Oscar-winning star Shirley MacLaine joins Downton Abbey

Hollywood royalty Shirley MacLaine is set to swap the big screen for British telly after signing on for ‘Downton Abbey’.

ITV announced that the actress, who won an Oscar for ‘Terms of Endearment’, will play Martha Levinson - Lady Grantham’s mother - in series three of the hit drama.

MacLaine is a tinseltown legend and was a fixture at the Academy Awards during the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Besides the win for ‘Terms of Endearment’, she was also nominated for ‘Some Came Running’, ‘The Apartment’,  ‘Irma la Douce’, ‘The Turning Point’ and (in the Best Documentary section) for 'The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir'.

MacLaine has also nabbed six Emmy nominations and seven Golden Globes down the years, but her recent career choices have been more of a mixed bag. She took on supporting parts in ‘Bewitched’ and ‘Valentine’s Day’, and starred in ‘Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning’ – the fourth in the ‘Green Gables’ franchise.

Her last award nomination (a Golden Globe) came for ‘Coco Chanel’ in 2008, a TV movie about the fashion designer.

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Carnival Films’ Managing Director, Gareth Neame said: “Julian [Fellowes] 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.”

TV experts reckon she may have been signed up for the benefit of the American market, which has enthusiastically embraced the show.

‘Downton Abbey’ won the Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television award at the 2011 Golden Globes.

Besides her acting career, MacLaine is also a best-selling author and has written several books about her well-publicised new age beliefs. She’s also passionate about UFOs.