BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — "Good Behavior" is replete with bad behavior.
This new TNT drama series stars Michelle Dockery as a con artist and petty thief who, after gaining early release from prison (for good behavior, ironically) resumes her life of chaos and flimflammery on the outside. In Letty Raines' future are newly brazen scams, more drug and alcohol abuse, and a desperate campaign to win back custody of her 10-year-old son (raised by her mother, who has lodged a restraining order against her).
And all this, before Letty's life becomes ensnared with Javier Pereira, a charismatic hit man who conscripts her to assist him in his contract-killing business. Played by sexy co-star Juan Diego Botto, Javier could signal Letty's ultimate downfall, or, instead, he with his no-nonsense style could maybe save her from her grifter, junkie ways.
"He kind of rescues her but he also holds her captive." Dockery laughs. "It's just so messed up!"
Premiering Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST (with its first hour available now for streaming ), the series is as sly at drawing viewers into this combustible arrangement as Javier and Letty are in targeting the victims he's been hired to kill.
In the process, two things become clear:
— In her portrayal of Letty, Dockery instantly abrogates any ties to the role for which she now is best known: the proper, prissy Lady Mary Crawley of the British costume drama "Downton Abbey."
— As Letty, whose scams call for endless accents and disguises, Dockery demonstrates she is an actress of rare versatility.
"Acting within the acting, the roles within the role, is really fun," she says. "And we have fun with wigs. There's a lot of wigs on this show!"
Interviewed at a Beverly Hills, California, hotel, Dockery as herself is wispy and fetching in a pastel sundress — quite a contrast to the wounded survivor in a series she describes as "poetic noir. This isn't a procedural. Each episode (there will be 10 this season) is like a film in itself.
"It's liberating," she adds, "that I've been able to break free from Lady Mary and do something different."
But that wasn't the point in signing up for "Good Behavior."
"I never think it's a good idea to do something different just because you want to impress people that you can do it," she says. "And I would never disrespect Mary and 'Downton Abbey' in that sense. I loved playing her. Then this role came out of nowhere. It was the perfect move."
"Downton," of course, was the global TV sensation that transported viewers to the lush estate of the aristocratic Crawleys during a span between 1912 and 1925. Its sixth season ended last winter with Mary, tragically widowed years before as a new mother, finding happiness in a second marriage and learning she is pregnant again.
Fine. But as Dockery gathered adorers, critical praise and three Emmy nominations for "Downton," did she worry she would be forever typecast as Mary?
No, she declares: "I'm a great believer that if you fixate and worry about things, then maybe you'll create them."
She says during her "Downton" run she had options to take her leave, but decided each time to remain.
"I thought, if I was going to be stereotyped, it was already done. It wouldn't have mattered how much longer I had gone on. People were invested in those characters, and we became them. So I was like, 'Well, I may as well do a few more glorious years on this show. What's the difference?'"
Clearly, it was no trap. Along with "Good Behavior," Dockery, 34, has a film coming out next year: "The Sense of an Ending," also starring Emily Mortimer, Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling. She also has the forthcoming limited series "Godless," a Netflix western whose ensemble also includes Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston.
But she never wants to leave "Downton Abbey" behind.
"I hope it's something that will always stay in people's minds, like 'The Forsyte Saga' was to me when I was younger. Those shows go on forever, really."
Goodness knows, it's all the better to highlight her bad behavior as raw, defiant Letty Raines.
"It might upset you people," Dockery warns her "Downton" followers, then mock-apologizes: "Sorry."
EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at email@example.com and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore