TCA: 8 things we learned about ‘Downton Abbey’

“Wait, what is a weekend?” — Oh, Dowager Countess, if you were present Saturday night at the Television Critics Assn. press tour, you’d surely discover it’s the period of time when the cast of “Downton Abbey” lets loose.

Still beaming with an Emmy glow — the show took up residence in the drama category and received a total of 16 nominations — a few of the actors from the popular British series, including newcomer Shirley MacLaine, took the stage and reflected on the show’s fame.

“We’re gobsmacked,” said Hugh Bonneville, who plays Lord Crawley. “To have the show embraced so wholeheartedly from America is a great thrill for all of us.”

America’s cuddle with the period drama will likely continue when the show returns for its third season on Jan. 6, which will bring with it the addition of MacLaine as Martha Levinson, the mother of Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern). The 78-year-old actress, judging from the extensive preview-reel screenings to journalists, will undoubtedly bring a jolt to the series much in the way she brought a jolt to the panel — whether it was joking that she and 77-year-old Maggie Smith, who plays Dowager Countess, were “lovers in another lifetime” or plainly saying she had not been a fan of the show before joining and only took the part with some convincing by her hairdresser in Malibu.

“I didn’t know anything about Martha, I don’t even know if you do,” MacLaine said, looking to creator Julian Fellowes. “But my hairdresser does. All the ladies in my hairdressing place said, ‘Oh, she’s Jewish and she’s from Long Island and she has a lot of money and she’s looking for a tight, old man.’”


But the liveliness didn’t solely belong to MacLaine. As the session neared its end, Bonneville stood up and unbuttoned his shirt to reveal one underneath with a special plea in support of his imprisoned valet: “Free Bates!”

Here’s some other things we learned from the session:

1. The preview reel hinted at the possibility of financial ruin for the Crawley family, showed a scene of Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) in jail and, to our distress, showed more tension between Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery)and Matthew (Dan Stevens). Not to be overlooked, there was talk of a wedding — whose wedding is anyone’s guess.

2. Sorry, dog lovers! Isis the dog, after her leading role in last season’s finale, has been slightly downgraded for the third season.

3. Fellowes said the third season will be one of readjusting: “This season, in a way, is about the recovery from the war. The war brought a tremendous disruption to England,” he said. “There are chills and spills involved in that for all the characters ... some laughs and some tears. And that’s it.”

4. Coyle admitted he has broken down and taken those “What ‘Downton Abbey’ Character Are You?” quizzes that float around on Facebook. “I’m Mary,” he deadpanned. “I’m really happy about it.”

5. Look for the red ears! Joanne Froggatt revealed that she and Coyle were mid-scene when he learned of his supporting actor Emmy nomination on Thursday. During the first half of the scene — or “pre-nomination,” as Coyle clarified, he’s calm. Post-nomination, “he has very red ears,” Froggatt said. “It will be interesting to see if people spot the scene.”

6. With the arrival of Martha Levinson, we’re going to see Cora be less inhibited. “As things start to change and the plates are shifting, we’re reminded of where [Cora] comes from,” Fellowes said. “She’s much less afraid of the future than Robert is and she’s much less afraid of expressing that.”

7. Why does MacLaine think the show is a hit with viewers? “What [Fellowes] has done so brilliant is make 15 characters ... with just the right amount of time on screen, which fits with the Internet tolerance for emotional knowledge,” she said. Fellowes joked that it’s a show for people with short attention spans.

8. Cool kids! Bonneville said he knew the show was a hit when a 10- or 11-year-old “lad” in his son’s playground came up to him and declared: “I don’t like Thomas!”


Colorado shooting: TV news shows change plans

Jon Stewart ties Michelle Bachmann to Islamic terrorism

PBS chief says Fred Willard was fired to avoid ‘a distraction’

Follow Yvonne Villarreal on Twitter: @villarrealy