Cast members of Downton Abbey, along with the show’s creator-writer Julian Fellowes and executive producer Gareth Neame, made a recent trek to the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in North Hollywood. They were there to talk about the PBS hit series and tease a packed crowd of Academy members and fans about the upcoming fourth season, which won’t premiere until Jan. 5, 2014.
A party was presented by Ciroc, ultra premium vodka, as the stars mingled with the show’s loyal subjects and sipped their cocktails in the TV Academy’s courtyard. “Vodka tonics are a traditional English drink, but these have a bit of a kick to them,” beamed Joanne Froggatt who plays the very proper Anna Bates on the show. Joining her in a toast for a “well done third season” were Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes), and Rob James-Collier (Thomas). American actress Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Cora, the Countess of Grantham, was also there looking radiant and revealed she is recording an album that will be release later this year. Obviously she is a lady of many talents.
Film historian Pete Hammond was the moderator of a lively Q&A and he does a great job, always asking the best questions (as he does at the KCET cinema series every season). Hammond recalled the deaths of a couple main characters in Season 3, and asked if anyone on stage was in danger? Creator-writer Julian Fellowes looked at the cast members and slyly said, “Whether any of them are in danger, you know you’ve just got to watch the show.”
Executive producer Gareth Neame added, “We didn’t execute Robert Grantham (the Lord of the manor) at the end of the season, so other shows have the edge on us.” He of course was referring to the body count of the lead players in Game of Thrones.
Hammond wanted to know why Lady Mary’s husband Matthew Crawley was killed off in the last scene from Season 3, and what’s in store when Downton Abbey returns for Season 4? Noting that the actor Dan Stevens wanted to leave the show Fellows explained, “Originally, we wanted to have the ‘Christmas episode’ (the season finale aired at Christmas in England) all very happy and the baby gurgling and playing, you know, everything lovely, and then kill him (Matthew) off in Episode 1 the following year. He (Stevens) didn’t want to come back to do that, so we were obliged to dispatch him rather mercilessly. But because we just had a whole episode of Sybil breathing her last, we couldn’t have another whole episode of Matthew dying, or we would turn in to Six Feet Under. So we decided to have a normal episode and then kill him at the end. We didn’t have to have another funeral, and all of that stuff. This gave us the freedom to leap forward.”
Fellowes said the decision opens the door for “a massive amount of story,” with Season 4 picking up six months later when, “It’s time for Mary to just begin to rejoin the living. That’s dramatically more interesting than having to take her through three episodes where she’s lying upstairs just reading a book. So that was an advantage, really, but it’s a long and painful process. This (Lady Mary and Matthew) was a very famous love story.”
Elizabeth McGovern talked about the emotions she’s been through, especially with the death of her daughter Sybil in childbirth. “I feel Cora has suffered the most unimaginable thing one can, the loss of a child. And for Season 4 it seems to me that more than ever she appreciates that life is short, and wants to have fun. She wants to encourage her daughters to have fun. She is not overly concerned that they get married now. And she’s open to new ideas, with Robert (her husband) on board or not.”
Fellowes said the show is not going to jump decades ahead, “because this is a very interesting period, the ‘20s, just starting with things such as women’s rights, and that is a rather interesting background for all of this drama. Cora has a lot of new ideas, but for Lord Gratham, it’s too much to grasp that the old ways don’t work as well. I enjoy exploring all that. I think that’s a good place for us to be.”
Hammond noted that the show may have helped spark the fashion revival of ‘20s, and how wonderful it must be for the actresses to wear those styles. “Not all of us,” lamented Joanne Froggatt and Phyllis Logan, who play servants at Downton Abbey. But they celebrated another season anyway.