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Shirley MacLaine to star in UK's Downton Abbey

Date January 31, 2012

LONDON (Reuters) - Oscar-winning actress Shirley MacLaine will join the cast of hit British television series "Downton Abbey," broadcaster ITV announced.

The 77-year-old, who has appeared in more than 60 films and won a best actress Academy Award for the 1983 movie "Terms of Endearment," will play a new character called Martha Levinson, Lady Grantham's mother.

Producers said the character of Levinson would provide a "wonderful combatant" for the formidable Dowager Countess played by two-time Oscar winner Maggie Smith.

Laura Mackie, director of drama at ITV, said MacLaine's casting underlined the show's success both in Britain and the United States.

Filming of the third series begins in February.

Downton Abbey, written by Oscar-winning scriptwriter Julian Fellowes, follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants at an impressive country estate in the early 1900s.

The show has been a ratings hit for ITV, regularly commanding a British audience of more than 11 million.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

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