HOLLYWOOD – Dan Stevens achieved TV stardom via his role as English gentleman Matthew Crawley on the popular British period drama “Downton Abbey,” and he has now set his sights on the big screen. Will it happen?
“Chances are always iffy,” replies the 6-foot, 32-year-old blond, “but timing is important, and this is the time to go for it.”
Stevens has a shot. Following the popular 1980s British period drama “Brideshead Revisited,” Jeremy Irons made the jump to film and landed firmly on his feet, eventually winning an Oscar for his role in 1990’s “Reversal of Fortune.” But where Irons’ character in that film was cold and aloof, Stevens is warm, likeable and boyish, much like the man he plays on “Downton Abbey.”
“Nowadays, of course, (movie) stardom means in-Hollywood projects, regardless of where they’re shot or the particular financing,” Stevens explains. It usually means playing Americans, too.
“Yes, it’s more one-sided than it used to be,” he says, referring to past decades when Hollywood films had a significant number of British stars and roles.
“But it’s an acting challenge, and for most of us (British actors) by now, the American accent comes easily from watching telly and the movies.”
In his newest film, “The Guest,” the man who plays “Downton” ‘s Crawley is downright creepy, easing his way into the home of a deceased army buddy. He’s invited to stay, and does — with ungentlemanlike intent toward the family.
Director Adam Wingard, known for films that feature sinister skulls on their official posters (“V/H/S,” “Pop Skull”), offers suspense, sexiness, a little humor and, surprisingly, doesn’t dwell on the inevitable violence.
Does Stevens think his “Downton Abbey” fan base will accept him in such a change-of-pace role?
“They’ll be eased into it,” Stevens assures, pointing out that if he were immediately introduced as a villain then the fans may be in for a bit of a shock.
“I think today’s audiences expect movies to be more dramatic, even more . . . desperate, certainly heavier, than television,” Stevens says. “When you create a character that makes you famous, your next move is usually in an opposite direction. Look at Daniel Radcliffe,” who, after the “Harry Potter” series, surprised his fan base with a nude scene in the theatrical production of “Equus,” in addition to some darker films.
In keeping with his previous statement, in the film “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” starring Liam Neeson, Stevens plays a heroin dealer whose wife has been kidnapped. However, he also notes that he has a supporting role as Sir Lancelot in the upcoming sequel “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” (set for a March release in Japan).
“You take the best of what’s on offer, the goal being films which draw audiences so that you can climb the ladder,” Stevens says. “It’s frankly a mercenary process. You move up, eventually playing a heroic lead, and with enough of those you can eschew — if you so choose — villains and grim characters. You can have scripts adapted or tailored to your . . . but I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s daydreaming. I’d rather wait and see.”
The climb up the ladder doesn’t necessarily mean Stevens has left TV behind, nor will he ignore the stage. In 2012 he appeared on Broadway as the male lead in “The Heiress.”
“I like to try some of this and that, but there’s no denying that the center ring, as it were, is motion pictures. And the center of all that is Hollywood — for better and for worse . . . for villains and for heroes,” he chuckles.
“The Guest” is now playing in cinemas across the country. For more information, visit www.theguestmovie.com.