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Maggie Smith

Maggie Smith leaves 'Downton' behind for 'Lady in the Van'

Filthy, dressed in rags and living in a battered old van, Maggie Smith's latest character is a long way from "Downton Abbey" — and the actress couldn't be happier.

Smith has shed her "Downton"-era corsets and hats to play an eccentric elderly vagrant in the film "The Lady in the Van." So was it a relief to slide down the social scale?

"Oh, you bet!" laughed Smith with more energy than her character expended in five seasons of the country-house costume drama. "It was just great to not be that stuffy."

For many viewers, Smith's Dowager Countess of Grantham — she of the arched eyebrow and withering putdown...