American “Downton”: Who Plays Maggie?

Shirley Maclaine? Elaine Stritch? Jessica Lange? If there’s a dowager role in “The Gilded Age,” the upper-class-America program that “Downton Abbey” Julian Fellowes creator is doing for NBC, who should play the Maggie Smith-type role? Having watched the third season of “Downton” (more on that anon), which is airing in the U.S. in January, I can tell you that Maclaine doesn’t have the necessary bone-dryness to deliver dinner-table zingers. Stritch would suck the candelabra’d oxygen out of the room. Lange is deliciously campy on “American Horror Story,” but I doubt she’s available for another TV show. Kathy Bates is also a possibility, but she’d be better as a great aunt than a proper dowager. My choice:
Dianne Wiest. Who can forget her diva in “Bullets Over Broadway”? And she has the kind of period-role, stage-businessy finesse to play a dowager. As for “The Gilded Age” project itself, it sounds very Edith Wharton, doesn’t it? And why not? Scorsese’s supreme gilded-age adaptation “The Age of Innocence” should be Fellowes’ role model for the TV series. Perhaps that film’s stars, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder, should be on Fellowes’ casting list. But not for the dowager. Not yet. As for the prospects of “The Gilded Age” itself, it will cost NBC a fortune to produce and be unfavorably compared right from the start with “Downton.”

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