Hollywood veteran Shirley MacLaine has revealed that she sparked the curiosity of her Downton Abbey co-stars when she told them that she always falls in love on set.

The Oscar-winning actress, 78, features in the next series of the hit ITV1 drama as Martha Levinson, the American mother of Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham.

In an interview in which she also hit out at the film business for failing to make movies for audiences her age, she told the Radio Times: “It’s funny being me in a business like this because people want to hear you sing, and suddenly you’re ‘on’. I don’t like that at all.

“I’m more real than you can imagine. But they were so cute because they were interested in people I’ve worked with, and when they mentioned Sinatra I went on from there.

“I told them I fell in love with someone on every picture I made for the first 30 years. People say the biggest part of my talent is curiosity. They wondered who it would be this time.”

But asked in the interview whether it was Hugh Bonneville, who plays Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, Shirley laughed: “I’m not talking.”

She also told the Radio Times: “I’ve calmed down a bit, maybe, but am having the time of my life. I’ve reached a point where I’m in sync with an audience of senior citizens, and am making four pictures for them this year.

“They have no movies made for them. How many times can you see Batman? Things are done according to money these days.”