As Emmy balloting opens, the cast and producers of “Downton Abbey,” participated in a panel discussion Monday (June 10) at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in Los Angeles. While creator Julian Fellowes was careful to keep a tight lid on Season 4 details, one topic that received a lot of attention is the death count of Season 3
The show’s executive producer Gareth Neame offers a comparison to HBO’s shocking “Red Wedding” in Season 3, episode 9. “We didn’t execute Robert Grantham at the end of the season,” Neame says. “So other shows have the edge on us.”
Fellowes points out that it is standard in England for actors to sign on to a series for no more than three years at a time, and some actors simply choose not to extend. Referring to the departures of Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil), Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley) and now Siobhan Finneran (O’Brien), Fellowes explains, “When a servant actor wants to leave, they get another job. When a member of the family wants to leave, it’s only upwards.”
Fellowes says the sudden and gruesome death of Matthew in the final episode of Season 3 is owing in part to Stevens hedging for a while on whether or not to extend his contract before ultimately deciding to move on. “Originally, we wanted to have the ‘Christmas episode’ — as it is in England — all very happy and the baby gurgling and playing with his rusk, you know, everything lovely: ‘ha, ha, ha.’ And then kill him off in Episode 1 the following year,” Fellowes jokes. “He didn’t want to come back to that. And so we were obliged to dispatch him rather mercilessly.”
The timing of Findlay’s departure also played a part in the creative choices regarding Matthew’s death. “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,'” Fellowes says. “So we decided to have a normal episode and then kill him at the end.”
The decision does open the door for “a massive amount of story,” with Season 4 picking up six months down the line when, as Fellowes says, “It’s time for Mary to just begin to rejoin the living.”
Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary, hints that her character is not quite “coming out of mourning” as she should be when Season 4 opens. “I think there is light at the end of the tunnel, though,” she says. “Hopefully in the business of a new suitor.” When Fellowes is asked about the possibility of more celebrity guest stars for Season 4, Dockery suggests George Clooney and says of Lady Mary, “Then she’ll move on.” Next, she proffers Brad Pitt for the role.
“Diddy put himself into it,” Fellowes reminds the panel, referring to Diddy‘s “Funny or Die” foray into “Downton” territory. “He did his own version and put himself into it. I thought that was very enterprising.” Monday’s event at the TV Academy was sponsored by Ciroc, the vodka company Diddy represents.