The Hidden Reason Behind Why Dan Stevens Left Downton Abbey

Dan Stevens harbored a secret while shooting Downton Abbey. Goodbye Matthew Crawley and say hello to movie star Dan Stevens, the billion dollar man.

By Nikki Flux
The Hidden Reason Behind Why Dan Stevens Left Downton Abbey

Matthew Crawley Vs Dan Stevens

Actor Dan Stevens had a big secret for most of the infamous season 3 of the well-loved Downton Abbey: he was not signing on for Season 4. Secretly, Stevens had acting offers in the United States and, whilst there was no guarantee, he could no longer continue to play war hero and beloved fan favorite, Matthew Crawley. As an actor, Dan Stevens saw the writing on the proverbial wall. The hero is only as interesting as his antagonist and like Moonlighting, the 80s classic, starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd; once the romantic leads get together, it's an emotional flat-line for an audience. As it stood, rolling into Season 3; Lady Mary finally got her man and Matthew Crawley, hysterical paraplegic, war hero and Spanish flu survivor, chipped the ice off the well-bred harpy and they were to live happily ever after. Snooze. Dan Stevens and creator Julian Fellowes had other ideas for Downton Abbey; where they both could win and the legacy of the series would continue. Together, they made Matthew Crawley's departure both memorable and tragic. But, there was a different force guiding Dan Stevens; a new beginning. The potential for career stultification and a gut feeling, had him balk at signing on for Season 4 of Downton Abbey, with the rest of the cast. At the end of the day, audiences loved the "will they, or won't they" aspect to Lady Mary and Crawley's relationship. To finally settle down, meant to both Dan Stevens and series creator, Julian Fellowes; boredom. Stevens knew that the storyline was limited, once Matthew Crawley netted Lady Mary - there was nowhere for the story to go. With that foresight in mind, Dan Stevens said goodbye to Matthew Crawley and moved on, literally and figuratively. Due to contractual obligations, he saw out his commitment to Downton Abbey and completed Season 3, knowing full well his character was doomed to a grisly death. However, behind the scenes, with his wife and children in tow, Dan Stevens made plans to relocate to Brooklyn, New York and play the lead on Broadway in, "The Heiress," opposite Oscar-winner, Jessica Chastain and beyond that, an unknown future.

No Apology: A Different Dan Stevens

When Dan Stevens left Downton Abbey, his departure caused an such an uproar with the fans; the series creator Julian Fellowes and cast members were inundated by fans and press demanding answers. In retrospect, Matthew Crawley's death by milk truck is one of the more memorable moments on the 6 season run of the show, but at the time, actor Dan Stevens probably felt he was run out of the U.K., by townsfolk brandishing pitchforks and wanting his head. Lady Mary was FINALLY happy and the storyline to get her to the altar with Matthew Crawley was a long time coming, after many stops and starts. Happily ever after wasn't just a story device: it was an EXPECTATION. Instead, Fellowes killed off the war hero Matthew Crawley, with no apology. Crawley's death shocked audiences when the episode aired on Christmas Day and the actor's decision to pursue a different career path in the USA, sans the war hero, upset fans and industry folk in the U.K. It's all water under the bridge now, but at the time, it was seen by most as a huge career risk. Daring to be different paid off for Dan Stevens. In relocating to the USA, Stevens slayed the ghost of Downton Abbey past and laid to rest the character he played for 3 seasons. Chaulk it up for a win - Dan Stevens: 1 and Michael Crawley: 0. Actor Dan Stevens began a successful 6 month run on Broadway, starred in Beauty And The Beast, the billion dollar live action movie and has finally landed on his own TV show, "Legion." RIP Michael Crawley.

Matthew Crawley's Autopsy

Ok, you have to admit, Matthew Crawley's departure was one of the most creative ways to die. Death by milk-truck. And it was a gruesome and a fitting end to a war hero. Heroes as mythic and honorable as Matthew Crawley, need to be martyred. No other option would be feasible for a character so stalwart and honest. Crawley was so steadfast and true. He was too honest. Killing him, tied up any loose ends and guaranteed him a noble place in the mythos of Downton Abbey, as a tragic hero. Anything less, wouldn't have been believable. No apology necessary, when you think about it.

Dramatic Downton Abbey Departure As A Plot Twist

The oldest writing trick in the book is to kill off a main character in a cliffhanger at the end of a season. It's writing 101 and writers in the United States and the United Kingdom have been employing this plot device for years. It is a writing method used especially when a show's ratings start to drop; thus, killing off a beloved character, guarantees a spike in the show's ratings and the social relevancy furthers the brand. The job of the writer is to create an emotional response in the viewer, for a payoff at a later time. Having an emotional marker, or inflicting a psychic scar in the form of mnemonic device, sets up the audience so that they want to tune in and find out what happened and how it affects the series narrative, character arcs and plot lines, going forward. It's quite brilliant. The shock value boosts TV ratings and often guarantees a return of the loyal audience, eager to see how the emotional pieces are picked up. It's a method that was used multiple times on Downton Abbey. Before Game Of Thrones, Downton Abbey was the king of character death for shock value. There was a lot of criticism of how the writer and creator of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes, handled the abrupt death-as-a-cliffhanger approach to his storytelling; mainly because he did it repeatedly throughout the 6 season run of the award-winning series. In Fellowes defense, killing off Michael Crawley's character had to be brutal; otherwise any open ends would have complicated the other storylines too much, particularly regarding the heir to Downton Abbey. The other main issue, for audiences, was the timing. Notoriously, in the UK, it was universally despised by viewers because the finale for season 3 occurred on Christmas Day. It had a lasting effect on audiences and it certainly polarized their feelings about the actor Dan Stevens portraying Michael Crawley. There was a heightened sense of betrayal that he is still apologizing for, to this day. Compounding the death by misadventure and vehicular manslaughter, was that audiences had barely recovered from Lady Sybil Crawley's death after childbirth, in Season 2. At the end of the day, the body count in Downton Abbey is quite steep. Retrospectively; killing off the beloved youngest Crawley daughter, whilst sad, shouldn't have come as such a shock. We should have t-shirts with "What would Pamuk do?," or "Justice for Pamuk." It's a show, people. Fiction is to be enjoyed. Over-personalizing fictional characters tends to happen when shows like Downton Abbey are so successful. The point is: there was Pamuk's sudden death and potential scandal in Lady Mary's bed in Season 1; youngest daughter, Lady Sybil's shocking death by fetus, in Season 2 and finally, Michael Crawley's horrendous fatal car accident in Season 3. Taking stock of the emotional autopsy of Downton Abbey, one can say a resounding "bravo" to Julian Fellowes and the cast and crew, who brought the characters to life so beautifully, for the run of the series. Case closed.

Welcome to #Series6 of #Downton Abbey. #DowntonAbbey

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"When you have an ongoing series, inevitably there is an element of soap. A lot has to happen to these people, whereas in real lives, a whole year can go ahead and practically nothing has happened. Then you get another year where your parents die, your child is ill, the dog’s dead, you’re fired and you lose your house. The characters have to have those years every year."

Julian Fellowes, writer and creator of Downton Abbey and the practicalities of story

Dan Stevens' Secret Set Him Free

"Over my dead body" is a common turn of phrase and completely appropo to Dan Stevens, who did exactly that, by being killed off in one of the most successful British series, Downton Abbey. By stepping over the corpse of Matthew Crawley, Stevens has become one of the only actors on the series to become a superstar. Dan Stevens had multiple offers from the United States and he knew, without apology, he owed it to himself as an actor to take these opportunities while they were hot. Going into filming Season 3, Stevens told series creator Julian Fellowes he wasn't going to be able to sign on for another season and both creator and cast agreed to keep the secret: Matthew Crawley meets his mortal coil in the finale. The cast and Stevens got along immensely, after 3 years of working together and of course wished him well on his different path and committed to keeping his departure secret. It actually freed up the storylines, rather than hindered it. As much as Julian Fellowes loved Dan Stevens as an actor, the departure meant more interesting plot twists, instead of just romance.

"Actually, nothing is harder to dramatise than happiness. So now we've got Mary widowed, trying to control the estate, feuding with various other people about what the right way forward is, looking for a new life, dare one say it. All of that is really more interesting than two people sitting by the fire having a cup of tea."

Julian Fellowes Downton Abbey writer on boredom around romance in the series Downton Abbey.

A Superstar Is Born In The USA

Dan Stevens slow burn to superstardom started with the lead on Broadway's "The Heiress" and a supporting role playing Sir Lancelot in "A Night At The Museum 3: Secret Of The Tomb," in 2014 and hit the stratosphere with 2017's "Beauty And The Beast." Being the eternal gentleman, Dan Stevens started his career in the USA as an apology to Downton fans - starting slow to get them used to him in different roles. He lost weight and changed hair color and increased his range and believes his fans have grown with him. Even though Stevens resides in Brooklyn with his wife and children, he is still very proud to be British, taking roles in his native U.K. and the states.

Downton Abbey: Life Imitates Art

With Downton Abbey ending it's 6 season run December 2015, only one sad turn of events has affected one of it's beloved cast members. The talented Michelle Dockery, also known as the long-suffering Lady Mary on Downton Abbey, recently experienced life imitating art, with the death of her fiance from terminal cancer. A terrible loss for the actress, making 2015 the end of Downton Abbey and the love of her life.

"My friend, my king, my hero, my everything. I was honored to know John. To love him and be loved by him."

Michelle Dockery on her fiance John Dineen

Downton Abbey Diehards

Acting and producing is both a blessing and a curse. When a show has a successful run, the public gets attached to the characters on the show, as if they are family members. Downton Abbey cast and crew had fans approaching them, throughout the run of the series and often found themselves in awkward situations, including the show's writer, Julian Fellowes. He offered no apology to fans for his plot choices and the multitude of ways the characters came and went on the show by death, bad deeds, or misfortune.

Much like cocktails at #Downton. #Awkward #DowntonPBS #Episode1 #Quote #DowntonAbbey

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Did Downton Abbey jump the shark?

To keep a show interesting for 6 seasons is not an easy task for a writing team. Downton Abbey, incredibly, only had ONE: Julian Fellowes. Most of us experience marriage, birth, death, divorce and a variety of other crisis moments, with a bit of breathing room between each event. The fictional characters of Downton Abbey and Lord and Lady Grantham's family represent US, after all. The human experience. The common frailties were shared and divided by the high-born and their staff. The industry term "jumping the shark" goes back to the TV show "Happy Days," when nearing the end of its 10 year run, had the character Fonzie, literally jumping a shark on water skis, to boost the ratings. Ever since then, writers affectionately use the term, "jumping the shark," when seeing dramatic moments in movies, or TV shows. Downton Abbey was no different. The compressed timeline accelerated the life events of the characters, but nonetheless, there were at least 8 times when the show jumped the shark and we LOVED them for it. 1. Lady Sybil's death after childbirth (damn it, Lord Grantham-listen to the doctor!). 2. Matthew Crawley's death in a car accident (enough said about this). 3. Cora's miscarriage (her MAID left a bar of soap on the bathroom floor!). 4. Edith being jilted at the altar/missing fiance/pregnant (she's never happy TBH and we compressed her drama into one big wtf). 5. Bate's trial for murdering his ex wife (of course he didn't!). 6. Lord Grantham's ulcer bursting in a flood of blood all over the dinner table. 7. Downton footman Thomas shooting his hand during WW1 to be sent home. 8. Anna's rape (while the family & her husband listen to Dame Nellie Melba perform).

"One of the things we hit on was to create a world where big things happened, but what we always dramatized was the effect on the characters of the event; we very seldom dramatized the event itself. We didn’t see Matthew die, we didn’t see Anna raped. It didn’t matter what it was, it always happened somewhere else, like with Greek drama."

Julian Fellowes on the core value of the storyline process of Downton Abbey

Dan Stevens On Wings Of Success

In addition to making women swoon the world over with his dashing portrayal of tragic war hero Matthew Crawley, Downton Abbeys' Dan Stevens moved on - in a big way. He began his ascent to superstardom on Broadway, opposite Oscar-winning actress Jessica Chastain, in "The Heiress." Then, Stevens scored a small supporting role, opposite Robin Williams and Ben Stiller in "A Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb," followed by starring in "The Guest" a small thriller, before hitting pay dirt, by nailing the role of the Beast, in the Disney blockbuster and live-action remake of the classic, "Beauty And The Beast." The movie has made over 1.2 BILLION dollars world-wide. Now that the dust has finally settled, one could say that Dan Stevens has successfully made the transition from the small screen to the big screen and happily floats between the two mediums, it seems. He is now on the second season of the FX TV show "Legion" and his career shows no signs of slowing down. You've come a long way since husking off the shell of Matthew Crawley. Well done, Sir.

Legion's Secret Weapon: Dan Stevens

SPOILER ALERT: Even though his character, David Charles Haller, has spent a lifetime being institutionalized, he's really the son of X-Men's Professor Xavier and a mutant struggling to control a parasitic entity, living in his mind. The series is based on the Marvel Comics books and Dan Stevens finally lays to rest the titular Mr nice guy and rocks his inner psycho, showing off his acting chops, to boot.

Beast Does Hathaway

Dan Stevens has done nothing but work, since his departure from Downton Abbey. Before doing beastly box office in Beauty And The Beast, Downton Abbey's Matthew Crawley aka Dan Stevens, took a co-starring role, playing Anne Hathaway's boyfriend in 2016's monster comedy, Colossal.

Downton Abbey: The End Of An Era

Downton Abbey ended its run on December 2015 and audiences all over the world grieved the loss. The show went out on the top of the ratings and will go down in history, as one of the most beloved shows about the trials and tribulations of a wealthy family adjusting to a modern world after WW1. It introduced the world to a new slew of talented British actors and actresses and re-introduced them to the only American one, the wonderful Elizabeth McGovern. McGovern can bookend her illustrious career with the Oscar-winning Ordinary People and the Emmy, Golden Globe and BAFTA-winning Downton Abbey. What a wonderful legacy Julian Fellowes has given himself, the cast and the entire world with Downton Abbey. The best quality of the series, was just how close to real life the family was. It was the best dysfunctional functional family and a pleasure to watch from start to finish. Au revoir Downton Abbey - you will be missed.

Lights, camera…? #Downton #DowntonAbbey #BehindTheScenes #TheFinalSeries

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"None of us had any idea of how successful Downton was going to be. I thought I was signing up for another period drama that had a slightly modern feel. It had a freedom about it because it was coming out of the head of Julian Fellowes. Anything could happen and generally did."

Dan Stevens on Downton Abbey

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