Dockery: Sad saying goodbye to Dan
Michelle Dockery has admitted it has been strange shooting Downton Abbey without her former co-star Dan Stevens.
The actress shared countless scenes with Dan when he played her fictional love interest Matthew during the previous three series, but the actor has now left to pursue a career in America and Matthew was killed off in a car crash.
Michelle, who can be seen in the fourth series later this month, said: "Matthew was a really well-loved character, and Dan was such a wonderful part in the show that I think it was inevitable that people were really shocked by his exit - and angry by the sounds of it.
"I guess people felt they invested a lot in Matthew and Mary, but I think it's opened up an opportunity to start a new chapter, not just for Mary but everyone around her."
More than 11 million people watched Matthew's death during the Christmas episode, and while Michelle knew what was going to happen, she admitted that the final days on set were sad.
"I think it was inevitable that Matthew would have to be killed off," said the 31-year-old. "Being the heir to Downton, he couldn't just disappear. Julian Fellowes, the creator, had to tie that up. We all knew it was coming but, still, to read that last episode was just heartbreaking."
Michelle and her co-stars have remained friendly with Dan, as well as Jessica Brown Findlay, who played Mary's youngest sister Sybil, who left in the middle of the third series.
She said: "We all keep in touch and, as far as I know, Dan's in New York and doing incredibly well. We're all very proud of him. We all saw his play, The Heiress, in New York. He was brilliant."
Michelle also revealed that the Downton cast play board games to keep themselves amused between takes.
"Tom Cullen brought Bananagrams with him on set," she said. "It's a bit like Scrabble and we all love it. It keeps your brain alive between set-ups. Pretty much everyone's playing. Dame Maggie Smith, who plays Violet, is very good, as is Laura Carmichael who plays Lady Edith. But me? I have good days and bad days!"
:: Downton Abbey returns to ITV tonight (September 22).