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His word, putting forward the policies and whims of the aristocratic Crawley clan, is law for those in his charge. Bringing him to life is an actor who makes Carson's crustiness heroic, his unwavering sense of duty lovable to the viewer. With "Downton" returning for its sixth and final season (Sunday, at 9 p.m. EST on PBS' "Masterpiece"), Mr. Carson's humanness will be exposed more than ever as his torturously arm's-length courtship of head housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (played by Phyllis Logan) finally blossoms. "It was the slowest-burning romance of all times," says Carter with a laugh. "But the audience seemed to want it to happen as did we." What happens, including an unlikely interlude in this first episode "which hopefully will melt hearts across the country," is only one among many resolutions as the series comes in for a landing in the mid-1920s. What will be the fate of the financially distressed Downton Abbey estate, presided over by Lord and Lady Crawley (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern) with a less and less sure hand? Will their daughter, headstrong Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), deign to say yes to her latest suitor? Will the sad-sack valet Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) and his wife, lady's maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt), see their dream of parenthood cruelly denied? Viewers have awaited these and other answers from a costume drama that, since its U.S. debut five years ago, has reigned as a lavish and literate phenomenon. For the British-born Carter, 67, the road to "Downton" began long ago, when he dropped out of law studies at the University of Sussex and joined a fringe theater troupe he equates with "a door to the promised land." Stage, film and TV jobs followed in a career that has kept him busy and happy, enjoying the process of playing each role free from worry over how the finished product might fare with critics or the public. View gallery This undated publicity photo provided by PBS shows, from left, Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Grantham, "I have no ambitions in the acting world," he explains. "I just need to get out of the house and work and be with people." After auditioning for Mr. Carson, he thought that piece of acting work would be nice to land, "and I came away thinking, 'I should be very cross if I don't get it.'" One thing he particularly liked was how Carson's starchiness and pomp had a humorous edge.

 

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