'Downton Abbey' Season 3's Shirley MacLaine: 'I'm the American who's for change'

shirley-maclaine-sep-2011-gi.jpgA film and stage veteran and a best-selling author, Shirley MacLaine is happy to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award, like the one the American Film Institute will present her with on Thursday (June 7).

This is partially because her career remains so active. She starts filming a remake of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" with Ben Stiller the day after the AFI event, and in January, she'll be seen as Lady Grantham's ( Elizabeth McGovern) mother in the third series of the highly acclaimed and popular "Downton Abbey" on PBS.

"I was addicted to it," MacLaine tells Zap2it, "but not as much as after I knew I was going to do it. Then, I ran every episode and began to analyze why it is such a hit everywhere in the world. Every morning as I was getting dressed, I realized that you had to have two servants then, to get your clothes on. You couldn't do all the little buttons, and they're authentic clothes that I wear in it."

One of the main "Downton Abbey" selling points for MacLaine, she notes, was that "I knew I was going to be with [returning co-star] Maggie Smith. These are the two grandes dames of importance, and it's the clash of their value systems. I'm the American who's for change and being modern, and Maggie plays the traditionalist. And Maggie is incredible; we had a wonderful time."

Though she spent time again in England recently for that role, MacLaine admits she isn't certain whether she's met someone else who's being feted this week: Queen Elizabeth II.

"I can't remember!," she allows with a broad laugh. "I think I have, but I was probably more concerned with whether I curtsied. I mean, I've had Princess Margaret and Prince Charles in my home, but I don't remember if I was ever presented to the Queen. That sort of thing is so full of pretense, it's not real enough to remember."
Photo/Video credit: Getty Images