Downton Abbey may have been picked up for a fourth season by British channel ITV, but rumor has it not all the residents will return.
Dan Stevens, who plays the dashing Matthew Crawley, hasn’t yet signed on for the next installment, and the U.K.’s Daily Mail reports he’s planning only appear to in the premiere episode before leaving to pursue other projects.
“Sometimes actors feel they want to move on. Initially, for the first two or three [seasons] you can contract them, but after that, every season, you have to re-contract them,” said writer Julian Fellowes, who was recently named one of EW’s Entertainers of the Year. “If they don’t want to come back, there’s nothing we can do.”
So what happens if Stevens really does opt not to return? Fellowes said he has no plans to recast the character with another actor. “I can’t see us doing that,” said Fellowes, who explained that he has already started thinking about the fourth season, which won’t pick-up with a big time-jump. “I think we’ll go on jogging quite happily through the 20s,” explained Fellowes. “You know there’s always a little time jump. We did two years between [seasons] 1 and 2 because we only wanted to spend two years in the war so we had to start halfway through the war. Now we don’t have those imperatives. Sometimes you just have a few months so that there can be a few things that have happened in between that you can refer to, and have a slightly back-story for one or another character, but we don’t have the same imperative to leap forward.”
Shooting for season 4 is slated to begin in February, while season three of Downton Abbey airs in the U.S. on PBS on Jan. 6.