis, I think has less to do with the terrorist group than people think. We shoot the show from February to August, and we shot that episode probably about April, I think, so … yeah. It’s interesting that people think we’re shooting right at this very moment. I’ve been amazed about the amount of people who’ve seen me just randomly on the street when the show is out and go, “Why aren’t you up in Newbury?” It’s not a live show! It’s not theater. (laughs)
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter:@nedrick