Hollywood veteran Shirley MacLaine has revealed that she sparked the curiosity of her Downton Abbey co-stars when she told them she always falls in love on set.

I told them I fell in love with someone on every picture I made for the first 30 years... they wondered who it would be this time

The Oscar-winning actress, 78, features in the next series of the hit ITV1 drama as Martha Levinson, the American mother of Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham.

In an interview, in which she also hit out at the film business for failing to make movies for audiences her age, she told the Radio Times: “It’s funny being me in a business like this because people want to hear you sing, and suddenly you’re ‘on’. I don’t like that at all.

“I’m more real than you can imagine. But they were so cute because they were interested in people I’ve worked with, and when they mentioned Sinatra I went on from there.

“I told them I fell in love with someone on every picture I made for the first 30 years. People say the biggest part of my talent is curiosity. They wondered who it would be this time.”

But asked in the interview whether it was Hugh Bonneville, who plays Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, MacLaine laughed: “I’m not talking.”

She also told the Radio Times: “I’ve calmed down a bit, maybe, but am having the time of my life. I’ve reached a point where I’m in sync with an audience of senior citizens, and am making four pictures for them this year.

“They have no movies made for them. How many times can you see Batman? Things are done according to money these days.

“It used to be vision which mattered more. Money becomes addictive. People have a hole in their heart and think they can fill it with material possessions. In the end, though, you have to fill that hole with spiritual understanding.”

The star denied that she was brought into the period drama, penned by Julian Fellowes, to pander to US audiences.

“It’s not pandering. I’m a volleyball partner for (Dame) Maggie (Smith). Who else would they get? Let me think: Anthony Hopkins in drag,” she said.

“I’m the same class as Maggie’s character because we’re both wealthy, but I confront her because I’m more involved with change.”

The actress added: “Britain was still addicted to tradition, which got you into the war.”

Asked if she had now given up on men, she answered: “You must never give up on half the human race. What you really want to know is am I f****** anyone? When Oliver Stone asked me that I threw a glass of wine in his face.

“My answer is ‘no answer’. I take the Fifth on the grounds that any answer might incriminate me. I’ve always been attracted to difficult men.

“They provide you with things to figure out. I suspect nice people: they can’t be real, don’t you agree? Newscasters! Acting so chirpy, wondering how they’re being perceived. Oh my God!”

She said that the class system was breaking down, telling the magazine: “We’re all becoming the ‘broke’ class”. She added: “I’m very careful with money, to say nothing of the fact that I’m Scottish.”

Meanwhile, fellow US actress Linda Gray, 71, who has reprised her role as Sue Ellen in Dallas, told the magazine that older female actresses were more accepted in Britain than in the US.

“I applaud the UK because you embrace older women much more than we do, and there’s such a life-force energy that comes when you keep on working,” she said.

Sue Ellen is no longer drinking and gets to hit JR Ewing in the new series of the show, broadcast on Channel 5.

“It was wonderful, but they had to teach me how to do it properly because I had no idea. So that’s really good fun because, you know, JR certainly deserves it,” she said.

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