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Maggie Smith Goes Dowager Countess on Shirley MacLaine, and It Is Delightful

Dame Maggie Smith has not spent a lot of time promoting Downton Abbey, in part because she is 77 years old and in part because she is Maggie Smith, and already so wildly popular that she does not need to bother with press junkets. But! Smith agreed to a pre–TIFF lunch with the Toronto Star last week, and after ordering a second glass of wine (“I see no reason why not”), she got around to the Downton talk — specifically, to Shirley MacLaine, who will join season three as Cora’s invading American mother. Good news: Smith and Shirley got along. Better news: Smith drops the Dowager Countess zingers in real life, too.

Here is Smith on MacLaine’s conversational habits:

“When she talks about some of her stranger theories, you just listen. She told us in Santa Fe, there were UFOs up in the mountains and the bears were coming down to visit the local Starbucks as a result. I asked if they were all drinking skinny green lattes, but she never answered me.”

And here is Smith discussing her religious beliefs:

“I know there is something out there and like most people, I tend to believe in it more when things go bad. But I’m not like Shirley MacLaine, who probably believes we were past lovers in another life.”

Someone please put those set outtakes on the Internet. (Season three premieres in the UK this Sunday.)

Maggie Smith Goes Dowager Countess on MacLaine