British actor Dan Stevens is known for his portrayal of Matthew Crawley on the phenomenally successful series “Downton Abbey.” Yet on Tuesday, the heartthrob took on the role of literary critic when he partook in the ceremony that announced the winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize. Each year, one novel by a UK author is selected to receive the honor.
Some of the books shortlisted for the prize this year include “Swimming Home” by Deborah Levy, “The Lighthouse” by Alison Moore, and “The Garden of Evening Mists” by Tan Twan Eng. Ultimately, as reported by the Huffington Post, the award went to Hilary Mantel for “Bring up the Bodies.”
Though it might seem odd that a TV star was chosen to help select the winner of the coveted prize, Stevens has an extensive literary background.
The actor earned an English degree from Cambridge University and frequently appears on BBC's “Review Show,” a talk show where guests discuss books and high culture.
He also serves as the editor-at-large of The Junket, a literary quarterly that features pieces on everything from health concerns to deceased literary icons. In a 2011 piece for the Daily Telegraph, the 30-year-old called his position at the site, “my grandest role to date.”
In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal Stevens shared his inability to turn down a position on the judge’s panel.
“I couldn't say 'no.' It appealed to ego and intellect,” Stevens said of being asked to judge 146 works. “Most years they have one person who raises the profile of the panel a bit. I guess I was the one this year. I'm the 'what the hell is he doing on the panel' guy. My basement was looking like Barnes and Noble by the end of it."
Stevens got his start on the West End stage and starred in small scale British productions before appearing on “Downton Abbey.” The series has emerged as one of the most successful shows of all time. Set in the early 1900’s, it centers on the wealthy Crawley family and their dedicated servants. Stevens stars as a distant cousin who is summoned by the family after their only male heir dies, and he becomes the sole inheritor of their estate.
While in the U.S., Stevens was surprised to learn that Americans have been unable to escape the “Downton” craze.
“I’d traveled a long way from home,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “I thought I was going to get away from ‘Downton Abbey’ mania, when actually you guys are crazier about it [in the U.S.] then they are in London!”
The multitalented actor will soon appear on a Broadway stage: Starting Nov. 1, Stevens can be seen in “The Heiress” opposite Jessica Chastain and David Strathairn.
Season three of “Downton Abbey” is currently airing in the UK and will premiere in the U.S. in Jan.