By Fred Topel
Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton was pleased to report to those gathered at the Television Critics Association press event that season three of Downton Abbey was watched by more than 24 million people (all of whom probably screamed at their sets at the demise of a certain popular character). The show’s the highest rated drama in PBS history and shows no signs of slowing down, earning 12 Emmy nominations this year in acting categories as well as in the competitive Outstanding Dramatic Series category.
Season four opens with the house still in “deep mourning” over the death of Matthew, with Eaton explaining the upcoming season will cover the time period from February 1922 to the spring/summer of 1923. “The roaring ’20s are upon us. There are some new characters, some old favorites,” offered Eaton before introducing the show’s executive producer Gareth Neame and stars Michelle Dockery (‘Lady Mary’), Laura Carmichael (‘Lady Edith’), Joanne Froggatt (‘Anna Bates’), Phyllis Logan (‘Mrs. Hughes’), and Sophie McShera (‘Daisy Mason’) to discuss the addictive dramatic series.
With big changes in store for her character in particular, Michelle Dockery answered some Lady Mary questions without giving away any major spoilers:
Mary has a new love interest this season played by Tom Cullen. Can you tell us a little bit about that relationship?
Michelle Dockery: [Laughing] “She actually has more than one love interest… Well, he’s an old family friend who she’s known since the girls were children and they haven’t seen him since she was tiny. And, yeah, she’s kind of slowly, throughout the series, coming back to real life. And of course it’s important for her to eventually move on, so he is a potential love interest, yes.”
What was your reaction when you first learned that Dan Stevens was leaving the show? Was your first reaction, “Oh, Lady Mary’s going to get to do lots of interesting things that I never expected,” or was your first reaction, “Oh, crap?”
Michelle Dockery: “My first reaction was ‘Oh, crap. What is going to happen?’ because I thought, you know, ‘Where can the story go now?’ We’ve spent all this time having this on/off, will they/won’t they relationship, and then suddenly it was coming to an end. So initially I was concerned about what would happen. But I think that, as much as it was sad to see Dan go, the same as it was to see Jessica go, it opens up an opportunity for Julian [Fellowes] to write a new chapter and something quite different, not only for Mary, but the knock-on effect it has for other characters. So yeah, initially I was concerned but now I’m not because it’s a great series, and it’s a very different series to what it could have been.”
Given what tends to happen to Lady Mary’s lovers, wouldn’t most men in the town be a little wary?
Michelle Dockery: “The new actors coming into the show as suitors are really brave because God knows what can happen. I’m pretty sure that Richard Carlisle is somewhere dead and we don’t even know about it.”
How does the idea of being a single mother shape up for Mary this upcoming season?
Michelle Dockery: “She was never going to be a very maternal mother. But also, she’s within that type or within the aristocracy they didn’t really see their kids very much. There’s a nanny and eventually there will be a governess looking after baby George. So, you don’t see much interaction between the baby and Mary. And, actually, to begin with it’s hard to relate. It’s hard to bond with the baby because, of course, she’s going through the grief. She looks at him and she sees Matthew. So, yeah, it’s a slow process, I think, with motherhood for Mary.”
Do you follow any of the fan communities on Twitter and Tumblr? Have you had any memorable encounters with fans in real life?
Michelle Dockery: “I’ve had moments of thinking maybe I should maybe I should go on Twitter, you know? Maybe it’s this thing that I’m not…I’ve been shy about [it] and maybe I should do it. And it turns out that Lady Mary’s Eyebrows have beaten me to it. I can’t believe it. There’s an actual page called ‘Lady Mary’s Eyesbrows.'”
You’ve said you will stay with the show through its entirety. Do you still stand by that statement?
Michelle Dockery: “What’s wonderful about the show is that it’s opened doors for all of us. I mean, so many of the cast are off doing other things in between. Dan is obviously doing brilliantly since he left the show, but we can do other things in between. And as far as we know, we are all doing series five next year, and beyond that we really don’t know. That’s in the hands of Julian and our producers. So, we’ll see. I think so long as the core cast remain. I think, if other actors start leaving, I think that would be a worry. I think it’s been fine so far, but so long as it remains as an ensemble, which, essentially, that is what the show is, we’ll see.”
Is this the year of girl power?
Michelle Dockery: [Laughing] “That’s who we haven’t cast, one of the Spice Girls.”
Mary and Tom seem to have some things in common. Can you talk about that? Might they be spending some time together, and what does that mean?
Michelle Dockery: “Yeah. We are aware that there are suspicions about Tom and Mary’s relationship, but they are very much friends and he is her brother-in-law still. I think they become close because of what they’ve both been through, having lost a partner. And, also, Mary becomes far more involved in the running of the estate with Tom, so we do have a lot of scenes together. But, romantically, I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I hope not. [Laughing] It’s very inappropriate.”
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