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Dan Stevens kisses Cousin Matthew goodbye

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Dan Stevens wanted a change and he certainly got one. After quickly developing a devoted fan base as Matthew Crawley on "Downton Abbey," the 32-year-old actor was eager to shake things up. This week finds him as a vet with a deadly secret in the madcap action thriller "the Guest" and a troubled drug kingpin alongside Liam Neeson in "a Walk Among the Tombstones." So yeah, pretty different.

I saw this film yesterday and … holy crap.

That's a great response. (laughs) I hope that's a good "holy crap."

How on earth was this movie pitched to you?

The funny thing was, it was never really pitched. I'd tried to sort of put the word out there that I was looking for something different, and I got sent this script. I'd recently seen "You're Next," and I just really wanted to meet the crazy guys who'd made that film. When I sat down with [director] Adam [Wingard] it was very quickly established that we had the same twisted kind of sense of humor but also the same desire to entertain. And as soon as we realized that we both really passionately loved the movie "Big Trouble in Little China," we knew we were off to a good start really.

A classic, to be sure.

One of the many things we like about that film, particularly for me as an actor, is just that the amount of fun that Kurt Russell looks like he's having is kind of infectious as a performer. I think we were looking to capture some of that passion and enthusiasm. Growing up in England, we were steeped in American action thrillers and horror movies, and it's a kind of film that they don't really make in England. There's kind of a nod to it in Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's film "Hot Fuzz," where they acknowledge that as Brit fanboys we don't get to make those kinds of movies.

Something happened in the last 10 years or so where everyone decided actions movies had to be serious.

Right. It's interesting to watch these cinematic shifts in terms of how we approach things like violence. But there's very much a kind of tongue-in-cheek attitude to "the Guest." And something I was keen to explore is how you inject character and humor into an action film, something that always used to happen in '80s and '90s action thrillers, I feel like. And I kind of missed that. Even the Bond films have lost one or two of their great quips and one-liners.

I feel like they managed to sneak some of that back in with "Skyfall."

It did, it did. I was very pleased to see Albert Finney say, "Welcome to Scotland" with a shotgun in his hands. That was bloody great.

You mentioned looking for things that are different, and this role and your work in "a Walk Among the Tombstones" are pretty far from Cousin Matthew on "Downton Abbey."

It's easy to fall into one track of work — especially in England where we make a lot of costume drama, so inevitably as an actor there you end up in a lot of costume drama. So it does take an active push to step outside of that comfort zone and try something a little bit wild and different.

Did you feel like there was a kind of shadow cast by that character that you had to try to get out from under?

Well, not really. I hope people will watch both these movies and not see a trace of him. That's not to put that character down at all, it's just that was a character on a very particular TV show, and these are roles in very different movies. When you are in people's living rooms every Sunday night, it's a different relationship that you have with your audience. Actually having it piped into your living room TV on a regular basis, and that real kind of institutional feel of Sunday night TV, it's a different relationship.

Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter: @nedrick

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