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OTRC: Shirley MacLaine, 77, joins cast of 'Downton Abbey'

Shirley MacLaine appears in a scene from the 2010 film 'Valentine's Day.' / Maggie Smith appears in a scene from the mini-series 'Downton Abbey.' (Ron Batzdorff / MMIX New Line Productions / Carnival Films / ITV)

Shirley MacLaine has joined the cast of the Emmy-winning British mini-series "Downton Abbey" for a role that apparently will see her butt heads with Maggie Smith's character.

The 77-year-old Virginia-born actress, who won an Oscar for her role in the 1983 film "Terms of Endearment," will play a new character called Martha Levinson, who is the mother of Lady Grantham, portrayed by Elizabeth McGovern.

"I'm thrilled!" MacLaine Tweeted late on Monday, January 30.

The actress is set to join the cast when the show begins filming season 3 in February, production companies Carnival Films and ITV said in a statement, which was posted on MacLaine's website. The new episodes are set to air in the UK first in September 2012. The show is broadcast on PBS' Masterpiece in the United States and Canada (watch episodes here).

The period drama series is written by creator Julian Fellowes and tells of the lives of the members of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in England during the reign of King George V, before World War I. The show has won six Emmys since its 2010 debut, including a supporting actress award for Maggie Smith, a "Harry Potter" star who plays Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. It picked up a Golden Globe on January 15.

"My late grandfather directed Shirley MacLaine in 'Gambit' in 1966, so it is a delight for me that she will be joining us on 'Downton Abbey,'" said Carnival Films' managing director, Gareth Neame. "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."

Neame's grandfather, Ronald, who also directed the movie "The Poseidon Adventure," died in June 2010, about three months before "Downton Abbey" debuted in the United Kingdom.

MacLaine, sister of actor Warren Beatty, is also known for movies such as "The Apartment," released in 1960, the 1989 drama "Steel Magnolias," which stars Dolly Parton and Julia Roberts, and the 1996 comedy "Mrs. Winterbourne," which features Ricki Lake and Brendan Fraser.

In recent years, MacLaine starred in films such as "Valentine's Day" and the dark comedy "Bernie," which also stars Matthew McConaughey and Jack Black.

She has several projects in the works, including the comedies "After Midnight" with Rebecca Romijn, "The Locals" with Vera Farmiga, "Elsa & Fred" with Michael Caine and "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" with Kristen Wiig and Ben Stiller. MacLaine is also set to star in the crime thriller "Anyone's Son" with James Caan and in the drama "The Boom Boom Room" with Christopher Walken.

MacLaine is also an author. Her latest book, "I'm Over All That and Other Confessions," was released in 2011. In it, she writes that she has had relationships and romances with two prime ministers as well as scientists, journalists and her co-stars.

MacLaine, who has a daughter with ex-husband Steve Parker, opened up about her past sex life on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" last year, saying she once "had three people in one day" and maintained an open marriage.

"I've had an awful lot of lovers," MacLaine said. "And a lot of awful lovers."

(Pictured above: Shirley MacLaine appears in a scene from the 2010 film 'Valentine's Day.' / Maggie Smith appears in a scene from the mini-series 'Downton Abbey.')

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