What would Lady Mary say?

First Dan Stevens deserts Down­ton, then he moves to New York City and grows a tough-guy ’tache on his stiff up­per lip. He tells Stu­art Jef­fries why

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FEATURE -

As Dan Stevens walks into the Brook­lyn Roast­ing Com­pany café, he doesn’t so much look like the tweedy heir to Down­ton as a short-tem­pered as­so­ciate of Tony So­prano. He looks set to whack some­one and dump their re­mains in the nearby East River for short­ing him on his pro­tec­tion money. He’s wear­ing shades, a leather jacket and — there’s no easy way to say this — a beanie. Even his mis­be­got­ten, ev­i­dently dyed facial hair — wispy mous­tache, that dab of beard be­neath the lower lip known as a soul patch — some­how looks men­ac­ing. That said, Stevens pep­pers his speech with more ‘sor­rys’ and ‘ter­ri­blys’ than most New Jersey hit­men.

‘Ter­ri­bly sorry for be­ing early,’ he says, shak­ing hands. When Stevens re­moves his sun­glasses he re­veals the ex­tra­or­di­nary blue eyes that so cap­ti­vated Lady Mary. But then he takes off his beanie. The golden locks of an Ed­war­dian god have been trimmed and dyed black. Car­son wouldn’t have coun­te­nanced his beloved Lady Mary mar­ry­ing some­one ca­pa­ble of such vul­gar er­rors of taste.

We take our cof­fees out­side at a pave­ment ta­ble. We’re in the Brook­lyn neigh­bour­hood of Dumbo (an acro­nym for Down Un­der the Man­hat­tan Bridge Over­pass). Stevens now lives nearby with his wife, South African singer Susie Ha­riet. They have two chil­dren — Wil­low, three, and Aubrey, who has just turned one. This par t of Dumbo is a for­mer ware­house dis­trict, be­ing made over with counter- cul­ture cof­fee shops and or­ganic delis. For all the steely grandeur of the bridges stretch­ing to Man­hat­tan, this is hardly a green and pleas­ant cor­ner. It’s ur­ban, gritty and short on trees. Across the street, de­liv­ery driv­ers chew each other out in id­iomatic Noo Yawk. You left Down­ton Abbey for this? ‘We’ve been here since last sum­mer; we’ll see how it goes. The kids are small enough to move. You shove them in a box and off you go. We’re not at the school stage. Th­ese cou­ple of years are a golden time for an ad­ven­ture.’ Clearly he loves it. ‘I’ve dreamt of liv­ing in New York since I came here eight or nine years ago and played Adam in As You Like It. One thing that re­ally ex­cited me is that feel­ing you get when you drive over the bridge and you see that Mid­town sky­line.’ Are you a New Yorker now? ‘Well, we’ve taken a lease. Ap­par­ently, if you have a lease, that means you’re a New Yorker. And we’ve sur­vived Hur­ri­cane Sandy.’ There wasn’t much to sur­viv­ing it but sit­ting it out, he says. But it re­mains a badge of hon­our.

Stevens came to New York for his Broad­way de­but op­po­site Jessica Chas­tain in The Heiress. By the start of 2013, he was set­tled there with a Broad­way hit be­hind him and the prospect of play­ing surely the least Down­tonesque role — a Brook­lyn drug traf­ficker seek­ing re­venge on psy­chotic se­rial killers who have mur­dered his wife, in Frank Scott’s A Walk Among The Tomb­stones with Liam Nee­son and Ruth Wil­son.

I tell Stevens that at the air­port I met a US Cus­toms of­fi­cial who was a Down­ton afi­cionado. ‘Ask him why he left. I just don’t get it,’ said the of­fi­cial. ‘How could he do that to Lady Mary when she’s just given birth? He’s gonna in­herit, for Chris­sake!’

‘Yes, I spend a lot of time apol­o­gis­ing to peo­ple’s wives here,’ he says. ‘Down­ton’s big­ger here than there.’ The cus­toms of­fi­cial felt you’ve made a huge ca­reer mis­take. He’s not alone (Twit­ter and fan sites have been flooded by an­gry view­ers). ‘I made my de­ci­sion for my­self, but I didn’t make it alone.

‘Ev­ery­body who knows and sup­ports me was be­hind it and that made it feel the right thing to do. Also it ex­cited me to fol­low my instinct, which said, “This is the right time.” It’s just a nice feel­ing to have when you can trust your­self.’

But why did he quit? ‘I had a great three years. I had a blast. I have some very fond mem­o­ries. The cast were lovely. It was just time.’ But surely it wasn’t time? You were star­ring in a glob­ally suc­cess­ful fran­chise head­ing into a lu­cra­tive se­ries four. ‘Well, its suc­cess

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