As fans eagerly await the new "Downton Abbey" movie, one of its stars took a walk down memory lane with TODAY, revealing his favorite moments from the beloved British period drama.
Allen Leech, who plays former chauffeur and Lady Sybil Crawley's husband, Tom Branson, described his character as "loyal, dedicated and frustrated."
"I think the most powerful moments for Tom Branson had to be the death of his wife," Leech said. "And then I think one of the most powerful things, as well, was his acceptance of the family and his relationship with Mary. That was one of my favorite things to play throughout, how Tom Branson and Lady Mary became brother and sister, because Michelle Dockery's also one of my dearest friends."
He also revealed what it was like filming his onscreen wife's devastating death in the show's third season.
"It was actually quite arduous because it was over three days," he said. "So it was the first time I ever had to do something where you're in a heightened emotional sense for so long. And it's incredibly draining. And it was very sad. She was the first of the cast to leave. Hot on her tails was Dan Stevens. I mean, it was a massacre. It was like the 'Downton Abbey' red wedding, in that season."
Leech said it has been "an absolute gift" to portray Branson's evolution throughout the PBS hit's six seasons and the upcoming film.
"I thought my journey was over when Sybil died in the show," he said. "And then Julian (Fellowes) gave me the great gift of him trying to assimilate into the family and create his life there and having all the turmoils that go with that, because of his relationship with the family and his Irish Republican views. So it was a great challenge, as an actor. And it was a great joy."
Leech said his favorite quality about Branson is his "loyalty," adding, "He was incredibly loyal, be it to Sybil or then to the family. And he's incredibly honest."
The actor added, "I think one of my favorite lines was when he finally — and I think it was the moment when he was fully accepted into the family — he turned to Mary and said, 'Like all bullies, you're a coward, Mary. You're a bully. You're a coward, Mary.' And that was the first time he ever really stood up to her. And, 'Please don't die, love,' that was obviously an important one. She didn't listen to that. She still died. What other ones? I suppose when he said 'I don't believe in types. I believe in people.' That's a good line."
As for what made "Downton" so popular, Leech said, "I think it was a combination of, as Julian Fellowes says, 'lightning in a bottle.'"
He continued, "You had a cast that were very well cast — me excluded. And you had a great script and something that was quite original in that Julian Fellowes wrote a very British period drama in a very American way — shorter scenes and allowed you access throughout the house. So you saw as much of the servants as you did of the upstairs and as much of the aristocrats as you did of the people who ran their daily lives. So there was a hierarchy within the story but no hierarchy in the storytelling."
The "Downton Abbey" movie hits theaters on Sept. 19.