It takes a brave man to quit a well-paid acting role in a series that regularly draws in 10 million viewers, so when Dan Stevens sensationally left Downton Abbey last Christmas the nation was aghast.
He could be forgiven for regretting his decision to ditch Julian Fellowes’ period drama in favour of a career in movies, but it seems he’s having no second thoughts just yet. “I miss the guys and I miss the cast, obviously,” he told RadioTimes.com, “but I still see a lot of them and we’re all in touch either on the phone or by email. I’m looking forward to season four and I told them expressly when I saw them the other day not to give me any plot spoilers.”
Nowadays, instead of being holed up at Highclere, Dan has kept himself busy filming new movie Summer in February, as well as upcoming Wikileaks drama The Fifth Estate, starring as Guardian journalist Ian Katz alongside Benedict Cumberbatch’s Julian Assange. “I’m a small part of a big ensemble but it was a project I was very excited to be a part of because it’s an ongoing narrative and Assange is a fascinating character whichever way you slice him.”
So what was it like acting alongside the star of Sherlock and Star Trek Into Darkness? “It was great to get to work with Benedict. We’ve known each other for years and it was fun to finally do a few scenes together.” Although, if you assumed Stevens had glossed over the disparaging remarks his pal made about Downton last year (he told Reader’s Digest the ITV series was “f***ing atrocious”) then you’d be wrong. “I bring it up whenever I can. We’re old friends and he was mortified about how it was taken out of context so I just tease him about it.”
Fast-forward to 2014 and Stevens will be back in cinemas opposite Liam Neeson in A Walk Among the Tombstones which sees him play against type as a drug trafficker who enlists the help of a former cop when his wife is kidnapped and murdered. “It’s based on a series of noir thrillers known as the Matt Scudder novels – Matt Scudder is a retired, jaded ex-policeman-turned-private detective who is played by Liam.”
Was it hard to land a role so different from the period dramas in which he made his name? “I met with the director, Scott Frank, and he looked at me and said, ‘I’ve never seen you play something like this – I’d love to see you play this,’ rather than saying, ‘I’ve never seen you play this – I don’t think you can do it.’ Having someone who believes in you like that is an incredibly inspiring and positive thing to feel.”
The role did require Stevens to sport some questionable facial hair, only adding to the media interest that has surrounded his post-Downton metamorphosis. “It was quite nasty – he has a moustache and one of these [points at his chin] which had various names. ‘Soul patch’ was one, somebody else called it a ‘jazz dab’. It’s set in 1999 so a slightly period look in itself. It’s quite a dark, grisly world.”
Dan’s new film Summer in February opens in UK cinemas nationwide on Friday 14 June