Shirley MacLaine joins Downton Abbey cast

Hollywood legend will play Lady Cora's mother in series three of ITV1's period drama

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ITV1’s flagship period drama, Downton Abbey, has confirmed its status as a transatlantic hit by adding Tinseltown royalty to its cast: Shirley MacLaine will appear in series three.

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The Oscar and Golden Globe-winning actress – best known for the films Terms of Endearment, The Apartment, Being There, In Her Shoes, Irma la Douce and Steel Magnolias – will play Martha Levinson, mother of Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern).

That Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) is married to Cora, an American, has always given Downton the option of casting big names from across the pond – but landing the hugely respected MacLaine underlines the clout the series now has. Series two is currently airing in the US on the public network PBS, to rave reviews and increased ratings.

Martha Levinson looks set to shake up the Downton residents. The new character will, according to Downton showrunner Gareth Neame, be “a wonderful combatant for Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess”.

MacLaine’s performance in the 1983 weepie Terms of Endearment won her the Academy Award for best actress. Other major roles include The Apartment opposite Jack Lemmon, Being There with Peter Sellers and, as recently as 2007, In Her Shoes alongside Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette.

ITV director of drama Laura Mackie said: “It is so exciting to have an actress of Shirley MacLaine’s stature joining our brilliant Downton Abbey cast for series three, and a tribute to the show’s success on both sides of the Atlantic.”

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The third series of Downton Abbey – which moves the story of the Crawley family and their servants to the 1920s – begins filming at the end of February, for broadcast on ITV1 later this year.