Shirley MacLaine: Downton Abbey has eclipsed my entire career

The veteran Hollywood actress - who won an Oscar for Terms of Endearment - claims she's now known as "the one on Downton Abbey"

She’s an Oscar-winning actress who has enjoyed a Hollywood career that’s lasted 60 years, but Shirley MacLaine claims she’s now best known for her appearance on Downton Abbey.


The 79-year-old starred as Lady Cora Crawley’s outspoken mother Martha Levinson in the first two episodes of series three and will return to the role for this year’s Christmas special. 

“My whole identity is now Downton Abbey,” she told The Sunday Times Culture magazine. “All that I’ve done – how many films? All my books? I’m no longer a new-age giddy dingbat. I am now ‘the one on Downton Abbey’. In airports and other places I go, they say, ‘Downton Abbey, when are you coming back?’ I say, ‘Well, all right. But what about my last picture?’ Then I can’t remember what it was anyway.”

Prior to her appearance in Julian Fellowes’ ITV period drama, MacLaine had garnered five Oscar nominations before a win for Terms of Endearment in 1983, but continues to marvel at the effect TV work has had on her career. 

“It’s amazing when you make a move like this,” she continued, “because I’ve not done television. It makes an unbelievable difference to how I’m perceived. And to people who you would never imagine would like this kind of thing. They choreograph their lives around when Downton is on.” 

Although, despite MacLaine’s involvement in the series to date, she was unprepared for Dan Stevens’ character Matthew Crawley’s sudden demise during last year’s Christmas special which aired in America earlier this year. “Last series, when Matthew died, I nearly threw a chair at the television. I didn’t know it was coming, of course not! I thought, what is Julian Fellowes doing? It too me a few days to get over it.” 

Fans of the show will be hoping for a more upbeat visit to the Crawley family when this year’s Downton Abbey Christmas special airs on Christmas Day at 8:00pm on ITV