The discussions about cousin Matthew’s death don’t seem to die. (Dan Stevens sort of apologized for his characters untimely death on Christmas day.) When the Downton Abbey creator/writer Julian Fellowes, producer Gareth Naeme and several cast members gathered for a round table in Los Angeles last at the Hollywood Reporter talking about Matthew was inevitable.
They got into the reasons why Matthew Crawley had to bite the dust, right from the beginning of their chat. Fellowes and Naeme gave some back story as to why Matthew’s death occurred at the end of the season finale.
“We knew Jessica was leaving from quite a long time before. So we completely decided calmly to kill her off in the fifth episode so that would give people three episodes to recover and then they would have the Christmas special and everyone could move forward so we could have a whole episode of her dying,” explained Fellowes. “But having done that when the news came through that Dan was also leaving we couldn’t very well do it again. So that was a bit testing wasn’t it?”
Added Naeme, “I think we knew Dan wasn’t going to return on the show about the time we began shooting season 3. So we had several months to plan the exit. The other thing was that because of you know the other episode with Sybil’s death that dominated the episode – we didn’t want to do it again which is why – it’s one of the lighter episodes of “Downton."
“We go to the highlands of Scotland. It’s the first time we see the family go on vacation. And of course ending with one of the most joyous moment we ever had in the show. With obviously him holding his newborn child undercut by his sudden untimely death.”
Fellowes emphasized that the decision to kill off Matthew was tied to actor Dan Stevens’ option to leave the series.
“A lot of people who aren’t in television or film didn’t understand that this wasn’t our choice,” pointed out Fellowes. “It was Dan’s choice to go and so we had to get around that and make it work. It wasn’t as though we sort of looked around and sort of and said “ You!”
Fellowes reminded that the most believable way for the lord and lady characters to leave the Abbey for good is by death. Since Lady Mary and Matthew had built up an iconic relationship, it would not make any sense for Matthew to leave any other way.
But there could be a way for his character to return from the dead, according to one ardent fan.
“I got this very long letter from this guy and he said I’ve got some recommendations on how to save the show.” Fellowes said cracking up. “And what we had to do was we had to remount the death at the beginning of the fourth episode and this milk float then came along and then jolted and the milk fell all over Dan and it did something to his face and he woke up as a different actor. And he had some other equally useful helps. And at the very end of the letter he said I reread this letter and I am not so sure about the milk.”
Watch the entire interview below. Characters are resurrected on American soap operas all of the time. How would you bring Matthew Crawley back if you could write for Downton?