01/04/2013 10:01 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Shirley MacLaine Learned About 'Downton Abbey' From Her Hairdresser

Shirley MacLaine learned about "Downton Abbey" from her hairdresser. MacLaine told "The New York Times" she wasn't aware of the program beforehand, but that hairdresser gossip brought her into the world of Lord Grantham and Co.

"I didn’t know 'Downton Abbey,'" MacLaine said. "I learned about it at my hairdresser. Really. I look at PBS for news ... [A]ll the girls were talking about it. They were trying to figure out who was Elizabeth McGovern’s mother, and whether she was a Rothschild, whether she was Jewish. The next thing I knew I got a call from my agent about playing Elizabeth McGovern’s mother. I’d better look at this. And whoa -- I got addicted for a full week."

MacLaine admitted to falling hard for one character in particular: Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle). That's why she met with creator Julian Fellowes about taking the role. "I think I wanted to meet Bates, basically. And of course Julian, being so wily, arranged a lunch at which nobody else was there but Bates," she said. "I guess he was seeing if he was cougar-able. Or something."

However, "Downton" co-star Penelope Wilton said MacLaine had eyes for another of member of the cast. "She fell in love with Carson -- Jim Carter, who plays Carson the butler. She thought he was heaven. How could you not?" Wilton said. "It was such a thrill to work with her. We got her to do 'If They Could See Me Now' for us. Such good fun."

MacLaine makes her "Downton" debut on Sunday, January 6 at 9 p.m. EST on PBS. There, she'll go toe-to-toe with Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess. According to MacLaine, the two women have met before in another life.

"Well, we were lovers in another life," MacLaine said at a press event. "I adore Maggie Smith. The comedy of class, played so straight, is a wonderful thing for an actor to sink their teeth into," MacLaine told The Huffington Post blogger Alex Simon.

"Downton Abbey" will return on Sunday, January 6 at 9 p.m. EST on PBS.

Midseason 2012-2013