March 12, 2012 at 9:18 AM ET
As "Downton Abbey" star Maggie Smith debates whether she'll sign on for seasons four and five of the series (season three is now in production), fans aren't the only ones thinking about how disappointed they would be if there was no more Dowager Countess offering up pithy commentary on the Grantham grounds. Julian Fellowes, the creator and writer behind the show, told TODAY.com that if she leaves, "it will be a black day."
"Maggie is very useful for a writer," said the actor-turned-writer and Oscar winner (for "Gosford Park"). "She's very funny, and she has the capacity as an actress to have a real emotional story or scene -- and then in the next five minutes to be hilarious, and yet always playing the same woman. A less-skilled actress would become a different person each time, but Maggie synthesizes it into one character."
There's another advantage an actress of her skill and years brings to the table: She doesn't have to be liked. "She's freed from that desire, which gives you such latitude -- and that means they adore her all the more," said Fellowes.
He knows they have a gem in Smith, but keeps a stiff upper lip about the situation.
"I can't pretend it won't be a knife in my heart when she decides to move on," said Fellowes. "But in dramatic life as in anything else, you just have to get on with it, really. If she leaves and they want the show to continue, we will have to carry on. But I will be very sorry."
Fellowes is currently in Italy, where his script for "Romeo and Juliet" is being shot. But fans of "Downton" might also be pleased to know that his upstairs/downstairs writing interests are carrying over to the "Titanic" mini-series he's made for ITV (in Britain) and ABC (in the U.S.) The series is set to premiere on April 14 at 8 p.m. ET and then conclude the next night at 9 p.m. "It's all these interlocking stories all over the ship -- the officers, the stewards and stewardesses, the first class passengers -- so the idea being that you have a sense of life on board this ship," he said.
The question for "Downton" fans, though, is this: Will a particular heir of Grantham who went down with the ship make an appearance? Laughed Fellowes, "I was tempted to have someone say, 'Do you know Patrick Crawley?' But that ... well, that would be a bit too kitsch."
Would you still tune in to "Downton Abbey" if the Dowager Countess was no longer part of the show? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.