Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens gives us a hint of what viewers can expect from the new series when it returns to ITV1 on Sunday, September 16…

As series three begins, Downton is preparing for the wedding of Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley. Could you compare it to Kate and Will’s nuptials?
“I guess you can compare them in the sense that Mary and Matthew are trying to secure the future of the establishment. But I don’t think there were quite as many people at our wedding as there were at Kate and Will’s!”

In the first episode, Lady Sybil returns with new husband, former chauffeur Tom Branson. Why does Matthew ask him to be his best man?
“Matthew likes to champion the underdog, so he asks Branson to be best man to try and help him enter the family fold. They do become great mates – in fact I’d say their friendship becomes a full-on bromance!”

Meanwhile, Mary learns that her father Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, is in financial trouble and may have to sell Downton. Does this affect Mary and Matthew’s relationship?
“There’s still plenty of drama to unsettle the relationship as Mary and Matthew have some difficulties thrown in their path. People have been asking ‘Will they, won’t they’ for such a long time. Now, if they do tie the knot, the questions they will face are will they be happy, will they have children and will they become Lord and Lady Grantham?”

How does this series compare to the last?
“The scale of this series is different; it’s very much back to what I enjoyed about the first series, which is the domestic scale of the drama, both big and small. Big things such as will the estate survive? Or will someone come out? And small-scale dramas like is there a hole in this shirt? Or do we have enough flour?”

American actress Shirley MacLaine joins this series as Cora’s outspoken mother Martha Levinson. How did Shirley shake things up on set?
“Oh, she had a fantastic energy and was a really exciting person to talk to. She knows how to hold an audience, but she’s a very good listener too. She seems very engaged with politics in America and how we’re going to solve various crises facing our planet. She’s pretty tuned in.”

Do you watch Downton on Sunday nights – or do you try to avoid watching yourself?
“I don’t avoid it! I often get my mates over to watch it, actually. Downton’s got thrills, spills, bitchy moments and plenty of shocks, so it’s a nice drama to watch with a group of friends and a glass of wine.”