Season 3 of the British period aristocracy drama, Downton Abbey, ended with a shockingly breathtaking capstone to a run of episodes defined by loss. Taking the Christmas special’s events into account, there doesn’t seem to be much that showrunner Julian Fellowes can do to shake up the formula for his critically-lauded and surprisingly addictive little serial, but he’s going to try anyway.

According to TVLine, Paul Giamatti has been cast in Downton‘s fourth series as Lady Cora’s brother, Harold Levinson, and he’ll make his appearance in the season finale.

His visit won’t mark the first time that everyone’s favorite English country estate has played host to an American guest; Shirley MacLaine dropped in to play Martha, Cora’s mother, toward the beginning of season 3. Reportedly, she’ll be returning to Downton with Harold in season four, as well, and their involvement in the affairs of the Crawleys should prove delightful for US audiences and harrying for Lord Grantham and the Dowager Countess in equal measure.

While Harold sounds like something of a bon viveur on paper – he is described as a, “maverick, free-spirited playboy” – it’s not entirely clear what role he’s going to play in season 4’s narrative. If he’s anything like his mother, Harold’s very presence at Downton should cause quite an uproar among the regular cast of players, from the brokenhearted Branson to the various members of the staff; one can only imagine the sort of verbal sparring matches he might get into with Violet and Carson, the show’s greatest arbiters of propriety and tradition. (And if he doesn’t lock up with either of them, then the show will have missed big opportunities.) At present, however, his purpose in the overarching story remains a mystery, though perhaps it’ll become more clear as the fourth season progresses.

It could well be that Harold will serve as an influencing force for both of his remaining nieces, particularly the more forward-thinking Edith, or possibly Rose, newly-minted ward of the Grantham family per season 3’s finale. Alternately, Giamatti may have been cast simply for the satisfaction of American viewers, though it’s hard to imagine a performer of his caliber receiving a guest role just as a “gimme” for fans.

Whatever capacity he fills for the show, though, there’s no doubt that Giamatti’s going to be a lot of fun to watch. Whether he’s playing the sad sack in films like Sideways or taking the odd bad guy role as in Shoot ‘Em Up or, more recently, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – he’s a dynamic performer and he never fails to live up to expectations, so this can only be viewed as good news. We’ll have to wait until next year to see what kind of trouble he stirs up with Robert, Cora, Mary, and the rest of Downton’s house members, but it should be worth the anticipation.

What do you think, Screen Ranters? Is Downton Abbey a good place for Giamatti’s brand of character acting?

Downton Abbey season 4 will begin airing in the US on January 5th, 2014.

Source: TVLine