Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, speaking recently at creative content summit in London, said that American actors are swell and everything, but they can't really do period dramas because, in relation to their European counterparts, they have all the historical perspective of first graders. Though America's historical naivete didn't stop Fellowes from casting Shirley MacLaine as the Countess of Grantham's mother in the show's upcoming season, he explained that actors in the Old World have a more intuitve sense of history because they live in countries that have been around for way longer than the United States. That characteristic ancientness, in Fellowes' estimation, makes Europeans way more convincing in period dramas such as, oh, let's say Downton Abbey:
I think our actors have a kind of understanding of period. For Europeans, the past is in them as well as the present and I think they are at ease in that genre in a way that the Americans find harder.
I think Americans are wonderful film actors - the best in the world - but they are a very contemporary race and they look forward all the time. There is something about period drama where they tend to go into a strange place called ‘Period' where people wear funny clothes.
Whereas I don't think our actors do that; they make it very real and that is, with something like we're doing, very helpful.
Mad Men is a pretty good period drama that features Americans prominently, but whatever — Americans are apparently too forward-thinking to understand all those old European social hierarchies, or convincingly promenade in all the funny hats that people used to include in their everyday ensembles.