Downton Abbey star Brendan Coyle has revealed he has formed a close friendship with Hollywood legend Shirley MacLaine since she joined the cast of the show.

The 79-year-old actress previously revealed she had a crush on Brendan – who plays John Bates in the ITV drama.

And the actor said that as they did not have any scenes together – with his character languishing in prison during the last series – she took him out for lunch instead.

“It’s very rarely that I get starstruck with actors, no matter how big they are, it’s very rare for me,” he said. “Footballers yes, actors no.”

“Because we weren’t going to have any scenes together, because I was stuck in prison, she wanted to meet me for lunch,” he recalled.

“And my memory of that lunch is me sitting there doing ‘It’s Shirley MacLaine! It’s Shirley MacLaine!’ like an idiot.

“But we went to LA to do some promotion work and she came down and we just got on like a house on fire,” Brendan added. “We were all a bit more relaxed, and she’s just great. There’s no airs and graces, there’s no front. She’s invited me to her ranch… I love Shirley.”

Meanwhile Brendan promised that fans could look forward to the “best series yet” when Downton returns in the autumn – describing the storylines as “phenomenal”.

And he reassured fans that despite the recent spate of shock character deaths, including Lady Sybil and Matthew Crawley, Bates wasn’t about to join them. “I’m not dying in a car crash, no,” he joked.