Shirley MacLaine joined the cast and creator Julian Fellowes for a preview of Downton Abbey‘s season 3 (which debuts in the U.S. January 6) at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour Saturday night. MacLaine, 77, will play Martha Levinson, Cora’s American mother, who will clash wildly (here’s video!) with Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess. Their rivalry goes way back in real life: MacLaine remembered that 40 years ago, when she and Smith met backstage at the Oscars after MacLaine had lost an award, Smith had remarked, “Do you know what you did, dear? You tucked right into that chocolate cake and said ‘F— it, I don’t care if I’m thin again.'”
“We were lovers in another life,” MacLaine joked about Smith. “You can use it, Julian, you can use it!”
PBS showed brief clips before a panel discussion with cast and producers. Here’s what to expect:
–Season 3 will span about two years at the start of the 1920s. Fellowes explained that it’s about the recovery from the war — specifically “the impact on this family of the Irish troubles, for instance. That really started up after the end of the First World War, and actually, at the time, was much more the headline than the suffragettes or the other things. The Irish problem seemed to be a kind of yawning difficulty for the British empire and everything. But, you know, again I don’t think a lot of people know about that. It’s rather nice to go into that.”
–The happiness we saw at the end of season 2 will be short-lived: Major financial woes will stress out the Earl of Grantham and his family, while Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew (Dan Stevens) endure a heated argument in the midst of their wedding planning in which she accuses him of disloyalty to the family.
–John Bates, the Crawleys’ loyal servant convicted last season of murdering his wife, is still in jail in season 3. At the end of the panel, actor Hugh Bonneville revealed a t-shirt under his dressier outfit: “FREE BATES.”
–Branson and Lady Sybil are invited to dinner at Downton, and the family’s former chauffeur upsets his in-laws with political talk.
–There’s a newcomer in downstairs-land: the handsome Alfred.
–There are no plans for the characters to travel to the States. “We have chosen the other route and brought America to us,” said Fellowes, referring to MacLaine’s character.
Downton Abbey received 16 Emmy nominations Thursday — including Best Drama Series.