What’s next for Downton Abbey’s dearly departed actors?

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“Downton Abbey” fans were dealt their fair share of blows in Season 3 when not one but two beloved characters met their untimely demises. These twists weren’t just for plot development, however – turns out the actors wanted off the show to pursue new projects. So what exactly do they have coming down the pipe, and what’s next for those left at Downton Abbey? Let’s take a look.

The dearly departed

First, viewers said goodbye to Lady Sybil when the sweetest of the Crawley sisters died during childbirth mid-season. The actor who protrays her, 23-year-old Jessica Brown Findlay, now has no less than three new projects lined up for 2013.

First up, she’ll appear alongside Hollywood A-listers Amy Adams, Terrence Howard and Jennifer Hudson in “Lullaby.” The drama revolves around a man, estranged from his family, whose father decides to take him off life support.

Also on deck for Findlay: fantasy film “Winter’s Tale,” alongside Will Smith, Colin Farrell, Matt Bomer and Jennifer Connelly; and “Shoplifters of the World,” following four friends in Denver, Colo., reacting to the demise of iconic British band The Smiths in 1987.

Perhaps the only thing more shocking than Lady Sybil’s sad passing was Matthew Crawley’s in the post-season Christmas special. The absence of Downton’s prince charming will surely shake up the dynamic next season, while actor Dan Stevens moves on to new roles.

Stevens’ first post-Downton role? The Broadway production of "The Heiress," alongside Jessica Chastain, which wrapped in February.

His most high-profile new gig is “The Fifth Estate,” a film about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg. Stevens plays Ian Katz, deputy editor of The Guardian newspaper in London. The film is set to be released in November.

Stevens has also been cast in the thriller “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” starring Liam Neeson, and the British film “Summer in February,” set for release in June.

While all eyes were on Findlay and Stevens on the praised PBS show, their early post-"Downton" resumes are nothing to scoff at – proving the show can act as a high-profile springboard to other opportunities.

Life changes at Downton

Findlay and Stevens’ departures mean Downton must go into its fourth season without two of its most likeable characters. As production’s now underway on the new set of episodes, here’s what we know about how the show will adapt — plus there’s news of yet another cast member leaving!

  • Shirley MacLaine will reprise her role of Martha Levinson, the opinionated and sometimes meddling mother of Lady Cora Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern).
  • Siobhan Finneran, who’s played devious maid Sarah O’Brien for the past three seasons, won’t be returning for season four. But sources say her character won’t actually die, leaving the option open for her character to return one day.
  • Rumours abound that “Downton” will add its first black character, though details are still unknown.
  • The series has announced six cast additions: Opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, as a guest of the Crawley home; Dame Harriet Walter, as a friend of the Dowager Countess; Nigel Harman as a visiting valet; Joanna David as the Duchess of Yeovil; Julian Ovenden as an aristocrat; and Tom Cullen as Lord Gillingham, a childhood friend of Mary’s who’s widely rumored to be her new love interest.

Looks like audiences – and residents of Downton – are in for quite a shakeup thanks to new faces joining old favorites. Perhaps they’ll never be able to replace Lady Sybil and Matthew, but the series apparently won’t dwell too much on the tragedies of the past, either.

by Chris Mejaski

Photos: ‘Downton Abbey’ cast members (including Joanne Froggatt, Elizabeth McGovern, Sophie McShera, Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter and Rob James-Collier) posed backstage at 'The Heiress' on Broadway with Dan Stevens, who joined the play’s cast after leaving ‘Downton.’ (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)

Jessica Brown Findlay was spotted filming 'Winter’s Tale' with Russell Crowe in New York City in December. (Photo by Aby Baker/Getty Images)