She reveals why she wanted to tackle The Banishing.

Since earning a legion of fans on Downton Abbey, actress Jessica Brown Findlay has tackled many roles.

But her latest one sees her dipping her acting toes into something completely different in the form of thriller/horror film The Banishing.

The actress, 31, who rose to fame as Lady Sybil Crawley in the first three series of ITV period drama Downton, says it was a role she found "intriguing".

Set in the 1930s, The Banishing tells the story of young reverend Linus Foster (played by John Heffernan), his wife Marianne (played by Brown Findlay) and their daughter who move into a manor house that holds within its walls some spine-chilling secrets.

She said: "I'm naturally someone who leans away from watching horrors, like strictly speaking horrors but thrillers, (I'm) starting to realise I really e really enjoy and I just thought like anything, I think when opportunities come along that are different, that are going to challenge you in a way that you haven't experienced before, I was intrigued.

"I'd worked with the director (Christopher Smith) before and I was at a point where I just sort of, I guess, wanting to just try new things, sort of just take opportunities that were coming to me rather than overthinking things. Sometimes I can fall short on that. I just thought it'd be really interesting."

British director Smith - famous for films such as Creep, Severance, Triangle and Black Death - was also drawn to the story, but with the added context of reflecting the era it's set in.

He says: "What struck me, apart from that I was always interested in the period - the idea of an anxiety of impending doom of World War Two - was that I had never made a haunted house movie. I didn't want to explore the Harry Price story, the famous ghost story at the time. I didn't want this to be a story about just one thing. And as soon as I started to move towards my vision of it, I felt less encouraged to do a character that we had seen done a certain way before by other actors.

"So, I said, OK, let's base it in a true context which is the build-up to World War Two. Let's push the idea of the gathering storms of war and use the rich characters that were in the original script and channel it in a different way. I'm actually much more interested in films like The Shining, which is almost more of a psychological film than it is a haunted house movie, so this film very quickly went down the line of... ghosts being the demons that you bury away in yourself... what's haunting you."

For Brown Findlay, the character of Marianne is one of many in a line of strong females she's portrayed on screen since bidding farewell to Downton. Last year, she starred in Sky's lavish sci-fi drama Brave New World, loosely based on Aldous Huxley's 1932 dystopian novel of the same name. She's also been seen on screen in BBC's The Outcast and Harlots.

She says: "It's interesting because as an actor there is very little control that you have over who you play, over the stories you get to tell because unless you are right at the top of your game, you go where the work is.

"So there must be something perhaps then that others see in me, but I mean, I'm always in life, in sort of the books I read the music I listen to, I am always drawn to women. Women fascinate me (as characters) and always have far more than men. I find female storytelling, when I was younger it didn't seem a focus and it's incredible to be part of this sort of uprising and spilling over of stories that are being able to be told but in and amongst that, it is always very exciting to play characters that speak to many other sides.

"A strong woman is obviously necessary, good stories are necessary, but the complexity is also essential. Someone may make a bold decision and then yet five minutes later do something that is ridiculous or not brave. I think the balance is important. I love when a character is all of it and not just, this kind of indestructible, brave sense of self woman because I think that puts so much pressure on women because we're more complex than that..."

She and Smith had previously worked together on 2012 TV series Labyrinth, and the director says: "Jess has just got this incredible vulnerability that she can put on screen with ease and grace, she can just inhabit a character".

The film, which also stars Sean Harris and John Lynch, was shot before the coronavirus pandemic and nearly year-long lockdown faced by most since early 2020.

When we speak (in early February), she is contemplative about the last year.

She says: "One of the main things is that I've been able to, I've been safe and that is, I mean outside of that, there is very little to complain about because that is a very lucky space to be in because this virus doesn't seem to care about your age, occupation, where you're from, and it's affecting everyone so much.

"I miss work, I love my job so much, and it is so collaborative and interactive, it is sort of everything that lockdown isn't. So creatively I'm very hopeful that there will be a wave of stories to come after this time. I'm an optimist so I hope that things will get better for everyone. It's not really going to be better until it's globally better, that's something that is so important it's not just about me and I, it's about us, as humanity".

The actress reflects on the creative industries, adding: "I hope that, one thing especially early on, I felt so sad that the arts, all, everything, under the umbrella of that was so seemingly made to feel so pointless and expendable that artists should just retrain as something and actually how long it takes to achieve what is achieved artistically by so many people.

"I mean, outside of acting, by great dancers, musicians and it's just, I think lockdown has shown us how essential it is sitting and watching films, reading brilliant books, listening to music that you will dance headily in your living room to, is what makes life.

"So much of the invigoration of life comes from that, it fuels us and it kind of mirrors our feelings back and I hope more than anything that it can flourish once we're out and that it's supported."

The Banishing will be released on digital platforms on March 26.