[Downton Abbey Season 3 Spoilers..Be Warned]

Dan Stevens looks shaken. We are in an empty restaurant in New York and I have just
become the first outsider he has ever told about his death in Downton Abbey.
“It is very odd,” he says.

After the Christmas special yesterday, the entire world knows that honourable, handsome,
happy Matthew Crawley has died at the wheel of his car, reducing a nation to
tears of dismay and disbelief. At the time of our interview last month, there
was a lot of speculation, but no actual confirmation. “It is very strange to
make it official especially since we are talking about it in the future
perfect,” he says, with a laugh. “I am not sure exactly what tense it is, but
it is something very weird.”

That is an almost perfect Dan Stevens joke. He is the charming, well-spoken,
Cambridge-educated actor who has become as famous as any movie star thanks to
his role as the romantic lead in Downton. But his literary aspirations, his
desire to be more than just another TV sensation, meant that though his fans
wanted him to stay, they knew that he would probably choose to go.

In fact, he made the decision in February before he even started filming the third
series. “We were always optioned for three years,” he explains. “And when that
came up it was a very difficult decision. But it felt like a good time to take
stock, to take a moment. From a personal point of view, I wanted a chance to do
other things.

“It is a very monopolising job. So there is a strange sense of liberation at the same
time as great sadness because I am very, very fond of the show and always will

As yet, he can’t say what future projects he will take on, though “there are some exciting
opportunities”. Until February, he is on stage in New York, playing opposite
Jessica Chastain and David Strathairn in The Heiress, an adaptation of Henry
James’s Washington Square. Stevens is Morris Townsend, who may or may not be a
fortune hunter. He has sideburns and an American accent and when he walks on
stage, there is the strange frisson of seeing him play someone who is not
Matthew Crawley – and convey the ambiguities of a darker character very well.

This ambition to do something different is what has spurred him on. “It is a desire
for freedom really,” he says. “I don’t see money or a particular status as an
actor as a goal but I want to do the best work I can in as interesting a range
of roles as I can. And I think a moment like this is quite unique and presents
those opportunities more than ever before.

“That may not be the case,” he adds, with another laugh. “I genuinely don’t know exactly
what is around the corner but I hope it will be something a little bit
different. Morris Townsend is a little bit different, and that for me is good

His voice
trails away, and he looks down at his hands. When he is talking about books or
theatre, there is no stopping him. When he talks about Downton, he is more
cautious. At the time he signed up, Stevens was mainly a theatre actor familiar
on television for his part in Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty. But he
was neither a household name, nor a heartthrob. Downton, playing on his boyish
handsomeness and his passionate affair with the stand-offish Lady Mary, has
made him a star, both in the UK and America. When he walks on stage in New
York, he commands a round of applause just as great as that of his movie-making

‘None of us had any idea of how successful Downton was going to be,” he says. “I thought
I was signing up for another period drama that had a slightly modern feel. It
had a freedom about it because it was coming out of the head of Julian Fellowes.
Anything could happen and generally did.”

Its appeal, from the first, was its company feel – rare in TV. “There was no main
character. Everybody owned their storyline. And it was fun. It had a tongue in
cheek element which set it apart. I had done quite a few period dramas at that
point and I was ready not to do another one and then these scripts came along
and the Matthew/Mary relationship was just such fun – I am really glad I didn’t
turn it down.”

Stevens’s affection for Downton is unmistakable – he generally tweets “Hound’s bum abbey
time” as each episode starts, a reference to the dog’s bottom that opens the
credits. “In terms of its popularity,” he explains, “there is a kind of ironic
enjoyment as well as a serious enjoyment. One of my ways of coping with the
attention that it has received is to join the ranks enjoying the mania of
Downton rather than take the whole thing too seriously. But that is my way with
most things. Not to take them too seriously.”

That much is clear. He laughs a lot while he talks, and makes rather good jokes. But he
also uses this charm to deflect questions. If he has felt any frustration, he
does not show it: but he did make his decision to leave after the second
series, the one in which Matthew – apparently paralysed in the war – was forced
by the plot to rise from his wheelchair like Lazarus from the grave.

“I think it was harder for the people who had to react to me getting out of the chair,”
says Stevens, with a grin. “That was a particularly strange point in the
narrative. I think there were some justifiable criticisms of series two and its
pace. I think from what I have seen, series three has been a lot stronger. But
from the actor’s point of view all the bombs and the mud and everything were
great to film and I had a great time.”

Nevertheless,for so intelligent a man, it must have hurt when his peer Benedict Cumberbatch
was quoted as describing that second series as “f------ atrocious.” “From what
he has told me, and from what I understand, he was misquoted or certainly
quoted out of context,” says Stevens, loyally. “But the thing that upset people
was that there is a sort of unwritten rule that whatever you think of other
people’s shows you don’t diss them to journalists.”

He insists, however, that it is Downton’s capacity to surprise – whether it is a
Turkish diplomat expiring in Lady Mary’s bed or the unforeseen death of Sybil
in childbirth – that sets it apart. “You think you are trotting along with a
nice Sunday night drama and something happens. It wouldn’t be Downton if it
wasn’t for all the big twists and shocks.”

Now Mathew’s death is the melodrama that has left viewers reeling. “It was very
emotional shooting the end of this series, because those guys are like family.
We have been living together for three years and have been on the most amazing
journey. I don’t think any of us, with the possible exception of Maggie, have
had this kind of explosion in our career paths, and may never again. It has
been so bizarre, and only those who have been through it can understand it.”

His closeness to the Downton tribe is obvious: he describes Hugh Bonneville and
Allen Leech (Branson) as being like “hilarious brothers” to him and the
experience of working with Maggie Smith as a joy. “There are certain takes
where you can see us still half-chuckling from some remark she has made just
before ‘action’.” He will miss Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) because “after
everything we have been through it will be sad not to see the relationship

“On the other hand, I won’t be sorry to see the back of that dining room,” he says,
with a roar of laughter. “It may have held some of the key plot points, but it
is just a nightmare to shoot in. There are so many angles and edits and it gets
very airless and stuffy – and it is blacked out so even at 10 in the morning we
are in the dark.”

For all his expressed sadness, he almost glistens with the excitement of what is to
come. He has left after what he describes as the “busiest year I have ever had
professionally. I hope I never have another year that is quite like this.” Even
listing what he has done is exhausting: seven months of shooting Downton, being
a judge for the Man Booker prize, producing the film Summer in February, in
which he also stars, co-editing an online literary magazine (thejunket.org),
writing a column for the Sunday Telegraph, passing 30, becoming a father for
the second time (a son, Aubrey to join Willow, aged three), starring on

This may have had some effect on his choice. “I was in Cornwall producing my first film.
I had 145 novels on my plate with the Booker, I was writing and editing, we had
our second baby on the way [his wife is the jazz singer and teacher Susie
Hariet] and things were getting kind of crazy.”

His natural curiosity is revealed by the way he talks about each aspect of the
year. The Booker judging, in particular, allowed the bright boy who sailed out
of Croydon via public school and Cambridge to fulfil his intellectual
ambitions. “Whenever we met as judges it was like some of the finest supervisions
I had at university, talking about literature with brilliant people.” On the
other hand, in the early stages of trying to read so many novels, “I can’t even
begin to describe the depths of despair I was in at some points.”

He feels he can reveal that thanks to his liking for the experimental, he was
particularly fond of Will Self’s Umbrella. “It is without question an
extraordinary novel but ultimately the question was, are we choosing the most
ground-breaking book or the best work of literary fiction that year. Hilary
Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies is a brilliant, brilliant novel. And if you have
written the best work of literary fiction you should win the prize, so in that
sense it was unanimous.”

Next on the cards, I suspect, though he is guarded, is not theatre or literature, but a
big film. “I haven’t done as many films as I would have liked,” he says. “A lot
of my contemporaries have done more. I don’t have ‘I will be a movie star’
emblazoned on anything, but I’d like do a bit more screen stuff and then when
the time is right come back to theatre. When it is good, theatre takes a lot of
beating both to watch and perform.”

It is possible, I suggest, that his life will never again reach this high point of
fame. “Oh it is quite possible that none of us in Downton will ever again get
the ratings this has had,” he smiles. “But from a career point of view, it has
opened so many doors.

“I genuinely don’t feel ‘I must play this role’ or ‘I must take this much at the
box office’ in order to fulfil my happiness quotient. As long as I am given the
opportunity to keep performing and keep exploring in whatever medium, I’ll be
happy. As long as I get to spend time with my family, I’ll be happy. As long as
I can write in some form, I’ll be happy. It is the essential things like that I
equate with happiness.”

However sad the end of Matthew Crawley, the happiness of Dan Stevens is likely to grow
and grow.


Sorry Mods for all the missteps.

Long Ass post...who else is looking forward to Flopchins Stovens appearance in Vamps 2..Also this is an excuse for a discussion of the Downton Christmas Episode. I have so many feelings....