"I cry every time I watch it," says Michelle Dockery. "It was an emotional one."

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Downton Abbey: A New Era.

Downton Abbey: A New Era lived up to its title — by bringing an end to an era for one of its cast members.

After six seasons and two films, Maggie Smith is saying goodbye to the franchise that turned her into a veritable meme factory with her biting retorts and snappy dialogue. In Downton Abbey: A New Era, Smith's Violet succumbs to the terminal illness that she revealed at the conclusion of the 2019 film, saying goodbye to the Crawley family with her signature brand of wit and candor.

But just how emotional was performing that scene? For a cast that's spent over a decade together, it was the hardest ever on a series full of tragic moments, according to Michelle Dockery, who portrays Lady Mary.

"It's been 12 years, so it was quite a moment," Dockery tells EW. "Half the challenge was trying to hold back the tears as much as possible before the moment where we could actually cry. It was such a sensitive scene for Maggie and for everybody, and you could really hear a pin drop on set that day."

Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery
Credit: Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features

Dockery says of all the scenes they've filmed on Downton, this was probably the one that felt the most real to the entire cast — all of the tears in that scene are not acting. "I was dreading [the scene], actually," she reveals. "Watching each other's reactions around the room as we were performing it, I could see beneath the performances that everybody was crumbling underneath. That made me almost burst into tears every five minutes."

It wasn't actually Smith's final day on set, but it was her last big scene with the entire Crawley family. After the emotional turmoil of filming the farewell scene, the cast toasted Smith with champagne. "That felt like the right way to end it," adds Dockery. "I still can't quite believe it."

Over her decade-plus on Downton, Dockery developed a close bond with Smith, sharing many on-screen heart-to-hearts as granddaughter Mary and grandmother Violet. They even shared a teary scene in the 2019 film, in which Violet revealed her diagnosis to Mary and entrusted Downton's legacy to Mary's keeping. "This time it involved everyone in the room," says Dockery of why this scene was more emotional. "It didn't feel quite as final in the first film."

Dockery describes the scenes between her and Smith as "very special," adding that she found particular resonance in the parallels between Violet and Mary here.

"They're unearthing Violet's past and this potential affair that she had," she says. "Then you find out she resisted him and was loyal to Robert's father. Mary is similarly going through this moment with Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy). She's attracted to him and very flattered by his advances, but she resists him. She's quite proud of herself that she manages to resist him. It's very much 'like grandmother, like granddaughter.' There's lots of echoes of Violet in Mary in this film."

Downton Abbey: A New Era is in theaters now.

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