Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery: Lady Mary Won't Be Happy for a Long Time
by Hanh Nguyen
Michelle Dockery, Allen Leech
[Spoilers! The following contains information about the first three seasons of Downton Abbey. Read at your own risk.]
Downton Abbey‘s Lady Mary may be in mourning, but will we get to see her eventually find happiness this season?
“Not yet. I don’t know if she’ll ever be happy for a long time,” Michelle Dockery, who plays the widowed Mary, tells TVGuide.com. “Matthew made her happy and changed her from quite a spoiled brat into quite a nice person. At the end of [Season] 3, she had it all: She finally found the man of her dreams, she was married, she gave birth to a baby boy. It’s all wrapped up very neatly. All of that has been shattered now.”
When Downton Abbey returns for its fourth season, approximately six months will have passed since heir Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) perished in an auto accident immediately after visiting his wife and newborn son George in the hospital. And although we feel for Lady Mary, her suffering paid off with another Emmy nomination for Dockery. “I had one last year, and that was amazing. I wasn’t really expecting it to happen again,” Dockery says. “I feel I’m part of this time that writers are writing really well for women.”
Check out the rest of our interview with Dockery to find out what else is in store for Mary in Season 4:
What kind of mother is Mary?
Michelle Dockery: She’s very conscious that she wants to be a good mother. She finds it difficult to relate, to bond with the baby at the beginning because of the grief. Every time she looks at him, she thinks of Matthew. But she’s also not the most maternal of mothers, as you can imagine. It’s just not in her nature. And also, at that time and the world that she’s in, women in the aristocracy didn’t really spend that much time with their children. Mary, Edith and Sybil would have spent most of their childhood with the nanny or the governess. They’d see mother after tea, once before dinner or something.
Because you and your brother-in-law Tom Branson (Allen Leech) are both widowed and single parents, will you share many scenes this season?
Dockery: Yes, me and Allen have shared lots of scenes together this year because he is obviously the estate manager, so Mary has a lot to do with Tom Branson because she is also part of that process, taking charge and saving Downton. Because Matthew’s death has put a real spanner in the works for the heir, who is too young to be the heir, even though he is. There’s a great story line around that.
Is Mary more tolerant of Branson now? Not only do they have to work together, but they share the same grief.
Dockery: Yeah they certainly do. They share the same loss, and also Branson lost a friend. He was friends with Matthew. So there is certainly a bond between them, but there’s always that divide between them still, as much as he’s been included into the family. He was the chauffeur, so there is still a little distance between them. And he still feels at times uncomfortable being abovestairs and not belowstairs. It’s a big adjustment for Branson.
Thank goodness a Branson-Mary romance won’t happen, but there are other possible romances for Mary this season. Are you prepared for fans, loyal to Matthew, to be outraged by these new prospects?
Dockery: Yeah, of course! I think what’s important is that Mary does not move on too quickly. Time moved quite quickly when it came to marriage back then because it’s important, and particularly for Mary it’s important that she finds a husband that’s eligible and can father Baby George. And to replace Matthew, that’s difficult.
Does she have to approach the subject of marriage as business now?
Dockery: Yes in some ways, but I think she still belives in romance. Matthew kind of teaches Mary that. She was in love with him, as much as it was a tricky start with them. She would want it to be both. But I don’t know where it’s going. Maybe she’ll end up alone, maybe she’ll never be able to replace him.
Did you catch the spoof Downton Diddy?
Dockery: I did! I loved it. He’s so funny. I was so impressed. The production values of it were amazing! And I just thought it was so funny. I love the bit with Thomas, the footman when he puts his hand on his face, and whacks his hand out of the way. And a lot of it was [Season] 1 that they took off, which I hadn’t seen in ages. Things like that are just a reminder of what a success this show has become. It’s become this other thing. Spoofs are being made. It’s wonderful really because it’s flattering. It shows how much people love it.
Of course, the whole reason why Downton Diddy was made was because of the announcement that Downton Abbey added its first black character. Gary Carr plays a jazz musician named Jack Ross. How much is jazz involved in the story this season?
Dockery: The fourth [season] spans between 1922 and 1923, and there is an energy to the fourth [season] besides the mourning of Matthew. It feels like the Bright Young Things are out. The fashions have changed, and Edith and Rose are very much embracing this new era. What comes with that is music and dancing. The jazz era has just begun. [Jack] is this new character who comes in who performs in a nightclub that some of the characters go to.
You personally sing jazz, but how does Mary feel about jazz?
Dockery: I don’t know. I’ve never really thought of that. … Now she’s a little bit older, she’s not really into the partying scene. She adapts to change really well. She’s not one to harbor on the past like Robert, but maybe she doesn’t embrace it as much as someone like Rose or Edith.
She’s not about to get her hair –
Dockery: — her hair bobbed or anything? No.
What are the differences in costume for the era that we’ll see on Mary?
Dockery: The hems are higher, the waists have dropped, everything’s loose, no corsets. It’s just slightly less demure. There’s more flesh on show. It’s not a bad thing to have more of your back showing, your shoulders. The jewelry is a little bit more extravagant. The tiara is back. There are a lot more diamonds because during the war — there was a brilliant quote that I saw at the imperial war museum of something like, “Dressing extravagantly is an insult to your troops” or something — so for a while, the fashions were a lot duller during the war because people were in constant mourning. The ’20s kind of gave everyone [the opportunity] to sort of go a little madder. It’s full of diamonds and pearls.
Are Rose and Edith (Lily James, Laura Carmichael) actually going out together socially?
Dockery: No, not really. Everyone sort of has their own little story lines going on. Edith spends quite a bit of time in London. That’s very new, that she sort of has this independence.
What is Mary’s relationship like with her sister Edith this season?
Dockery: There’s a little tension still between them. They’ve never really forgiven one another for the bad things that they did to each other in the first [season]. I think it’s that thing that they love each other, but they’re not friends. Mary can still be quite nasty towards Edith, and through the mourning, she can be quite cutting with some of her remarks. I think people understand that it’s through the grief, really, in those early episodes. For me and Laura, it’s fun. If Julian [Fellowes] suddenly wrote that they hug it out and make up, it wouldn’t be as fun to play. As much as I think that if they had put their differences aside and on the table, they’d be really good mates because in some ways, they’re similar I think.
Speaking of family, Paul Giamatti makes a guest appearance in the Christmas episode as Uncle Harold, Lady Cora’s (Elizabeth McGovern) brother. What energy does his character bring to the show?
Dockery: He and Martha (Shirley MacLaine) kind of rock up. It was just coming to the end of the shoot, so it was a lovely energy boost for everyone, especially Shirley coming in. He plays our uncle who has got himself into a bit of trouble financially. He plays this slightly caddish [character]. We’ve talked about Harold in the past a lot, so it’s nice to finally see him. He was so great to work with. And always seeing Shirley in the same room as Maggie [Smith] — I pinch myself.
Downton Abbey Season 4 premieres in the UK on ITV in September, while U.S. audiences must wait for the Jan. 5 premiere on PBS’ Masterpiece.