'We were lovers in another life': Shirley MacLaine reveals her bond with Downton Abbey rival Dame Maggie Smith
07:06 GMT, 28 August 2012
Playing rival iron-willed matriarchs, they are set to clash in Downton Abbey.
But Shirley Maclaine has revealed she and Dame Maggie Smith have hit it off so much off screen they could have been ‘lovers in another life.’
The American actress, 78, has been cast as Cincinnati millionairess Martha Levinson in the costume drama’s third series, to screen next month.
Rivals on screen: Shirley MacLaine as American socialite Martha Levinson in Downton Abbey
Trailers have already shown her tense first meeting with Dame Maggie’s Dowager Countess Violet Grantham, whose acerbic putdowns are one of the ITV show's highlights.
But Miss Maclaine told Radio Times she ‘adores’ the 77-year-old British acting legend in real life.
She said: ‘I adore Maggie. I’ve known her for years. I think we were lovers in another life. Possibly that’s a joke, but all kinds of humour are real.’
The Oscar winner – whose hits include The Trouble With Harry and Steel Magnolias – denied she was cast in Downton Abbey to ‘pander’ to American audiences.
She said: ‘It’s not pandering. I’m a volleyball partner for Maggie. Who else would they get Let me think: Anthony Hopkins in drag.
‘I’m the same class as Maggie’s character because we’re both wealthy, but I confront her because I’m more involved with change.
‘Britain was still addicted to tradition, which got you into the war.’
Dame Maggie Smith: Maclains insists her role in the show is as a 'volleyball partner' for the British screen icon
And Miss Maclaine said she loved filming the show – despite struggling with the script at first.
She said: ‘The dialogue is out of the 1920s and that’s a lifetime I’ve forgotten, even though I might have been there.
‘The pace was fabulous. I was surprised by the perfection of the lighting, the sets, the stamina of the crew. Filming out in the rain and wind wasn’t easy, but no one seemed to notice. That’s the British way, I suppose.’
Miss Maclaine’s character Martha Levinson is mother to Cora, Countess of Grantham – played by fellow American Elizabeth McGovern.
Her disagreement with the formidable Dowager Countess will be played against a series of setbacks for the Crawley family, who face the threat of financial ruin after the end of the First World War.
Meeting her American relative for the first time, Dame Maggie’s character says: ‘You Americans never understand the importance of tradition.’
Mrs Levinson replies: 'Yes we do. We just don't give it power over us. Maybe you should think about letting go of its hand.'
Off camera: Shirley Maclaine with another Downton co-star Elizabeth McGovern
Speaking at the series launch last week, Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes said: ‘We were lucky enough to get hold of Shirley MacLaine so the whole thing went off like a firecracker.
‘You've got these two very different women. You see that for Violet, things were better in the past and everything is falling to bits.
‘Martha is the opposite and thinks everything now is great, the future is terrific. They punch at equal weight. When they're both on screen you want to look at both of them.’
Miss Maclaine and Dame Maggie have known each other since the 1970s.
Last month , the American actress said: 'We met 40 years ago backstage at the Oscars, next to the catering table. Whatever I was up for, I lost…
And Maggie said: 'You know what you did, dear You tucked right into that chocolate cake and said, “f*** it, I don't care if I'm thin ever again”.'
Miss Maclaine’s belief in reincarnation is well documented. She once claimed to have been a model for post-Impressionist artist Toulouse Lautrec.
The actress also said she seduced Eighth-century emperor Charlemagne in a previous life, before he was reborn as Swedish prime minister Olaf Palme and became her lover again.