Here’s how George Clooney ended up appearing in a Downton Abbey sketch for charity. George Clooney might be one of the highest-paid actors in the world, but he’s also one of the most charitable. He’s used his time in the public eye to shine a light on several causes, like forming the anti-genocide organization Not On Our Watch with his Ocean’s Eleven co-stars Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Don Cheadle and spearheading the Hope For Haiti Now telethon to raise money for victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. More recently, in 2016, he and his barrister wife Amal set up the Clooney Foundation for Justice which advocates justice for human rights abuses.
The Monuments Men, a 2014 war film both directed and starring George Clooney, inadvertently led the Oscar-winning actor to another charitable endeavor. Inspired by true events, the movie tells the tale of an Allied platoon made up of art historians and museum curators tasked with rescuing artworks stolen by Nazis during World War II. While making The Monuments Men, Clooney struck up a friendship with co-star Hugh Bonneville, who is best known for his role as Lord Grantham on British historical drama Downton Abbey which Clooney is reportedly a big fan of.
No doubt the makers of the show didn’t have to try too hard to convince George Clooney to appear alongside his pal Hugh Bonneville in a one-off Downtown Abbey sketch that aired at Christmastime in 2014. Broadcast as part of Text Santa – a charity appeal set up by Downton Abbey network ITV – the sketch helped raise over £6 million for several worthy British charities including Teenage Cancer Trust, Alzheimer’s Society and Guide Dogs.
Keeping in theme with the festive time of year, the sketch spoofed Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life with Bonneville’s Lord Grantham losing his all his fortunes – yet again – and wondering whether his family might be better off without him. A guardian angel (Joanna Lumley, Absolutely Fabulous) appears and shows Lord Grantham what life at Downton Abbey would look like if he’d never been born. It seems that without his presence, the estate is a den of iniquity with the downstairs staff getting drunk and playing strip poker and the ladies of Downton allowing a lowly tradesman (Jeremy Piven as Harry Gordon Selfridge from fellow period drama Mr. Selfridge) to sell racy undergarments to them.
And who is overseeing this house of loose morals? George Clooney’s character – the Most Honorable George Oceans Gravity, Marquess of Hollywood – who Grantham’s wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) ended up marrying in this alternate Downton Abbey dimension. He’s a suave gentleman so charming that one peck on the hand from him prompts the normally composed Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) to faint on the spot, and even butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James Collier) can’t resist trying to kiss him. Though everybody seems happier with George Clooney presiding over the estate, Grantham insists on being taken back to his reality. Upon awakening, Lord Grantham learns his staff have banded together and pooled their life savings to pull him out of his financial woes and – to his pleasure – the charming Marquess of Hollywood is a distant Downton Abbey memory.