(Tim Teeman's article ran in the Times of London, October 5.)
Dame Maggie Smith: A bad case of stage fright
Double Oscar winner and titan of the stage, Dame Maggie Smith says that her fight with cancer may end her theatre career
Once advising Michael Palin that sarcasm didn’t suit him, Dame Maggie Smith described herself as “the acid queen”. She rarely gives interviews and a mysterious, intimidating aura has long surrounded her. You sense she wouldn’t suffer fools, in fact anyone she took agin, gladly or otherwise. One theatre insider says that she requires “careful handling”.
It was reported last year that Smith, 74, was receiving chemotherapy and radiotherapy for breast cancer, and when we meet on the South Bank, in London, she looks tired, a little bloodshot and embarks immediately on an impassioned rant about the dreadful traffic jam she has just endured in Waterloo. She lives in rural Sussex. I ask how she is, aware of the cancer elephant in the room. She smiles gently. “I’m OK . . . OK . . . OK.” Her voice is far from grand. She looks frail, but remains pin-sharp and funny.
Smith is of the same generation as her good friend “Jude” ( Dench), Eileen Atkins and Vanessa Redgrave. She is famous for her first Oscar-winning performance in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in 1969, and less so for her second for California Suite almost a decade later. She began her career in theatre at 16, worked with Laurence Olivier, and has appeared in many films including A Private Function, A Room with a View and Gosford Park, for which she earned a third Oscar nomination. She has won five BAFTAs. Her imperious characters generally match the “acid queen” persona; even if they are cameos, you know Smith will inevitably scythe the air with vinegary asides.
Playing Professor Minerva McGonagall, she’s about to film “the last Harry Potter” (and the Deathly Hallows), but Smith isn’t “forever at it”, as she describes Dench’s formidable acting output. Indeed, she will reveal, she is racked with doubt about her acting future after being “knocked sideways” by her illness.
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