Credit: PBS

Downton Abbey Season 3 introduces a new character: Shirley MacLaine’s Martha Levinson, the forward-thinking mother of Robert Crawley’s (Hugh Bonneville) American wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern). Naturally, she clashes quite brilliantly with Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess, making the Dowager’s snippy barbs directed at Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) seem sweet and well-intentioned.

Executive producer Julian Fellowes discussed the characters’ spicy dynamic at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts TV Tea in West Hollywood on September 22. “[Dowager Countess] Violet is kind of nostalgic and looking back to the Victorian period how much better everything was and her clothes are sort of reflecting that,” he said. “Martha is the absolute opposite: She is looking forward, she wants to fly on a plane, she wants to travel, she wants modern clothes and modern make-up. And although they are the same weight and age, they are facing in opposite directions.”

As another sign of the changing times, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) and Branson (Allen Leech) bond in the first episode. “A lot of all that stuff was broken down by [World War I], because youre in the trenches with people very different than you, and to come back and re-erect all those barriers is pointless to some people,” explained Fellowes.

An additional push-pull this season is reflected in Matthew and Robert’s cross-generational relationship, especially now that Matthew and Mary (Michelle Dockery) are headed to the altar. “They have completely contrasting emotional responses [to Matthew’s inheritance],” teased Fellowes.

Downton Abbey premieres stateside in January 2013.

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