Much of the cast of the PBS hit "Downton Abbey" was on hand at last night's TCA dinner, and boy do they know how to work a room. Hugh Bonneville (who plays Robert Crawley) stripped off his shirt to reveal a T that said "Free Bates," a reference to his beloved, incarcerated valet, Mr. Bates. Brendan Coyle, the Emmy-nominated actor who portrays him, graciously posed with said T-shirt while I took this blurry photo iPhone photo.
The real fireworks came from Shirley MacLaine, who looks like she's going to be a fun addition to the cast. (I'll admit: I was skeptical.) The scenes of her going toe-to-toe with Maggie Smith are pretty great.
On Saturday night, Shirley recounted meeting Maggie Smith for what she thought was the first time, when they were to start working together on "Downton." Maggie reminded her they'd actually met 40 years ago backstage at the Oscars at the catering table, where there was a big chocolate cake. Shirley was up for an award and didn't get it. "And Maggie said, 'You know what you did, dear? You tucked right into that chocolate cake and said, 'F--- it. I don't care if I'm thin ever again.'"
Anyway, Shirley is going to play Cora Crawley's (Elizabeth McGovern) mom, Martha Levinson. "I really didn't know who Cora was until I met Shirley," McGovern said.
McGovern and Michelle Dockery (Mary Crawley) both told me earlier that day that season 3 will feel more like season 1 than the past season, which focused a lot on the war. Attention shifts back to the house and family life, as well as the upstairs/downstairs dynamics that get complicated when young Lady Sybil visits home with her now husband, former Crawley chauffeur Tom Branson.
We got a peek at the trailer for season 3 and, without giving too much away, it looks like the Crawleys are headed for major financial troubles.
"There's one storyline, though, from the last series, and I know that the character in question is pretty fed up that it hasn't been explored further and hasn't been given more screen time...."
"And that's Isis, the dog," Bonneville said. "After her leading role in the season finale, she's been slightly downgraded. She demanded a bigger kennel."
(The dog's real name, btw, is Abby, appropriately enough.)
Here's a challenge for all you super fans: Brendan Coyle (Mr. Bates) and Joanne Froggatt (Anna Smith Bates) found out they each got Emmy nods while on lunch break during the middle of shooting a scene for season 3.
Coyle suspects he'll come across a little less cool and calm during the second part of that scene, when he was basking in his Emmy nominated glow. As for Froggatt, "I have very red ears in the post-nominated scene because I was so flushed and kind of emotional...it will be interesting to see if people spot that scene."