Next season, America comes to "Downton Abbey" in the form of Shirley MacLaine, but last week in Beverly Hills, "Downton" came to America for the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour, where the stars of the British drama gathered for a surprisingly laugh-laden Q&A.
Fans can look forward to a number of intersecting and diverging storylines next year, including the Irish War of Independence and how that will affect newlyweds Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Branson (Allen Leech); friction between the starcrossed Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew (Dan Stevens); and a financial crisis for Robert (Hugh Bonneville) that will call the future of Downton into question.
One of the most compelling arcs of the past two seasons has been the romance between lady's maid Anna Smith (Joanne Froggatt) and valet John Bates (Brendan Coyle), with Season 2 seeing Bates imprisoned for the apparent murder of his ex-wife. His execution was commuted to life imprisonment in the finale, but the two are still facing a lengthy separation.
HuffPost TV caught up with Froggatt and Coyle after the panel to find out what's ahead for the troubled couple in Season 3, and Froggatt previewed a tumultuous year.
"Mr. Bates is in prison, but I think Anna starts off Season 3 more hopeful than she was at the end of Season 2, because Mr. Bates has been reprieved from the death sentence," she said. "[Anna] has to fight to free her man and she has something to focus on, so I think she starts off being really optimistic. She completely believes in him as she always has done, so she feels a confidence in that, but as the season goes on you see her really wobble and you see her really struggle with him being away from her. [She starts questioning], 'Are they ever going to be able to find their happiness together?' You see how she's affected by that as well. We've got some really interesting scenes to play."
The Emmy-nominated actress also teased that Anna will have her share of scenes without Bates, "but I can't really tell you what they are! And Mr. Bates also has his storyline in prison that is separate from me as well, so there's a lot going on."
Coyle was equally coy, hinting that times will only get tougher for Bates behind bars. "Bates is in isolation from the house and he's now inhabiting a whole new world -- it's a very brutal world," he said. "He's not alone; you don't get a cell to yourself, and we do get a glimpse of the very brutal existence of a Victorian prison and some of the characters inhabiting there. That throws up a whole bunch of very challenging situations for Bates."
In terms of their relationship, Coyle agreed that it won't be completely smooth sailing for Bates and Anna: "She doesn't give up on him, but I can say there is a period where he thinks that she has, and it's very difficult, because basically at this point in his life, she's all he's got to live for."
Season 3 of "Downton Abbey" premieres January 2013 on PBS.
"Downton Abbey" was nominated for 7 Emmy nominations. Check out the full list of 2012 nominees below: