Matthew Crawley is dead, literally and figuratively. Not only was he last seen crumpled on a roadside but his portrayer, Dan Stevens, has employed every weapon in his arsenal to ensure the character who made his name is long forgotten.
How? By undertaking a string of roles that no one would ever have thought to put him forward for. To start with, A Walk Among The Tombstones – the real reason he dropped a ton of weight and grew some questionable facial hair. Straight-laced Matthew was fiercely on the right side of the law, but Stevens next tackled a heroin trafficker who hires Liam Neeson to track down his kidnapped wife. Steely gaze and New York accent – Matthew Crawley, this ain't.
With seedy criminal ticked off his list, Stevens turned his attention to... cross dressing. Yes, you read that right. Web series High Maintenance saw him switch his trousers for skirts to play a stay-at-home dad with a penchant for pot and, er, women's clothing. Channelling Mary Crawley, perhaps?
The mission to build an eclectic CV continued with a spell opposite John Travolta as Noah in Criminal Activities (currently filming) and a chance to showcase his comic nous with Adam Sandler in The Cobbler and as Sir Lancelot in Night At The Museum: Secret of the Tomb.
Today Stevens has all but completed his apparent quest to banish Matthew Crawley from our memories, once and for all. The newly-released trailer for The Quest – in which he stars as sinister soldier and eponymous "guest" David – sees the 31-year-old wheel out his US accent once again and do what Matthew Crawley never dared...get his top off. Deep breaths, ladies and gents.
If those abs haven't stolen your attention, you'll be wondering what point I'm trying to make here (besides finding an excuse to share the above, obviously). Well, here goes...
With so many roles stacked up, Stevens will be a regular feature of cinema screens these next twelve months but the jury is still out on whether his performances are all groundbreaking. One thing's for sure: his eclectic choices are a stellar example of how to leave the series that made your name and the character people will try to associate you with.
History tells us it's not easy. Just ask the cast of Friends who no doubt want to throttle every reporter who asks the dreaded "reunion" question. All have been active since the show ended but none have found it easy to step out of the shadows of Central Perk.
Aaron Paul bid farewell to Jesse Pinkman nine months after Matthew's Christmas Day car crash and has already had two films in cinemas – Need for Speed and A Long Way Down. Both have hit screens with a whimper and Paul spent each press tour fielding endless Breaking Bad questions (yours truly included).
He has more roles to come – including a spell as Joshua in Christmas blockbuster Exodus: Gods and Kings – but to really move beyond a cult role you have to step well outside your comfort zone, something Stevens has made every effort to do. Will it pay off or end in a car crash worse than Matthew Crawley's? Who knows, but he's certainly given us plenty to get excited about. Aaron Paul, take note.