On the upcoming fourth season of Downton Abbey, the Crawleys upstairs may be mourning the recent death of their heir, but those downstairs are suffering from an additional loss: O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran). Beyond the absence of the scheming lady's maid, the servants will also have to contend with new-fangled kitchen gadgets, a familiar face returning and ongoing internal strife (we blame Thomas!).
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Who will thrive in their job, and who will get overworked? Who finds a bit of time for fun? Check out TVGuide.com's interview with Joanne Froggatt, Phyllis Logan and Sophie McShera for scoop on Anna, Mrs. Hughes, Daisy and more:
Last season, Anna and her husband Bates (Brendan Coyle) were reunited after she helped free him from prison and they moved into their own cottage. "That doesn't really affect how you see Anna and Bates on the show because they would have spent so much time at work," Froggatt tells TVGuide.com "They would have been there from half past five in the morning until midnight when the family went to bed. So they still eat breakfast, lunch, dinner in the servants' hall with the rest of the servants. They literally go back to their cottage to go back to sleep really. You do see a couple of scenes in Bates' cottage, so the audience is reminded that they do live in the cottage. But for all intents and purposes, it doesn't change for them really."
Fans can still expect to see marital bliss for the couple... at least at the beginning. "Anna and Bates start the season in a very happy place, which is lovely," Froggatt says. "But as always, there are some trials and tribulations for Anna and Bates. They never seem to have it easy, as there is for all the characters. There are interesting things that happen within the household for all of the characters. Anna is certainly affected by events."
And just like last season, we'll get to see Anna show off her moves. "I do a bit of dancing this season," Froggatt confirms. "We had to learn it because it's very much within the period. We have a dance teacher that comes in to show us the moves we need." But don't expect anything scandalous or too jazzy. "No, that's definitely Rose's domain," she says.
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O'Brien's absence, which will be addressed in the season premiere, will probably have the biggest effect on head housekeeper Mrs. Hughes. "Obviously the main intention is to help Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) to find a replacement," Logan says. "O'Brien had been with her for a long time. She was her lady's maid. You need to build up a rapport with somebody when you're working so personally with them... So I can understand that Lady Cora is certainly feeling aggrieved that she's got to start the hunt for somebody new. And until we find a replacement, I have to step into the breach, which isn't really part of my duties, but needs must. I don't think it suits either of us really that well."
This year, a familiar face that viewers will recognize will return. "It's not so much about the past, it's her interaction with some of the others and a character who has been in it and suddenly comes back again," says the actress. "She has some dealings with that story line. She's involved and very hands-on with a lot of problems that are thrown at her."
But don't expect to see Mr. Horace Bryant, the wealthy grandfather of Ethel's child Charlie and who happens to be portrayed by Logan's real-life husband Kevin McNally. "No, not this season anyway," Logan says. "But who knows what might be up [writer] Julian Fellowes' sleeve for the future?"
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My, how Daisy has risen! Last season, the former scullery maid ascended to the rank of assistant cook, thanks to the reluctant support of head cook Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol). This year, she advances her cooking repertoire in a forward-thinking way. "She gets a new electric mixer," McShera says. "Patmore is like, 'It's the devil! Send it away!' But Daisy is like, 'I think it's really good.' She's making souffles and doing the devil's work with the mixer. Daisy's really up for it. She wants to embrace all of this new modernity, but it's because she's younger."
And although she continues her filial relationship with Mr. Mason (Paul Copley), the father of her late husband, the rest of her personal life isn't going so well. "She's not having that much luck early on. It's hard to have a personal life when you work 18-hour days or whatever," McShera says. "She's no Lady Mary. Nobody has come a-calling. It's hilarious because you sort of think, 'Oh my God, give it up with Alfred. He's just not that into you.' But she kind of has to hammer away at it because who else is she going to get off with? There's no one to look at. Mr. Carson? [Laughs] It's limited."
Not only is Alfred (Matt Milne) immune to Daisy's charms, but he still has eyes for lowly but lively kitchen maid Ivy (Cara Theobold), something that's not lost on Daisy. "She's gotten a bit nasty," says McShera. "She's being so mean to Ivy, and it's pure jealousy. It's like, 'She's really pretty. I hate her.' They fell out again because of Alfred."
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Opera singers, jazz musicians and nannies
Although the life of a servant is hard work, it's not always drudgery. McShera assures us that the staff gets a fun day at the end of the season, but before that, there are spots of entertainment. In Episode 3, Downton Abbey hosts a house party. "This is the first time since the death of Matthew (Dan Stevens) that they've entertained at the house, so it's a huge thing," Froggatt says. "Everybody's excited and stressed and running around all over the place. They have a famous opera singer (Kiri Te Kanawa) come to the house to sing." Logan adds, "The servants were allowed to listen, a special dispensation, to be upstairs."
Unfortunately, when a jazz band visits Downton, the servants have to be a bit sneakier and listen at the door. They do, however, get a more up close and personal look at jazz musician Jack Ross (Gary Carr), Downton Abbey's first-ever black cast member. "We do get one scene with Jack Ross," McShera says. "He comes through downstairs, and we're all like [stunned], which is really weird to film because from a modern perspective, we're like, 'This is really embarrassing. I'm so sorry!' But he's really sweet and really nice, and it's really funny actually for him to walk in and have all the servants act ridiculous."
Finally, the downstairs staff will expand a bit "really late on," according to McShera. "In the final act there will be new people to interact with," she says. But don't expect the new nanny, who's been hired to look after Tom Branson's (Allen Leech) daughter Sybbie, to make friends with Daisy & Co. "The nanny is explained in the series as being a servant, but she's not part of the servants because she's never downstairs in the servants' hall," Froggatt says. "She has her meals with the children, but she's not one of the family either. So she's kind of a midway person who is kind of on her own a lot really."
Will you miss O'Brien? Which servant are you looking forward to seeing again?
Downton Abbey Season 4 premieres in the UK on ITV in September, while U.S. audiences must wait for the Jan. 5 premiere on PBS' Masterpiece.
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