Allen Leech has heaped praise on his Downton Abbey co-star and Hollywood legend Shirley Maclaine after the pair recently recorded scenes for the third series of the period drama which moves into the ‘roaring 1920s’.

78-year-old Shirley, who is possibly best known for her role in Sweet Charity, was the recipient of the American Film Institute’s 40th Life Achievement Award earlier this month however will find a new audience as Martha Levinson the mother of Lady Grantham in ITV’s populist drama, Downton Abbey.

Speaking at the Monte Carlo Television Festival Yahoo News reports that Leech was gushing in praise for the American actress.

He said she is “a living legend, you know, like Maggie [Smith] as well, and just the two of them talking… she was absolutely amazing and just a life force. She arrived on set the first morning and what she was filming, you were just drawn into it.”

The actor who has also starred in other period dramas such as Rome and The Tudors added that he hopes MacLaine will return to the series in the future, but from the stories she regaled he could write a book.

“Shirley would turn and she’d go, ‘When I opened for Sinatra…’ and you go, ‘OK…’You could write a book based on what was said!… I don’t know if it’s a book she’d want written. It was all stories like that….The Rat Pack in New York and LA and the stories of the parties that she’d go to and the people that would be there. And just the fact that her career spans so many… She’d tell stories and she’d mention Meryl Streep… . I just found it fascinating.”

Mclaine’s career spans five decades and the AFI describe the actress as a personality who ‘continues to defy expectations even as her literate and outspoken intelligence attracts legions of new admirers in every corner of the planet’.

Downton Abbey returns to ITV1 later this year

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