'Living legend' Shirley MacLaine entertains 'Downton' cast with Hollywood stories

Shirley MacLaine has been regaling her fellow Downton Abbey cast members with stories from her glittering Hollywood career.

Director Brian Percival described the star as a 'living legend' and said how excited the cast have been in her presence. "It was quite strange to sit in a room and chat [because] when she’s talking about Dean (Martin) and Frank (Sinatra) you realise she’s talking about Hollywood legends.”


Julian Fellowes, the series' screenwriter, echoed the feeling when he said: "We were lucky enough to get Shirley Maclaine and the whole thing goes off like a firecracker,”

He added that “She was what we were looking for. I don’t know who else we could have got. We wanted that complete cultural difference, so she would get out of the car and everyone would say, ‘Ooh, blimey!’”

According to reports however the Downton filming schedule was a bit of a shock for Shirley, who is more used to the timescale of Hollywood productions. In spite of this the 78-year-old has been praised for her efforts with the show.

“She struggled at first with the rhythm of the language. She really struggled to remember it. She hated the thought she was letting people down by not getting it, so she worked really, really hard at night to get it right,” producer Liz Trubridge said.

The Trouble With Harry star joins the show as Cora Crawley's American mother Martha Levinson and is set to clash with Dame Maggie Smith's character, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. 

According to Gareth Neame, the show’s executive producer, this is exactly what they wanted: “They key thing was to make sure we had an actress who was a match for Maggie Smith,” he said, “and that made the list very small.”

Show creator Julian agreed, saying “They punch at equal weight. When they’re on screen, you want to look at them both."

So far the new series has received more positive reviews than last season, with the verdict that it strikes the right balance between drama and comic relief.

 The first few episodes take place in the run up to Mary and Matthew's wedding, there's also anxiety for the characters over the future of valet John Bates continues amid his court case.

The third series airs in September.

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