Downton Abbey returns later this month, which means we pick up with Mary's story where we left off – she's just had a baby, her husband Matthew Crawley (played by Dan Stevens) has died and suddenly she's thrust into the responsibility of having a son, George, as the heir to the Downton estate.
We caught up with actress Michelle Dockery to find out what series four holds for Lady Mary Crawley...
What's life like for Mary now?
To begin with obviously Mary’s been much in grief, and you know, for the full series she's got to try to live with what’s happened and move on. I don’t think she’ll ever move on but she’s trying. She’s recovering, I guess. She’s encouraged to meet new people because inevitably she has to.
Mary does have to look for a husband again because of the position she’s in. She now has the heir to Downton so that’s the lead in to the series. She’s finding potential suitors.
I feel like Mary’s kind of reverted back a bit to the person that she was in series one, but for different reasons, it’s obviously through the grief. She has that kind of cold exterior again, which I do like playing. When she has a bit of a sting in her tail, I do enjoy playing that side of her. I guess it can be more fun. It's an interesting journey and something that I wasn’t necessarily expecting. I was expecting marital bliss and parenthood with Matthew and Mary and it didn’t quite turn out like that!
Is it exhausting playing such an emotionally heavy role?
I wouldn’t say exhausting. There was definitely a different kind of focus that I had to have. Particularly for that first episode because Mary is so numb. I definitely had to focus into that mode a bit more. But, as much as they were sad scenes to play, it was enjoyable.
Do you wish Matthew and Mary could have played happy families for a little bit longer?
Yeah. I guess it just wasn’t what I was expecting but as much as it was a concern to begin with it’s just changed a lot and the writing has really changed. It’s given Julian [Julian Fellowes who writes the series] the opportunity to take, not only Mary, but other characters into a completely different chapter. Even Moseley, as you see in that first episode, he’s at a complete loss now that his employer has died. Matthew’s death has this knock on effect throughout the house, which has made it a very different series to what it maybe would have been.
A lot of your scenes in series three were with Dan Stevens. Was it strange to come onto set without him?
Really strange. And the same with Jessica [Jessica Brown Findlay who played Mary's on-screen sister Sybil]. Because you spend so much time together for those six months of the year. It was really strange not having him around. Mary is very isolated in series four, particularly in those first few scenes. And it just felt really strange, him not being there. I missed him.
It must be fun with all the new faces, though? And those love interests?
Yeah, it always is. It’s wonderful to have new actors join the show. We all know it is maybe quite daunting so we try and make it as easy for them as possible. Gillingham is a new character who is an old childhood friend of the family and Charles Blake who Julian Ovenden plays - he’s a potential suitor.
Where it’s going I won’t give away but it’s a slow process. I think it has to be because people invested so much in the character of Matthew and loved that storyline. Mary couldn’t move on really quickly, it just wouldn’t be right.
We can't imagine anyone taking Matthew's place just yet...
Matthew’s so hard to replace so it’s a slow process and, like I was said, I think it has to be for the audience as well.
So, love interests aside, is there still the same tension between Edith and Mary?
There is always tension between them. I don’t think that’s ever going to go away. Even in spite of what they’ve been through together, you know, Edith hasn’t just lost a sister but also a brother-in-law, there’s still tension. I think the thing is that they love each other but they’re not friends. And actually they are very different but they are also very similar in lots of ways.
Is there an element of jealousy between Mary and Edith in series four perhaps?
No, I don’t think she’s jealous. I think she’s too deep in her own grief to feel any emotion like jealousy. I just think it’s a very natural thing in Mary to kind of put Edith down. It’s just that sibling rivalry that she has. And even in her darkest moments she has a second just to rain on her parade.
It looks as though we are going to see Mary the Businesswoman in the next series...
She certainly has to get her hands dirty this year because she’s much more involved in the estate than she was before. There’s lots of farming! Her and Branson become closer, because of what they’ve been through together and she’s working with him really with the estate. Mary has to be a lot more practical. She’s a bit reluctant at first to get stuck in…
We're guessing her involvement in the estate will lead to clashes with her father?
Yeah. I mean, there’s always tension between them and as you see from episode one he’s very much trying to protect Mary and just keep her wrapped in cotton wool when she just needs to get on with her life. There's always that slight tussle. She’s the son that he never had and I love doing those scenes with Hugh [Hugh Bonneville who plays the Earl of Grantham, Robert Crawley]. They are such great scenes.
Have you been surprised by fans' reactions to the last series, and Matthew's death in particular?
I’m not on Twitter but I heard how huge the reaction was. My family were so shocked when we were watching it on Christmas Day - they were like, ‘why didn’t you tell me?!’
But as much as it was a huge kind of out pour, it’s just amazing how popular the show is and how people take it to their hearts. It’s wonderful.
Is it hard to keep those kind of secrets from family and friends?
Actually my family are good. They don’t like to know. They want to see it as it goes along - as much as I’m bursting to tell them. It's hard, you know, I want to tell you the great things that happen in the show, but I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you!
What's it like watching the show as it goes out?
I feel really removed from it. It’s like I’m not watching me, because the character is very different [from me]. It's never a breeze watching yourself on camera. I don’t think it is for anyone. It’s something that I’m never fully comfortable with but I do enjoy watching the show. If I wasn’t in the show I would be watching it.
So you are fan of period drama?
Mad Men, I love. Pride and Prejudice, Foyle’s War. I loved all of those.
Have you been impressed with how well the show is doing in America?
The response is amazing over there and it seems to grow every year with each series. It’s wonderful - and all we wanted in the first series was for the UK audience to enjoy it and to respond, but for the rest of the world and America to have caught on really is amazing. It's astonishing how it’s just kind of had this knock on and every year… another country discovers it.
You have been quoted as saying all of the cast are signed up for series 5?
It hasn’t been commissioned yet, series five. I think most of the actors are signed on, but I don’t know what other people are doing in their careers.
If there is a series five that is commissioned, I will definitely do series five.
Would you go further than that? How many series do you think the show has got left in it?
It’s really in the hands of Julian and the producers. The show does move in time, already it’s moved on quite swiftly so we’ll see. I really, really don’t know.
Downton Abbey returns to ITV later this month