Dame Maggie Smith speaks about her career in film and television
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Above: Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall on Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone, 2001.
This natural skill coupled with the expectations of the time that Smith was just starting her career meant that she never attended drama school: “I often think I should go and find out what they’re being taught – it would be a good thing to know.” Despite this skill and decades of practice, she is just as susceptible to nerves and embarrassment as we all are. One of the first things she announced was her distaste for watching herself acting, whether it be in a playback on set or at a premiere of her work. “I think it’s because you can’t do anything about it,” she reasoned. “At least in the theatre you can go – ‘oh, I’ll give it another go tomorrow night’ - but it’s forever [on screen]. You always think – ‘why on earth did I do it like that?’ And there’s no going back.” Dame Maggie was asked about whether she enjoys the process of acting in film, considering her misgivings for the permanent feeling that the media gives her: “It all depends. On who you’re acting with, who your director is. Sometimes it can be joyous and other times it can be like torment – and you think ‘what on earth am I doing? Let me out of here.’”
Above: Dame Maggie Smith and Bob Hoskins on the set of The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, 1987.
An example of one of the harder parts of the filming process that she gave was from the set of Harry Potter. She stated that she found it quite difficult to come out “bright eyed and bushy tailed” after being stuck in a trailer in the middle of the snow for weeks on end with “that silly hat on my head. It just made you think, ‘what’s the point?’”However, when asked what the best film to work on was, she responded, “[The Lonely Passion of] Judith Hearne, because Jack Clayton was a terrific director and for the first time I thought I was working with the director. Often, they’re very remote people. But I felt very involved with Jack and it was the first time that had happened. He took great care and he was an extraordinary man.” Dame Maggie Smith is an incredibly witty woman who lands her lines instinctively and had the viewing room in fits of laughter from beginning to end.