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'Downton Abbey' creator addresses departure of Dan Stevens

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SPOILER ALERT! If you’re a Downton Abbey fan who hasn’t seen season 3, you may want to stop reading. NOW.

We mean it.

Downton Abbey Matthew

Okay you’ve been warned.

Now that the cat’s out of the bag that Dan Stevens, who plays Matthew Crowley, won’t return for season 4 of Downton Abbey, Creator Julian Fellowes gave an interview to a British newspaper that explained why he “didn’t really have an option” but to end the character’s run on the Emmy-winning drama. The third season will begin airing Jan. 6 on PBS.

“We have always tried to persuade him to stay,” Fellowes told the Daily Telegraph. (Details about how the character departs are included in the story). “He had done fantastically well for the series and his creation of Matthew was terrific. But this is life. Dan felt that this was right thing for him, and the right moment to move on to different areas.”

Viewers in the U.K. discovered that Stevens was leaving the show after watching a Downton Abbey Christmas special earlier this week. (Here’s a Daily Mail recap). The actor — who, like other cast members, was only optioned for three years — apparently made the decision to pursue new roles before filming began on season 3, which has already aired in Britain. “I’m pretty sure he’s got a terrific future,” Fellowes said. “We will miss him.”

Stevens issued this statement after his English fans learned his character’s fate: “I loved the time I spent on Downton, and I am so thankful to Julian [Fellowes] and the fantastic cast and crew whom I will miss dearly. I am grateful for their support and also the support of the wonderful Downton audience. I now look forward to joining the legions of Downton fans in enjoying future series.”

Interestingly, Fellowes also shed light on how actors — in the U.K, at least — are often the ones who dictate how a drama proceeds in the future. “I’m rather amused by the idea that these plot decisions are taken by producers and writers rather than the actors. In truth, they are taken entirely by the actors.”

Read more:

‘Downton Abbey’ GALLERY: Here Comes the Bride!

‘Downton Abbey’ preview: Matthew is ‘looking forward to a lot of things’

‘Downton Abbey’ renewed for fourth season

Dan Stevens, Jessica Chastain talk new Broadway play ‘The Heiress’ — EXCLUSIVE VIDEO