Dan Stevens during filming of Season 3 of "Downton Abbey." (Matthew Lloyd / For The Times )
Editor's note: This interview was conducted in Britain last summer, before the fate of Stevens' character was known.
Dan Stevens was a virtual unknown before "Downton Abbey" premiered on PBS two years ago. But between the launch of the series and the premiere of Season 3, a lot changed for Stevens; the Cambridge grad became a heartthrob across the globe in the role of Matthew Crawley, a middle-class lawyer sucked into the gilded cage that is Downton Abbey. He also found himself with a huge number of opportunities dangled before him, including his current role in the Broadway production of "The Heiress." Just after Christmas, Stevens confirmed what British fans already knew: He won’t be returning to "Downton" for a fourth season.
But back in July, while the show was shooting Season 3, I visited Highclere Castle, the mansion that serves as the Crawley home, for this Calendar feature. Stevens admitted that he was tired -- his wife had just given birth to their second child, he was busy reading books as a judge for the Man Booker Prize and he was planning his family’s move to New York, where he’d have to find a nursery school for his older daughter as well as making his Broadway premiere.
On the set, he was in constant demand. As Season 3 opens, his character is preparing to wed Lady Mary. And as the fortunes of the aristocrats spiral downward, Matthew is bringing his earnest practicality to the rescue -- and of course, his once-again-able body.
Stevens was central to almost every scene that shooting day, switching from a tweedy daytime suit to chic dinner suit. But when he wasn’t changing his clothes or taking a nap, Stevens was trapped inside the castle, windows blackened. During a short break between takes, we sat outside on the lawn to chat.
You’re a judge for the Man Booker Prize -- how many books have you read so far?
I can't remember which one I'm on but it's into the hundreds. I think if I'd known then what I know now I might have said no. [chuckles] But it's a huge honor. Doing that as well as doing this, I've been producing a movie, I've been producing a child... If I was on a desert island, 148 books would be great but I'm not on a desert island. I think the plan is never to read ever again.
You probably don't need to ever read again, you've stocked up.
I can dine out on the books of 2012 for the rest of my life. Even in 2050 I'll still be boring people with those books.
Is this your personality, are you someone who always takes on too much?
You know it's not, it's just a freaky year where it's all come to a head. I said yes to a few too many things. Next year will be the year of saying no. Normally I like to do one thing well and right now I'm trying to do lots of things well.
Is it just tempting because "Downton" opened so many doors?
I’m sure I wouldn’t have been asked to judge the Man Booker if it weren’t for "Downton."
Season 2 of "Downton" had a lot of over-the-top plot twists. Do you talk to Julian [Fellowes] about the show's direction and the choices he makes for the characters?
I used to but it's happening less and less, partly because he's so hard to get hold of now, he's always in [L.A.]... In the second series there were some twists and turns that took some explaining. One of the delights of the show is that you take what's thrown at you really. Oh, he's getting out of the wheelchair! Great!" [laughs]
People had a lot of fun with Matthew’s sudden recovery from paralysis.
Of course they did! It was amazing. It's always exciting to get the next batch of scripts to see what's going on. It would be boring if I knew it all. We get rewrites and the story is shaped as we go. There are elements that change around, it keeps us on our toes.
Was there anything you saw in a script that made you think, I can’t do this?
There were probably a couple of things in the war, particularly when Matthew was injured. There were certain references to aspects of his injury that we sort of removed. I'll leave it with your imagination! [laughs] Because it was like, do we really need to talk about that?
Do you ever read recaps of "Downton"? I seem to recall some writers had a field day trying to figure out...
...what was going on there. In fact, there was this one thing, what was it called? The tingling. I think 'The tingling' at one point was trending on Twitter! There's not so much tingling in this season. He's absolutely fine now.
So he's ready to father some children now? His manhood was an issue so now we want to know.
It's definitely an ongoing concern, I suppose.
You and Mary got together at the end of Season 2. It's a classic issue in TV, what happens after the love interests get together. Will there still be tension?
There are new problems, they enter into a new phase...I'm trying to think of what I can say. They've grown up a bit. New decade, new set of problems.