Shirley MacLaine: ‘I’d never heard of Downton’

Shirley MacLaine has confessed she had never heard of Downton Abbey until she heard people gossiping about it at the hairdressers.

The Hollywood legend, who has joined the cast of the hit ITV show as Martha Levinson, the wealthy mother of Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), told The Sun she learnt all about the award-winning British series while getting her hair done.

Shirley revealed: “I walked into my hairdresser’s in Malibu and they were talking about it. Then I ran three months of it and was addicted.

“But when it was announced I was to play Martha, I didn’t know anything about her. The ladies in my hairdressing place said she was Jewish and looking for a man, so I thought it worth investigating.”

Martha Levinson is set to clash with the formidable Dowager Countess, played by Dame Maggie Smith. But Shirley, 78, revealed off screen she and Maggie, 77, have been friends for years.

The Apartment star said: “We met 40 years ago backstage at the Oscars. I was up for something and there was this big chocolate cake on the catering table. Whatever I was up for, I lost. Now Maggie tells me, ‘You know what you did, dear? You tucked right into that cake and said, ‘F*** it, I don’t care if I’m thin ever again!’

“Maggie remembers more than me, but then she’s a year younger.”