Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery on Dan Stevens' 'Brutal' Exit and Mary's New Suitor(s)

Michelle Dockery Dan Stevens Leaving Downton AbbeyDownton Abbey‘s leading lady was just as taken aback by the death of her on-screen hubby as viewers at home.

Although Michelle Dockery knew ahead of time that her co-star Dan Stevens was leaving the hit drama — and that his exit would be “finite” — watching the “brutal” goodbye was still a big shock, the actress tells TVLine.

But Dockery — and her character Mary — are both trying to move on as potential new suitors swarm around the widowed mother in Season 4, premiering Jan. 5 on PBS.

RELATED | Downton Abbey Season 4 Casts Paul Giamatti as Cora’s Brother

TVLINE | Let’s get the burning question out of the way: What was your reaction to Dan Stevens’ leaving?
We had all signed for three years on the show. So when it came to the point of them deciding to take the show further, we all had a choice. Yeah, initially, I was sad to hear that he was leaving. But looking back, in hindsight, what it’s done is opened up an opportunity for the writing to really shift and for [creator] Julian [Fellowes] to write such a great storyline for [Season] 4 – and not just for Mary. Matthew’s death affects so many other characters. We miss him. I spent three years with Dan, carrying that Matthew-and-Mary storyline. I really loved working with him. So he is missed.

TVLINE | How far in advance did you know his exit was coming?
We knew before we started the third [season]. We knew very far in advance. We also knew that it would be very finite because, of course, Matthew being the heir to Downton Abbey, there was no other storyline really to write other than that he had to die some way. Even if he left or disappeared or decided that it wasn’t working with him and Mary [laughs], it wouldn’t have really worked because, of course, he would still have that tie with Downton. So it had to be that brutal.

TVLINE | What did you think of his final scene? Reading it on paper is one thing…
I was watching it with my family. I knew it was coming, and I hadn’t told them. They knew that Dan was leaving. It had got out that he was going. But they were really shocked. And so was I. The way it was filmed, it all happened so quickly. It really shocked people and wasn’t what they were expecting on Christmas Day. [Laughs]

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TVLINE | At the time of his exit, especially, it was hard to imagine the show without that central relationship of Mary and Matthew. Did you go through that struggle, too?
Definitely. I went through a phase where I worried about where it was going. But now I see, since we filmed [Season] 4, for Mary, there is a life without Matthew. The fourth [season] is about recovery. She’s starting a new life. In some ways, there are similarities to [Season] 1 before Mary got together with Matthew. There’s various suitors that are being thrown in her direction. But she’s very reluctant to go through with any of it because, of course, she can’t stop thinking about Matthew. He’s still very much a part of her thoughts. She’ll never get over it. You don’t ever get over losing someone. It’s learning to deal with it and move on. He’s a hard one to replace.

TVLINE | Dan was your scene partner for so much of the show. Was it difficult to go back to work without him?
It was strange going back, similar to when Jessica Brown Findlay [who plays Sybil] left. You get so used to working all day long together and waking up at those early hours together and sharing cars home together. It was just strange not having him around. We spent three years together. And I loved playing that story and that arc with the characters, with Dan.

TVLINE | There’s a new romantic interest in Mary’s life, played by Tom Cullen. How does he compare to Matthew?
[His character] Gillingham is an old family friend. The sisters knew him when we were growing up, and we haven’t seen him since then. A party is organized at the house, and he is invited to it. He’s just a different character. And there’s other potential suitors, as well. It’s not just him. There’s a character called Blake, played by Julian Ovenden. And Evelyn Napier (played by Brendan Patricks) comes back, as well. He was the one who brought the Turkish diplomat along. That was lovely to play scenes with Brendan again because we haven’t seen him since Season 1. They’re very different.

TVLine | Is it exciting for you to be back in the chase, so to speak?
It is. And this year, we have a few new characters coming in. [Mary’s] beginning to come back to real life again because it takes her a long, long time to even interact with anyone. There’s a real energy about [Season] 4. It’s very much the ’20s. It’s very much the bright, young things. Rose, the cousin, and Edith very much represent this new wave of fashion, of dining in restaurants with a man, without being accompanied. There’s a real shift in the periods, more so than [Season] 3. I thought [Season] 3 was very much the ’20s, but it’s moved even further on. It feels closer to where we are today. It’s a bit more modern. That’s what will be appealing about [Season] 4. There’s a sense of change, again.

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  1. JCK says:

    i wish Jonathan Firth would be cast for Mary’s new love interest. And could they get Thomas a boyfriend, please.

    • kittykins says:

      I love Jonathan Firth as well and have purposely watched many of his films. He’s excellent and good idea! He was so great in Victoria & Albert.

  2. cjeffery7 says:

    evelyn napier. i’m calling it right now. (i just always thought he was nice, so, that’s my only reasoning. doesn’t seem likely with manly-beard-face cullen though).

    • scooby says:

      Love that Napier’s coming back. He totally had Mary’s back about the Edith betrayal and let her know what was going on with the gossip. He also wanted to marry for love. Even if he doesn’t end up with Mary, he’s a good man. I wonder if she’ll find him as boring as he felt she did before. She might think she needs safety and security in a husband #2, and that’s not a bad thing, but he deserves to be loved.

      • kittykins says:

        I like the character as well and I think they’d be a good match. The bearded guy has no appeal for me. I think Evelyn is more like Matthew, although the latter was sweet with an edge to keep Mary in line.

    • Canuck21 says:

      I’m glad I’m not alone in wanting Evelyn Napier back and I too think he’s a good fit for Mary. He may be boring for the Mary of series 1, but she’s a different person now and someone like Napier who is kind and loyal is what she needs. Of course the sparks won’t light up right away, else we’d have no story, but I really hope that eventually, she will end up with Napier.

  3. liz says:

    Just so glad it’ll be back soon! I’ve missed my Downton. Looking forward to Mary’s new stories.

  4. Jack Ford says:

    I second getting Thomas a boyfriend. He deserves a bit of happiness. It’s a shame that Siobhan Finneran (O’Brien) isn’t coming back. I wanted her and Thomas to make up and start plotting again. One more thing – what’s with all the [season]s in squared brackets when Michelle is obviously saying “series”. I know in America, you call them “seasons” but I think even if readers didn’t know that we say “series”, they would have understood what she meant. Give your readers some credit!

  5. Samantha says:

    The Roaring 20s, the fashion and the newness of a new era are definitely what’s keeping me watching Downton Abbey with Matthew gone. Mary&Matthew were iconic and I’m still sad he’s gone.

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  7. Vivian James says:

    Although I always liked Evelyn’s character there has never been any sparks between them. Last year I suggested Julien O. For Mary. There seems to be much more dialogue and interaction between Mary and Charles. He would be more of a challenge for her, and I totally can’t believe Julian Fellowes would have Tony declaring his love for Mary after 1 encounter. REALLY.
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