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20+ Facts About Maggie Smith Who Didn’t Become Famous Until She Was 70 Years Old

Almost 70 years ago, Maggie Smith chose the path of an actress and has since played more than 100 bright and diverse characters within this time. But most viewers only remember her as an honorable old lady and wise wizard, Minerva McGonagall in Harry Potter and the dowager countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey.

We at Bright Side decided to restore justice and want to tell you about this amazing woman whose tragedies always managed to go hand in hand with comedy.

  • Margaret Natalie Smith was born on December 28, 1934, in the eastern suburb of London. Despite the fact that the actress is perfect at portraying the roles of sophisticated aristocrats, she herself is from a simple family. Her mother was a secretary and her father was a medical worker.
  • The girl had been dreaming about the theater since childhood but her parents never shared those aspirations. In fact, her mother doubted that a girl “with a face like that” could ever become an actress.

Smith in the early 1950s

  • But the girl was persistent. At the age of 17, she started to study acting and debuted on a big stage just one year later. Her first work was as the role of Viola in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
  • It’s hard to believe it now, but Maggie started her career as a comedic actress and toured with commercial productions for several years. She would sing, dance, and entertain the public. At 22, she was already performing in a Broadway show.

Maggie Smith in the musical, Oh! What a Lovely War (1969)

  • The talented comedian was invited to act in the theater and on television but her roles were becoming more and more similar. Who knows what the girl’s destiny would’ve been if it weren’t for her participation in the play, Othello? Theater critics were lining up to express their admiration, and directors vied for Maggie’s appearance in their films.

The actress in the movie, Travels with My Aunt (1972)

  • Though the actress always preferred theater, she earned her world fame thanks to her role in the movie, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. And she so masterfully conveyed the contradictive character of a powerful idealist teacher, that she even got an Oscar for it.

At a party after an award ceremony (1970)

  • Maggie Smith won another Oscar for “Best Supporting Actress” for her role in California Suite. Overall, Smith has had 6 Academy Award nominations over the course of her career.

Smith with Michael Caine on the set of California Suite (1978)

  • Maggie Smith is one of the few owners of the “Triple Crown of Acting.” In order to get it, an actor or actress has to collect 3 big awards for movie roles (an Oscar), theater roles (a Tony Award), and television roles (an Emmy Award). Overall, the actress has had 58 victories through various nominations.

Smith in the Hot Millions comedy (1968)

  • The role of Lady Violet in Downton Abbey, alone, earned Smith 3 Emmy Awards. Even so, the actress admitted to never having watched the series but was happy it was over because her character became illogical — in the last season, the countess was supposed to be 110 years old. Additionally, the popularity that came following her appearance on the show wreaked havoc on Smith’s life.
  • Smith recalls a funny case connected with the series: “I got in a taxi the other day. The driver recognized me from Downton and asked me when the next season started. Before I could tell him, he said, ‘I always watch it when football isn’t on,’ and that sure put me in my place.”
  • For her contribution to the arts, the actress was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, which is a female version of a knight. The collection of her achievements even includes prestigious scientific awards. 3 famous British universities granted her the title of Doctor of Letters, though Smith doesn’t have any education apart from theater school.
  • Her personal life looked like a plot of a melodrama. The woman got into a relationship with the playwright, Beverley Cross. He was already married at that time so Smith decided not to wait for him to get a divorce and married actor Robert Stephens. The marriage turned out to be unsuccessful since the up-and-coming Stephens drank a lot and his career went downhill.

Smith with her first husband and eldest son, Chris

  • Maggie Smith gave birth to 2 sons in her marriage with Stephens and both of them followed in their parents’ footsteps. Chris Larkin acted in several movies but never became famous, while the younger kid, Toby Stephens, got famous after having played James Bond’s main rival in the movie, Die Another Day. His other famous role was the pirates’ captain in the Black Sails TV series.

Smith with her younger son, Toby

  • Soon after her divorce, Smith got married, yet again, to her first love, Beverley Cross. They lived 22 years together until the moment that he died from an illness. The actress had a hard time overcoming the death of her beloved. In one of her interviews, she said, “Everybody says it gets better, but I don’t think it does. It gets different.”
  • Cross has always been Smith’s biggest fan and supported her when she was diagnosed with Graves’ disease at the age of 54. This thyroid disease, which is accompanied by weakness and a frightening enlargement of the eyes, could’ve put an end to Smith’s career. But she underwent radiation therapy and ophthalmic surgery to treat the illness.

Smith with her second husband, Beverley Cross

  • Maggie Smith quickly achieved success in the theater and was considered a favorite of many directors, but ordinary viewers only learned about her after seeing her in Harry Potter, when the actress was almost 70 years old. She herself jokes that “she had not existed” before it.
  • Out of all of the movies, she likes the first part of the franchise where she changed from a cat. It seems that Smith has a special relationship with animals. She even took part in a fundraising campaign for stray cats in the UK where celebrities created artwork that was then sold at an auction and donated to fund cats’ protection.
  • At the same time, Smith calls her work in Harry Potter unsatisfactory, because in these movies, she wasn’t feeling “real acting” as she did in other films.

Smith’s role in Harry Potter alongside her character from Divine Secrets of the Ya‑Ya Sisterhood

  • While shooting Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Smith was battling breast cancer. She was feeling even worse from her medicine and was exhausted so she withdrew herself. After having finally overcome the disease, Smith said, “The last couple of years have been a write-off, though I’m beginning to feel like a person now. My energy is coming back. S*** happens. I ought to pull myself together a bit.”
  • Smith has always been critical toward her talent and never misses a chance to joke about herself. She once said about one of her awards that the judges simply hadn’t decided on who else to give it to. Another one of her awards was met with the following ironic comment: “I just feel ever so humble. It does seem awfully unfair and I can’t help feeling it’s because I am so old.”
  • Because of the disease, Maggie had to leave her beloved theater career for 12 years. She was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to get on stage again, but nevertheless, her triumphant return happened. In 2019, Smith starred in the mono-play, A German Life where for 100 minutes, she performed a piercing monologue about a woman who worked for the Nazi regime.

  • For this role, she was awarded a record-breaking sixth Evening Standard Theater Award at the age of 84. This is the oldest theater award in Great Britain.

  • The longtime British actor and director, Simon Callow, once said, “And she is perhaps at her greatest in tragedy, although sublime in comedy, but at her greatest in tragedy.” Despite all the difficulties, Smith is not planning to leave the stage, although she keeps joking that, next time, she’ll be given the role of an “old bag.”

Smith at an award ceremony in 2019

Have you seen other movies with Maggie Smith apart from Harry Potter and Downton Abbey? Which of her roles were you most impressed with?