Jessica Brown Findlay: 'My poor mum was in bits when she watched me die on screen'

Jessica Brown Findlay, 23, is an actress. 'Labyrinth' will be broadcast on Saturday and Sunday on Channel 4, and will be released on DVD on 1 April

Until I was 18, ballet was my life I loved it; I even danced at the Royal Opera House with the Kirov. Then I injured my ankle, had three operations on it, and the last one went wrong. I was told I would never dance again. The disappointment was huge, but I was lucky: I had a great group of friends outside that world who encouraged me to discover who I was without the label "ballet dancer".

Becoming a student helped me I went to St Martins, got a student loan and spent loads of time going to the theatre. I realised there were similarities between acting and ballet, and that what I missed most about ballet was the performance aspect. So I decided to try to be an actress instead.

Actors are dramatic people Am I dramatic? I'm a nightmare! Well, no, not really. I do love the madness of a film set, the dynamic, but I also love to be able to step back from it, go home and close my door.

'Downton Abbey' changed my life It was all so unexpected, a mad roller coaster. Stepping away [Findlay's character, Lady Sybil, died at the end of series three] immediately brought a calm back to my life. But I had such a fantastic time, and worked with such a great group of people – not a bad egg among them.

Dying on screen is fun I'd done a lot of research into Lady Sybil's demise from eclampsia, and I didn't want my death scene to look pretty, or covered up, or made Downton-friendly. I wanted it to be honest. Watching it back on TV was a very strange experience, though. My poor mum was in bits.

I chose to leave 'Downton' I had no idea what the future was going to hold, but ever since I had my operation on my ankle, I've always felt it best to trust my gut, and to try new things. I have so much more to learn in this industry. The unknown excites me.

Filming 'Labyrinth' is the most fun I've had on set It's a mini-series [set to air this week] based on Kate Mosse's bestselling book. I'd not read the book when I took the part, but I have now, and Kate came to watch the film. She was wonderful, free and giving, and she really does write such strong women!

It's so important to avoid typecasting When it comes to looks, it's all so fleeting; external beauty is merely a passing style. As an actor, you want to show there is more fire in your belly than just the way you look. It's exciting to transform, to play characters unlike yourself, to put yourself in different situations and try to understand them, gain empathy even.

I write poetry It sounds incredibly poncey, I know, but I really like it. It's just for myself, and I love being able to have something to do without relying on an agent to call me up first. If I want, I can get up and write poetry all day. All I need is a pen and paper.

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