Like any person who is unabashedly obsessed with the UK, Harry Potter, Downton Abbey, and all things British, I have a great love for Maggie Smith. She's a wonderful actress, and is genuinely funny both on the screen and off. Even today there are many people who recognize her and appreciate her work, but are not familiar with some of her older films and the career she built for herself before she became popular in America.
Also, like any person who loves Maggie Smith, I just watched her on 60 Minutes, and I was thinking to myself, I would love to do a post on Maggie Smith...and then I realized I can! She's been in classic films, so she's qualified for the blog.
Born December 28, 1934
In the winter of 1934, Margaret "Maggie" Natalie Smith was born in Essex, England, to parents Nathaniel and Margaret. Her father was a pathologist, and his career moved the family to Oxford when Smith was only 4 years of age. She grew up here, attending Oxford High School for Girls. Her two older twin brothers studied architecture, but young Maggie had a desire to act. She was strongly discouraged from this career path by her grandmother who told her that she was not pretty enough to be an actress, and recommended that she learn to type instead. Luckily, Smith did not dwell on these words, and went on to study at Oxford Playhouse School after she graduated. It was during her time there that she had her stage debut in 1952, playing the role of Viola from William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
In 1956, Smith headed to Broadway, where she performed in New Faces of '56. Later that year she obtained a small part in front of a camera in the film Child in the House. By 1959 she managed to earn a bigger part in the dramatic crime film, Nowhere to Go. During this time, however, Smith did not stop acting on the stage. She loved theater, and began to make a name for herself on the stage. She became a regular at the Royal National Theater. In 1964 she played the role of Desdemona alongside critically acclaimed Shakespearean actor Laurence Olivier in Othello. This led to a film adaptation with both of them in the same roles the following year. Several years later, Smith was cast as the lead in the film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), which earned her an Academy Award.
By the time that Smith's popularity began to grow with audiences in America, she was already a very well recognized and praised actress overseas. She continued to act and gradually began to make a name for herself through characters who were strict, and armed with a vast arsenal of endless dry wit, or, as Smith has described it, "spiky" characters. She played an older Wendy in the movie Hook (1991), had a role in Sister Act (1992), and played a very important character in the film Tea with Mussolini (1999). She has had countless other roles, but is perhaps best recognized these days for one...
When the popular book series Harry Potter was slated for film adaptations, author J.K. Rowling reportedly hand picked Smith for the role of the stern yet lovable Transfiguration teacher and deputy headmistress, Minerva McGonagall. Little known to many people is the fact that she had already acted alongside Daniel Radcliffe before, playing Betsey Trotwood to his David Copperfield in 1999 for BBC. Smith has always been admired by her coworkers for being a professional to the utmost, but it was perhaps during the filming of the Harry Potter film series that she showed the true extent of her professionalism and work ethic. Sometime between 2007 and 2008, Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2009, during the filming of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, she also developed shingles. There was a time when she wore a wig in order to portray her character. Despite all of this, Smith kept going and eventually made a full recovery, saying that the cancer was "hideous," and going on to say, "If there's work to be done, I'll do it."
While Smith continues to act in movies today, her most recent character to capture audiences hearts is that of the formidable and sarcastic Dowager Countess of Grantham, Violet Crawley, in the television period drama Downton Abbey.
Maggie Smith has already built a remarkable career for herself. She has played parts in over 50 major motion pictures, 8 made for TV movies, appeared in 2 TV series, had a starring role in 1 TV mini-series, and has made guest appearances on things like The Carol Burnett Show. She has been nominated for more than 40 awards, and has won 5 BAFTA Awards, 3 Emmy Awards, 2 SAG Awards, 3 Golden Globes, 2 Academy Awards, and many more. She has also acted in 76 theater productions, for which she has received the William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre. She has two sons from her first marriage, both of whom are well known actors. She has three honorary degrees from the University of Bath, University of St Andrews, and also University of Cambridge. She has also been made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (1970), and later on to a Dame Commander (1990).
She says she has no plans to retire.
"There is a kind of invisible thread between the actor and the audience, and when it's there it's stunning, and there is nothing to match that."
"I like the ephemeral thing about theatre, every performance is like a ghost--it's there and then it's gone."
"I tend to head for what's amusing because a lot of things aren't happy. But usually you can find a funny side to practically anything."
"It's true I don't tolerate fools but then they don't tolerate me, so I am spiky. Maybe that's why I'm quite good at playing spiky elderly ladies."