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Dame Maggie Smith on Her Fight with Breast Cancer, Filming Last Harry Potter and More

Posted by: sue
October 04, 2009, 05:24 PM

On this day when we in the fandom are celebrating Professor McGonagall's birthday, it is only fitting that we hear from the woman who brings this character so memorably to life on the screen: Dame Maggie Smith. The Times has released a brand new interview with this acclaimed actress, where she discusses her career, her role as the Head of Gryffindor in the Harry Potter films series (she noted she is about to film again shortly for Deathly Hallows later this year), and most importantly her battle against breast cancer. Readers will recall of course that we learned she was fighting this terrible disease while Half-Blood Prince was in production, and in this interview she discussed going through treatment as she was filming, and the aftermath of the chemotherapy she endured where she lost her hair. Noting now she is OK and has received the "all-clear" from her doctors, Dame Maggie Smith speaks at length and very movingly of her battle as follows:

The cancer must have made it harder. “It was hideous . . . not so good,” she says tightly and looks for some wood to touch. The chemotherapy, she says, “was very peculiar, something that makes you feel much worse than the cancer itself, a very nasty thing. I used to go to treatment on my own, and nearly everybody else was with somebody. I wouldn’t have liked that. Why would you want to make anybody sit in those places?”

Smith had found a lump on her breast. “I had been feeling a little rum and didn’t know why. I was never nervous, well I was, but I didn’t think it was anything serious because years ago I felt one before and had been hurled into hospital. It was benign and assumed this one would be too. It was a bit unnerving when it wasn’t. But treatment is so swift you don’t have time to think about anything.”

Telling her family (two adult sons and their loved ones) was “awful. It [the illness] kind of takes the wind out of your sails, and I don’t know what the future holds, if anything. I really don’t know.”

She says that she has received the all-clear from doctors, and goes back for a check-up later this month, adding that she’s disposed of the hats and caps she bought to cover her baldness: “You think they’re going to work and they don’t.” It was “very weird” to lose her hair. “So weird. Oh, it’s awful. You really do feel horribly sick. I was staggering around Waitrose and felt ghastly. I was holding on to railings, thinking, ‘I can’t do this’.”

She filmed Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince mid-treatment. “I was hairless. I had no problem getting the wig on. I was like a boiled egg.”

Smith says that she accepted the possibility of dying. “I was relieved to be the age I was, because by now you feel like it’s all over anyway. That’s why I hated seeing young people receiving treatment [at the Royal Marsden Hospital, London]. I couldn’t bear that, it didn’t seem fair. To be honest, you feel so ghastly you wouldn’t mind dying a lot of the time.”

She struggles for words. “I felt . . . I was just . . . It leaves you so flattened. I’m not sure I could go back to theatre work, although film work is more tiring. I’m frightened to work in theatre now. I feel very uncertain. I haven’t done it for a while [her last stage role was in The Lady from Dubuque in 2007]. I’m not quite sure if it’s like getting back on a horse or a bike. Not that I’d do either, I’d fall off. It’s one of those things you ought to keep on doing and I haven’t for a bit. I would love to be able to because I do love it, but I feel a great lack of confidence. Being unwell and having withdrawn . . . I haven’t been in London for so long, it’s quite scary up here.” Smith is clinking the ice absently in her mineral water. It will seem unimaginable to many that she is talking about giving up theatre, I say. “Well, there’s a limit to what you can do. I’m not into that argument there aren’t any parts for older women, though. Anyway, why should there be? If there’s work I’ll do it and if there isn’t . . . I’ve still got to stagger through the last Potter.”

Editor's Note: I think it's safe to say all of us here at TLC heartily support and loudly applaud Dame Maggie Smith's courage, humor and honesty in the article, a true Gryffindor if there ever was!

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1742 Points


Posted by wing on October 05, 2009, 06:15 AM report to moderator
1642 Points

I absolutely adore her. She’s such a great actress, and I really hope we’ll have the plesure of watching her on the screen for a long long LONG time ..
All respect for Dame Maggie Smith

Posted by Bella'love ^HISS^ on October 05, 2009, 08:01 AM report to moderator
3417 Points

What a marvelous and brave person she is! We pray this is the last time she will ever have to deal with that monster. A true Gryffindor through and through!

Posted by paul_hp_fan [OoM2] *ROAR* on October 05, 2009, 08:38 AM report to moderator
1910 Points

She’s a great actress. I’m glad she’s ok.

Posted by Jane_Potter on October 05, 2009, 09:34 AM report to moderator
92 Points

i’m glad its all over!

Posted by dobbyis_free on October 05, 2009, 09:34 AM report to moderator
1252 Points

What a wonderful actress. I am so glad to hear she is in remission!

Posted by Princess Leia on October 05, 2009, 09:38 AM report to moderator
797 Points

LOVE her! Gryffindor indeed!

Posted by Lysh on October 05, 2009, 09:43 AM report to moderator
4881 Points

Oh, she’s such a darling! Sending you many wishes and positive thoughts to get better Mrs Smith… Take care.

Posted by HBPFan [ITC!] - CatPhoenix14 on October 05, 2009, 09:43 AM report to moderator
4881 Points

Oh, she’s such a darling! Sending you many wishes and positive thoughts to get better Mrs Smith… Take care.

Posted by HBPFan [ITC!] - CatPhoenix14 on October 05, 2009, 09:43 AM report to moderator
929 Points

Breast Cancer is the devil hidden within a lump. IM SO GLAD YOU BEAT IT! Your the second person I know who beat it! CONTINUE TO FIGHT!

Posted by impoohnfrenz on October 05, 2009, 09:44 AM report to moderator
180 Points

I am so glad that she’s ok again!

Posted by CissyMalfoy on October 05, 2009, 09:46 AM report to moderator
376 Points

i lovelovelove her.
i hope wb doesnt cut her short.
she’s one of the most talented actresses; please wb, give her some screentime for this last movie!!

Posted by john-robert. on October 05, 2009, 09:47 AM report to moderator
312 Points

OMG I didn’t even know she was sick! I really do hope it’s over.

Posted by Lucida on October 05, 2009, 09:47 AM report to moderator
4151 Points

i’m glad she’s better, she’s such a wonderful person and actress.

Posted by mai {beatnik owl} on October 05, 2009, 09:51 AM report to moderator
2333 Points

I’m glad she’s okay! LOVE HER!!!!

Posted by theREALGinnyWeasley on October 05, 2009, 09:52 AM report to moderator
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