Downton’s Shirley ‘swept Dame Maggie off her feet’

Shirley MacLaine claimed she swept Dame Maggie Smith off her feet on the Downton Abbey set – literally.

The 78-year-old Oscar-winning actress – who will appear in the new series as Martha Levinson, the wealthy mother of Lady Grantham, played by Elizabeth McGovern – admitted she loved working with the veteran British actress so much she couldn’t keep her hands to herself.

Shirley revealed: “I saw Maggie Smith and I lifted her off her feet, because she’s lighter than me,” she laughed. “It was fabulous.”

The star was speaking at a ceremony in Los Angeles where she was honoured by the American Film Institute with a lifetime achievement award.

Downton co-star Elizabeth said her fellow American had brought a breath of fresh air to the cast.

“She really shook things up with her idiosyncratic personality and her big heart and her way of being, in a way that everybody in the cast, most of all me, completely loved,” she explained.

Co-stars, friend and admirers who turned out to offer their support to Shirley included Julia Roberts, Jack Nicholson, Jack Black, Sally Field, Meryl Streep, Katherine Heigl, Morgan Freeman and her younger brother Warren Beatty.

Shirley revealed the secret to her career longevity was avoiding typecasting.

She said: “No-one knew what to do with me anyway, so I could do anything they asked, because I wasn’t typecast either in life or in screen.

“It’s been a wonderful experience for me to find really the many, many parts of me.”

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