This Sunday sees the arrival of some new faces amongst the staff at Downton Abbey. John Byrne takes a look downstairs as Cara Theobold talks about her big break.

Shirley MacLaine was obviously – and understandably – the big arrival when Downton Abbey recently returned for a third season. This week, two more new additions to the cast make their debuts as Cara Theobold and Ed Speleers join the downstairs’ staff in the roles of kitchen maid Ivy Stuart and footman Jimmy Kent.

And while Speleers has some TV and film experience – for example, he starred in 2006 fantasy film Eragon, and featured alongside Martine McCutcheon on the short-lived ITV teen drama Echo Beach - for Theobold this is the proverbial big break, and her CV is the shortest on the set. She was completing her third and final year at London’s prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama, but left without completing her studies after landing her first professional gig on one of TV’s hottest shows.

"Downton Abbey is the only audition I’ve ever had," she explains. "I left my final year at drama school early, at Easter, and came straight to this. Before I went to drama school I hadn’t had any professional experience whatsoever. So to get something like this is incredible . . . I don’t think it will ever sink in."

The news went down very well at home, and the fact that it’s been almost a year since Theobold first auditioned for the part on Downton Abbey means that she’s got a guaranteed audience of supporters ready to tune in on Sunday night (Wednesday on TV3) to witness her debut.

"I found out that I had got a recall and then I spent the Christmas holidays with all my family on tenterhooks because my parents are such massive fans of the show," she recalls. "I had a few more rounds and then got the part and here I am. It is amazing. I couldn’t be more thrilled. I am a massive fan of the show myself anyway. And just to be able to be in such an ensemble and get to be in a scene and watch Jim Carter do his stuff is like ‘Oh my god – I am actually here!’"

As is often the case with actors, Theobold has a few accents in her arsenal – including Dublin – but her first professional assignment won’t be a stretch in that department, as she shares a Yorkshire background with Ivy. "She previously worked as a Maid of All Work for a shopkeeper in Malton [the place in Yorkshire, not the hotel in Killarney - JB] and then her Mum put her up for the job wanting her to better herself and work at the glorious Downton Abbey. She got the job as the new kitchen maid, so she is essentially doing Daisy’s old jobs."

That obviously means a bit of a bump up in the pecking-order for Daisy, who takes advantage of the new arrival. Says Theobold: "Ivy is just your typical young girl, very curious and enjoys meeting people but gets bashed down a bit by Daisy. She is the kind of girl who couldn’t possibly understand why anyone wouldn’t like her."

Off-screen though, it’s been a far more pleasant experience for Theobold than it’s been for her character, and she says the rest of the cast have made her feel right at home. It can’t be easy making your professional debut on a show where the general cast, most of them vastly experienced, are in their season together. But they’ve certainly helped to ease her into her new life as a working actor.

"Everyone is so welcoming and lovely and I couldn’t ask for a better first experience," she says. "Because everybody is a unit and they have worked together for two years and genuinely are like a family, it is quite easy to take newcomers on board. I think [fellow newcomers] Matt [Milne] and Ed [Speleers] have found the same. They are such a lovely group of people it’s quite easy to just tag along and slot in and I have had nothing but a good time. I can’t believe it."

This week on Downton Abbey

The new maid Ivy is managing to get quite a bit of attention from the servants and Daisy appears to be just a bit jealous at the direction some of it is coming from. How will Edith cope with all that has happened since being jilted? Is there something in the wind which might make for a brighter future?

After quite a few unsuccessful attempts at first, can Isobel finally find a way to help the desperate Ethel Parks? And as for Bates, will Anna have success at last in her efforts to assist him with his troubles, or will it again come to nothing?

As he has from the beginning, Matthew is taking an active interest in the running of Downton, but when he mentions some things which are troubling him, nobody seems to be listening.
(Sunday, UTV/Wednesday, TV3)