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Shirley MacLaine

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Class System

MacLaine joins the cast of Downton Abbey.

Downton Abbey

MacLaine has a new juicy co-starring role in the hugely popular Emmy-winning Masterpiece series Downton Abbey, as Lady Cora’s mother Martha Levinson, who arrives from New York to upset the household. Photo © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE.

Q: Were you a fan of the series?
SM:
Actually I hadn’t even watched it until my hairdresser told me how much she loved it. So I tuned in. Shortly afterward, they signed me to play Martha Levinson so I sat down and viewed them all … and I just became addicted.

Q: Your wardrobe is quite stunning. Was it a challenge to get all dressed up?
SM:
Those authentic costumes took some work. The corsets were really demanding and the buttons on everything were so small. I understood the class system after getting ready every morning to go on set. I realized women of that time couldn’t get it together without a couple of servants.

Q: Of course, don’t you have a couple of servants that put on your jeans in the morning?
SM:
That’s true. [Laughs.] But I’m wondering which came first, the servants or the wardrobe? Did they make a class system out of the necessities of the wardrobe, or was it the other way around?

Q: What was it like going toe-to-toe with Maggie Smith?
SM:
We get along famously. She told me that we had met 40 years ago backstage at the Oscars next to the catering table. I was up for something, and there was this big chocolate cake sitting there. And somebody else won. Maggie said, ‘You know what you did, dear? You tucked right into that chocolate cake and said, “#*&% it. I don’t care if I’m thin ever again.”’ I didn’t remember it. Maggie has a better memory. She’s one year younger than I am.

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