Downton Abbey Season 3 Premiere Date Set; Shirley MacLaine Reveals Hairdresser Convinced Her To Join Cast

Shirley MacLaine will trade barbs with Dame Maggie Smith in the upcoming third season of breakout PBS hit “Downton Abbey,” and she has her hairdresser to thank.

When asked on Saturday night at the “Downton Abbey” PBS panel at the Television Critics Association summer tour if she was a fan of the show before signing on, the actress revealed just how her follicle fixer helped lead her to the role of Lady Cora Grantham’s (Elizabeth McGovern) mother, Martha Levinson.

“Actually no. I walked into my hairdresser lady in Malibu and they were talking about this,” Shirley said. “[I wondered] God, what do they mean?… And soon after that… some other folks in my life called.

“Then I saw it and oh man, I ran three months of it and I was just as addicted as everybody else,” she added.

PHOTOS: The Downton Abbey Cast & More At The Summer TCAs

In clips from Season 3, premiered for press at the PBS session, Shirley’s Martha arrives at Downton and immediately begins trading biting one-liners with Maggie’s Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham.

Shirley said it was fun to work with Maggie and the two actually met decades ago at an awards ceremony, where she lost out on a prize.

“We were lovers in another life,” Shirley joked, adding that their meeting happened near a chocolate cake where Shirley consoled herself after the award loss.

“She remembered more than me, but then she’s younger than me. She’s one year younger than me,” Shirley added.

Clips for the show also revealed – SPOILER ALERT – that Mr. Bates is still in prison, with Anna on the sidelines fighting for him, as well as trouble for couple Mary and Matthew, and for Lady Sybil, who returns with her Irish husband (the former Downton chauffer) Branson.

“In the third series you see the impact on this family of the Irish troubles,” creator Julian Fellowes said. “At the time [that conflict] was much more the headline than the suffragettes or the other things.”

Season 3 will also focus on “the recovery from the war,” and contain, “chills and spills, some laughs and some tears,” he also noted.

At the end of the panel, Hugh Bonneville (who plays the Earl) surprised and delighted journalists by unbuttoning his shirt to reveal a “Free Bates” T-shirt underneath. Click HERE to see the photo.

-- Jolie Lash

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