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Shirley sweeps star Maggie off her feet as she joins Downton

Shirley MacLaine said she swept Maggie Smith off her feet as she joined her on the Downton Abbey set.

The 78-year-old Oscar-winner - who is a new addition to the cast of the period drama - admitted she loved working with the veteran British actress so much she could not keep her hands to herself, lifting her clean into the air.

MacLaine will appear in the new series as Martha Levinson, the wealthy mother of Lady Grantham, played by Elizabeth McGovern.

She said: "I saw Maggie Smith and I lifted her off her feet, because she's lighter than me. It was fabulous."

She spoke as she attended a ceremony in her honour in Los Angeles at which she was given a lifetime achievement award by the American Film Institute.

Downton co-star McGovern said her fellow American had brought a breath of fresh air to the cast.

"She really shook things up with her idiosyncratic personality and her big heart and her way of being, in a way that everybody in the cast, most of all me, completely loved," she explained.


Co-stars, friends and admirers who turned out to offer their support to MacLaine at the LA ceremony included Julia Roberts, Jack Nicholson, Jack Black, Sally Field, Meryl Streep, Katherine Heigl, Morgan Freeman and her brother Warren Beatty.

MacLaine revealed the secret to her career longevity was avoiding typecasting.

She said: "No one knew what to do with me anyway, so I could do anything they asked, because I wasn't typecast either in life or in screen."It's been a wonderful experience for me to find really the many, many parts of me."