Hit period drama Downton Abbey returns to ITV for a fourth series this Sunday and all eyes will be on Lady Mary, who was left holding the baby when her husband Matthew died in last year’s Christmas Special.

We caught up with Michelle Dockery to talk about what the new series holds for Lady Mary and Downton Abbey…

The first episode is set in February 1922, six months after Mathew’s death. How is Mary doing?

“It’s like she’s stuck in limbo, like she’s stuck in the same place she was in when she first discovered Matthew had been killed in the accident – she’s still in a very dark place and refuses to change out of black!”

At first she’s very disengaged with her young baby, was it difficult to play that part of the role?

“Yes, because I love kids. We had a pair of twins playing George and it was quite hard when they got upset, because my instinct is to be modern. So I found that quite a challenge to walk away from them!”

She warms to baby George eventually though…

“Yes and she also starts spending a bit more time with Branson because in a way he understands her like no one else can as they’re both widows.”

We’re moving through the 1920s quite rapidly now; are we going to be seeing some big changes in the show this year?

“In some ways. Last year it felt like we were edging into the 1920s and this year there feels an energy, which is very much about embracing the 20s. The music has changed, the dresses have changed the jazz era. There’s definitely another new beginning. Which is true of the time. It took a long time to recover from the war and so the tiaras are coming out again, there’s more elaborate jewellery, which was suppressed during the war so that will be great for everyone to see. There’s a real sense of fun in a lot of the episodes.” 

You’ve been working alongside Dan Stevens (who played Matthew) for three years – how have you coped without him?

“I missed him, especially those first few weeks of filming. It was odd not having him there because of course you spend six months of each year for three years together, every day together, and in the third series it was every scene so it was really strange him not being around. But then it’s changed and new characters start to come in. We keep in touch. though. I went to see his play in New York this year and it was great to catch up.”

So will there be any new romance for Mary this year?

“There are potential suitors this series, because she does need to find a husband at some point because she’s the heir to Downton. But you’ll have to wait and see!”

The show now has 120 million viewers all over the world. Did you ever imagine Downton would become so big?

“When I think back to the first year we were all very… we all felt we were part of something that felt quite special and we were excited about the reaction. We hoped that people in the UK would respond to it, but we would never have imagined how it’s taken off all over the world. It’s recently started airing in China and they’re only on the second series!”

Did you watch the Christmas Day episode with your family?

“Yes, I was sitting there with a box of Ferrero Rocher thinking ‘What is their reaction going to be?’ They couldn’t believe it, and they were like ‘Why didn’t you tell us?’ Immediately I heard about Twitter being this huge response. I had lots of text going ‘NOOOOOOO!!!!!'”

Were you told to keep it a secret from your family?

“Oh yeah, you can’t risk it and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for my family. There’s no one they would tell, so it wouldn’t get out, but you just do want to keep it as quiet as possible so you don’t spoil it for people.”