Downton Abbey, 501 - Tom Branson (Allen Leech), Gillingham (Tom Cullen) and Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) ©2014 Carnival Films, photo by Nick Briggs

When Downton Abbey ended last season, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) who had been mourning the sudden death of her husband Matthew (Dan Stevens) was being courted by suitors and was an active partner running the estate.

Tom Branson (Allen Leech), the erstwhile Irish nationalist and the family’s chauffeur who married Mary’s sister Sybil, who died after having their child, was stepping up to help oversee the day-to-day management of Downton Abbey.

Both Michelle and Allen spoke with TV Critics recently about the upcoming season of the series, which premieres in the US on January 4th, 2015, and the rest of the world this month!

Can you talk a little about the evolution of Lady Mary? There are times that she appears a little commitment-phobic, and then there are time she’s a little picky.

Downton Abbey, Series 5 – Michelle Dockery at the TCAs July 2014 ©2014 Carnival Films / PBS

Michelle: That’s true, she’s very complex. I think she’s impulsive.

So she makes these decisions, and then once she goes through with it she looks back and actually realizes it wasn’t quite the right decision. And I think this series, she is quite impulsive, and she’s embracing her new life really.

I think she’s through the grief now. And I kind of see Series 5 for Mary as the new Mary in a way. And so with that, she’s got a bit of her bite back that we had in Series 1, which I’ve enjoyed playing.

It was lovely to do Series 4 playing all of that emotion, but this series is a lot more fun.

Allen, do you have anything in common with Tom?

Allen: I can drive. (he laughs)

Your character has gone from a chauffeur to married to widowed, were you surprised by these dizzying shifts?

Downton Abbey, Series 5 – Allen Leech at the TCAs July 2014 ©2014 Carnival Films / PBS

Allen: I never envisaged that Tom would be where he is now. I was hired for three episodes in the first series, was lucky enough to come back for the second, and thought that might be it.

Was expecting the ‘you’re fired’ papers around the corner. And I’m still there. Now he’s estate manager. So it’s been an incredible arc. The character’s been on an incredible journey.

Certain elements I thought would go against Tom. When Jess Brown Findlay’s character Sybil died, I thought that might be it for me as well. And Julian, rather than running away from that, he actually embraced it, and he engaged with what that poor man had to do, the fact that he lost his wife and he was in this world he didn’t really understand.

So in no way did I expect that I’d still be here, but I’m delighted that I am. And I’ll be honest, I’m expecting to meet a truck on a narrow lane any day now. (he laughs)

I know you can’t expose plot points, but can you tease us with any tidbits?

Downton Abbey, 501 – Tom Branson (Allen Leech), Gillingham (Tom Cullen) and Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) ©2014 Carnival Films, photo by Nick Briggs

Allen: Well, the unicorn farm, no one expects. That’s definitely out of left field.

Michelle: It’s much more pleasant than the pigs. (she laughs) For every character, there are significant changes and plot points. But we wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.

Can you say where the story picks up?

Michelle: Six months on from the Christmas special.

I believe there’s a new character called Lady Anstruther, played by Anna Chancellor, this season, is that true?

Downton Abbey, Series 5 – Lady Anstruther (Anna Chancellor) ©2014 Carnival Films, photo by Nick Briggs

Michelle: She’s a troublemaker. She comes to the house and creates havoc.

Allen: She’s looking for something. She may find it. (he raises his eyebrows)

What’s she looking for?

Allen: What are we all looking for?

And Simon Bricker, played by Richard E Grant, is also a new character?

Allen: He’s looking for something as well. Everyone in the show’s looking for something. Something similar … and a painting. Oh, I’ve said too much! (he laughs)

Will there be deaths this season?

Allen: You’re expecting the Downton Abbey Red Wedding, aren’t you?

How is Mary going to react to Edith’s child?

Downton Abbey, Series 5 – Tom Branson (Allen Leech) and Sybbie Branson (Fifi Hart) ©2014 Carnival Films, photo by Nick Briggs

Michelle: Mary doesn’t know that Edith has a daughter.

Allen: So thanks for that! Dinner tonight is going to be interesting. (he and Michelle laugh)

Michelle: I actually think Mary would like to see Edith happy eventually. I think that their bickering is often to do with who is the sadder .

They are competitive. Mary is mean to Edith, especially in this series. There are some really nice moments, because Laura and I love it when we are mean to each other as Mary and Edith.

Are the costumes uncomfortable, the corsets and the stuff shirts?

Downton Abbey, Series 5 – Allen Leech and Michelle Dockery at the TCAs July 2014 ©2014 Carnival Films / PBS

Michelle: I think the women are getting their own back for the corsets that we wore in the first series.

Allen: The irony is Rob James-Collier (Thomas) and I have a competition to see how quickly we can get into our costumes – this is how bored we are on set in the mornings.

The record currently stands at 2 minutes and 53 seconds.

Who won?

Allen: I won, mainly because Rob talks too much as he gets dressed.

Will Mrs Hughes and Mr Carson finally get together this season?

Michelle: You have to wait and see.

Allen: We all hope that they get together. I think everyone does. It would be a lovely story.

Michelle: But who knows. They might not. Don’t get your hopes up.

Allen: Ever the optimist!

Allen and Michelle were asked about the fans who want to see Tom and Mary as a couple. Click here to listen to their amusing reply.
After the press conference, I caught up with Allen and asked him about the evening Downton Abbey won Best Ensemble Cast for a Drama at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Click here for his memories.
Allen and Michelle about the fans who want to see Tom and Mary as a couple
Allen on the evening Downton Abbey won SAG Best Ensemble Cast for a Drama

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.