Shirley MacLaine waltzes into Downton Abbey as Cora's mom
Oscar-winning MacLaine joins the cast for a third series as Americans 'go nuts' for the period drama
THERE'S a new matriarch coming to Downton Abbey to exploit the increasing interest in the series in the United States. American actress Shirley MacLaine will join the cast of the ITV period drama for its third series as the mother of Cora, Lady Grantham.
MacLaine, who will play Martha Levinson, made her screen debut in Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry in 1955. A skilled Broadway performer, she starred in several musicals such as Sweet Charity and The Turning Point and toured the world with her own song and dance show.
In 1983 she won the best actress Oscar for Terms of Endearment and has been nominated for a further five Academy Awards.
The 77-year-old will begin filming next month and, according to one of the show's producers Gareth Neame, her character will be "a wonderful combatant for Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess".
The news comes as America appears to enter "the Golden Age of Downton hype". Ratings for the second series, now showing in the US, have topped the first series by nearly 30 per cent and The New York Times reports a new craze of friends getting together for "Downton viewing parties" where they dress up in tiaras to watch the show. Just a month into 2012, the show has won four Emmys and a Golden Globe.
Downton's popularity has been criticised by two high-profile Brits in recent days. Historian Simon Schama, who teaches at Columbia University in New York, described the show in Newsweek as a "steaming, silvered tureen of snobbery" while Stephen Fry confessed that every reference to Downton Abbey makes him "puke".
But that hasn't fazed Downton's new devotees in America. The New Yorker's TV critic Emily Nussbaum insists the show "goes down so easily that it's a bit like scarfing handfuls of caramel corn while swigging champagne.
"Downton Abbey is situated precisely on the Venn diagram where 'prestige' meets 'guilty pleasure': it's as much cake as it is bread. And, sue me, I like cake."