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Downton Abbey fans would be shocked to hear Dan Stevens, who played the late, still lamented and ever-so-refined Matthew Crawley for three seasons on the hit series, as he starts to throw around phrases like “dick-swinging” and “shitshow.” But the 33-year-old actor isn’t one to stand on ceremony, and when the subject of Brexit — the upcoming British referendum about the U.K.’s proposed exit from the European Union — comes up, he’s quick to voice a forceful opinion or two. (He’s against it.)
Stevens chose to make his own exit from Downton at the height of the series’ popularity, just as Matthew’s romance with Lady Mary had reached Rhett-Scarlett proportions, breaking hearts and igniting a firestorm on both sides of the pond. His latest venture couldn’t be more different: In The Ticket, an indie drama directed by Ido Fluk that makes its world premiere tonight at the Tribeca Film Festival, he plays a blind man who regains his sight but becomes consumed by desire.
As for those who thought Stevens might be making a mistake in taking an early leave from Downton, rest assured, he’s found plenty to keep him busy. He’s already completed a star turn as the Beast in Disney’s live-action Beauty and The Beast, which will hit theaters in March 2017. And he’ll play another equally fantastical character, the Marvel superhero Legion in the upcoming FX series of the same name from Fargo creator Noah Hawley.
A married father of two, Stevens now calls Brooklyn home. On the eve of his latest film’s Tribeca bow, he spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about singing a solo in Beauty in the Beast, whether he’s been approached to play James Bond and who he’s pulling for in the upcoming New York primary.
In The Ticket, you play a blind man who begins to regain his sight. What’s the one sense you absolutely couldn’t live without?
Losing your hearing would be pretty weird. Living without listening to music would suck. I think I could live without taste. I could just eat my food.
It’s a pretty sexy movie. What would Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess think?
I think she would love it. I think she’s secretly very kinky.
Any chance you would do a Downton prequel, movie or spinoff?
If it’s a prequel, then I’d have to play myself 10 years younger, which would be really hard. I think if they get someone else to play me, that would probably be a better idea. I guess I could do a ghost scene. Maybe Mary is making pottery and Matthew is at the wheel. It gets a little steamy. That should work.
You live in New York. Why?
I’ve lived in London for a long time, and I wanted to try living in one of the other great cities of the world. It’s always captured my imagination, and I feel very inspired here. I love it. Every day there’s always something weird and new here, and I think weird and new is good. I like being surrounded by weird, new things.
Fun fact: You’ve narrated more than 30 audiobooks, including Casino Royale. What’s the appeal?
It’s an intimate way of working and it’s an intimate way of receiving work as well. I’ve always enjoyed having voices in my ears, whether it’s a podcast or a great audio book. It’s just you in a booth, a tiny booth usually. It’s just you and the microphone for sometimes days. It’s a strange experience, but it’s also a beautiful way of getting inside a book. Studying and prepping for an audiobook is really just a fascinating thing to do work-wise.
Speaking of Bond and Casino Royale, have you ever been approached to play 007?
If you’ve been approached to be a spy and you talk about it, you’re not much of a spy, right? Even if I had been, I couldn’t tell you. I’d have to kill you.
Savage Love. Dan Savage. I’ve been listening to it for years.
You were a member of the judging panel for the 2012 Booker Prize. Very impressive. How did you land that gig?
There used to be a review show on British television, and I was invited on that to talk about some books and to talk about the Booker shortlist from the previous year, and [the selections] really annoyed me. So I just went on and spoke my mind about these books and didn’t think twice about it. A couple of weeks later I got a call from the Man Booker committee saying, “Love what you said on that show. Come and judge the prize.” I read 147 books, and it was a lot of work. I guess I landed it just by mouthing off on live television.
What are you currently reading?
A Conspiracy of Tall Men by Noah Hawley. I love reading first novels. They’re always fascinating and fresh and flawed and really interesting.
You and Noah will be working together on FX’s Legion. What made you decide to join the Marvel universe?
Noah. I think he’s such a fascinating man, and his take on this whole world is so fresh and interesting and intriguing, and I loved what he did with Fargo. The cast that he draws together and the kind of actors he likes to work with and the style of his storytelling is so intriguing that I was immediately drawn in by that. The fact that it’s Marvel seemed incidental to me, really. It’s more about this bizarre world and this crazy character in the middle of it and working with a great storyteller.
You were discovered playing Macbeth on the stage. What’s the one Shakespeare character you’d most like to tackle?
King Lear. I’m working up to it. I’d like to do a film version directed by Terry Gilliam.
You’ve worked with Bill Condon twice now in The Fifth Estate and Beauty and the Beast. Describe his style of directing.
Bill’s a real sweet man, and he’s so intelligent and gentle. He’s not one of those savage directors. He’s very subtle and kind. He has a sweet sensitivity to the whole of the story to tell.
Do you sing in Beauty and the Beast?
I sang a song. Yeah, is it gonna be in the movie? You’ll have to ask Bill. Alan Menken wrote a brand new song for the Beast, because he doesn’t sing in the original animated movie.
Your wife is a singer. Did she help you prepare?
Yes. She helped with my audition, which I was terrified of. We’re a pretty musical household and it was lovely to have that. We’ve never really sung together all that much. It was a really beautiful thing to do. It was such an exciting project. The preparation was so intense and different to anything I’ve take on before, physically and vocally and also the technology we employed in achieving that. It was so groundbreaking and mysterious and weird and wonderful. I really felt all the sort of fairytale magic.
What directors would you love to work with?
I adore [Beasts of No Nation‘s] Cary Fukunaga. I think his work is extraordinary. And I’d love to get involved with Werner Herzog. I think we’d have a crazy ride together somewhere.
What profession would you do if not this?
I would set up a vegan ice cream store.
Are you a vegan?
No. I tried it once, but I really like vegan ice cream.
Are you pulling for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders next week in the New York primary?
I’m a Bernie man.
Are you for or against the Brexit?
Oh, man. That whole situation is as much of a shitshow as this election, really. I think it’s unfortunate how the British population is being dragged into what’s essentially a dick-swinging competition to win the leadership of the Conservative Party over there. I think the interest of the British people are not really at the heart of the people proposing [it]. I think that’s a real shame. It makes me kind of mad that whole thing.
Whom would you most like to meet?
Meryl Streep. I’ve never met her, and I bet she’s lovely.
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