MacLaine to join ‘Downton Abbey’

Thesp's character will spar with Smith's dowager countess

Shirley MacLaine is joining the cast of global TV phenom “Downton Abbey.”

She will play a new character, Lady Grantham’s mother Martha Levinson, in the third season of the Julian Fellowes-scripted U.K. costume drama, which begins filming next month.

The casting underlines the impact “Downton Abbey,” made by NBCUniversal-owned Carnival, continues to make on both sides of the Atlantic — and in TV markets around the world.

Carnival managing director Gareth Neame said: “My late grandfather (Ronald Neame) directed Shirley MacLaine in ‘Gambit’ in 1966, so it is a delight for me that she will be joining us on ‘Downton Abbey.’ Julian has written another brilliant character in Martha Levinson, who will be a wonderful combatant for Maggie Smith’s dowager countess, and we are excited at the prospect of Shirley MacLaine playing her.”

“Downton Abbey” plays on PBS Stateside and on commercial broadcaster ITV in the U.K.

ITV director of drama Laura Mackie, who commissioned the show, said, “It is so exciting to have an actress of Shirley MacLaine’s stature joining our brilliant ‘Downton Abbey’ cast for series three and a tribute to the show’s success on both sides of the Atlantic.”

MacLaine’s deal was brokered by ICM.