What happens to Lady Mary this series?
“She’s stuck in limbo after Matthew’s death. For me it felt like going back to series one because there’s that coldness about Mary again. I like that side of her character, so I enjoyed playing it. As you saw from the first episode she finds it difficult to bond with her baby at first because he reminds her of Matthew. But she’s an artistocrat with a nanny so she’s not exactly a struggling single mother!”
Has Mary’s grief presented a range of challenges for you?
“I love kids, so it was hard to ignore my instincts while we were filming those scenes. I just wanted to coo over the babies. It was also really tough doing the scene in the first episode when Mary is so brutal towards Carson. I love that it’s him who pulls her out of her depression, but it’s hard to be unpleasant to Jim Carter – he’s the nicest man in the world!”
The public were outraged at Matthew Crawley’s death at Christmas. Were you surprised by the reaction?
“Matthew was a really well-loved character and Dan was such a wonderful part of the show, so I think it was inevitable that people were angry – they felt they had invested a lot in Matthew and Mary.”
Did you see the Christmas special?
“I was watching the episode with my family, so I sat there with a box of Ferrero Rocher wondering what their reaction was going to be. They couldn’t believe I hadn’t told them. I had lots of texts saying, ‘No!!'”
Do you think that death was the only plausible exit storyline for Matthew?
“He couldn’t very well just disappear never to return. It was inevitable that he had to die, but reading that last episode was just heartbreaking.”
What’s filming Downton like now without Matthew?
“Dan’s doing incredibly well and we’re still in touch. I’m very proud of him but I miss him. Most of my scenes in series three were with Dan so it was strange not having him around.”
Has Matthew’s departure offered new avenues for the show to explore?
“Of course there was a concern for us all when we knew that Dan was going, but I think what it has opened up an opportunity to start a new chapter. It really feels like a new beginning for the show.”
Does Lady Mary begin to move on in her love life?
“At some point she needs to find a husband. She has given birth to the heir of Downton and she must marry. There’s definitely potential with some new characters that arrive, but you’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
Is there any hope for the warring Grantham sisters?
“Mary and Edith have certainly matured as the series have gone on and after Sybil and Matthew’s deaths there is a new unsaid closeness between them. They still have that rivalry and the tension between them never really goes away, but it’s less childish than it once was. They love one another, you just wouldn’t call them mates!”
Are you happy to stick with the show for the foreseeable future?
“Series five hasn’t been commissioned yet, but if there is one I will be in it. When I think back to the first year, we all felt that we were part of something quite special and we were excited about the reaction in the UK. I would never have imagined how it’s taken off all over the world. It’s recently started airing in China!”
How has being on the show changed your life?
“I’ve bought a flat and that’s been really nice! It’s just a great feeling to be secure, because as actors you don’t really know where your next job is coming from.”
Do you often get stopped by fans?
“Yes. They always ask what’s going to happen to Mary now that she’s lost Matthew. I’m bursting to tell them what’s in store, because it’s such a great series this year, but I don’t want to spoil it for them – people think they want to know plotlines, but they don’t really!”
Jessica Brown Findlay, who played Sybil, revealed that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge told her they watched Downton – and now Kate and Wills have given their baby the same name as Lady Mary’s son George!
“Well they are fans of the show! It was amazing seeing the front covers of the papers on that day, it’s such a wonderful coincidence. We should start calling our boy Prince George!”