Even though a single episode of Season 4 of “Downton Abbey” hasn’t aired, several members of the cast and executive producer Gareth Neame are already talking — unofficially, of course — about Season 5.
“The show is so popular around the world now, and it is beloved, and it’s in fine form,” Neame told reporters gathered at the PBS “Downton Abbey” session during the Television Critics Association press junket. “We are shooting the final episode at the moment of Season 4. The fourth season is in extremely good health. Our minds are now in the fifth season and what those stories potentially would be. So I think that the show has got a lot further to go.”
When “Downton” returns, it will be six months following Matthew’s (Dan Stevens) death and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is still grieving the loss of the love of her life.
“My first reaction was, ‘Oh, crap, what is going to happen?’,” Dockery said, when asked what she thought when she heard the news that Stevens was leaving the series. “Where can the story go now? We spent all this time having this on-off, will they/won’t they relationship and then suddenly it was coming to an end. As sad as it was to see Dan go, it opens it up for [creator/executive producer] Julian [Fellowes] to write something new. Initially, I was concerned, but now I am not.”
With the birth of baby George, Downton Abbey was insured an heir, so Mary doesn’t have to concern herself with marrying the next in line to inherit the manse. So this season, Julian Ovenden and Tom Cullen will be joining the cast as possible suitors for Mary.
Cullen will play “an old family friend who she has known since they were children but she hasn’t seen him since they were tiny,” Dockery says. “Of course it is important for her to move on, so he is a love interest.”
But before that happens, at the urging of the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), Mary will get involved with the running of the property, helped out by her brother-in-law Tom Branson (Allen Leech).
“We are aware that there are suspicions about Mary and Tom’s relationship,” Dockery says. “They are friends and he is her brother-in-law. They become close because of what they have both been through. Mary becomes far more involved with the running of the estate with Tom. Romantically, it isn’t going anywhere. I hope not.”
Tom is also rumored to become romantically involved with his baby’s nanny, who will be played by Daisy Lewis.
A few other tidbits from “Downton Abbey” Season 4:
Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) is still writing for the newspaper, but things are more complicated than that, keeping in mind that the man in her life is married.
“The death of Matthew affects the whole family, so she hasn’t seen Michael Gregson [Charles Edwards], for some time,” Carmichael says. “So when we come back to the house, she’s seeing Michael for the first time, which is, you know, a lovely scene that’s in the first episode. So she’s still turning in some articles. And we know that she’s been writing about the cause of the soldiers, but it’s a modern woman thing. I like to think of her as the Carrie Bradshaw of the ’20s.”
Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) do not get romantically involved, even though they seem to care very much for each other.
“We still have a very nice working relationship,” Logan says. “We still have occasional spats. We still have respect. We occasionally drink a glass of sherry together. As far as romance goes…”
Thomas (Rob James-Collier) will continue to be an outsider. Following up on last season’s story where he overstepped with Jimmy (Ed Speleers), he will have a complex story this year. With Cora’s (Elizabeth McGovern) lady’s maid O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) leaving, Neame says, “There’s going to be a bit of a shakeup to what happens to his story, and but he’s always going to be that core thing of wanting to be in control, wanting to find out what’s going on, wanting to make sure he can dictate things, and he’s always trying to usurp authority. He remains a very compelling character.”
Casting info: Shirley MacLaine will return as Cora’s mother. She will be joined by Paul Giamatti, playing Cora’s brother.
As previously announced, Jack Ross (Gary Carr) will be the first African American character on the series. He will play a jazz musician. The folks at Downton Abbey will also be entertained by renowned Kiwi soprano Kiri Te Kanaw.
“The heart of the show is the story of these 20 to 25 characters that are much loved around the world, how they just all continue to try and get by and get on, how they interact, how they make each other laugh, how they hate each other and have disputes and rivalries and all of the things that have been the fuel of all of the previous seasons, that continues,” Neame says.
“Downton Abbey” will return to PBS on Sunday, January 5, 2014.