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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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5180 Points

she really is fit to be the head of gryffindor! :) i love her

Posted by hermionenluna TZS ROAR! on October 05, 2009, 03:38 PM report to moderator
507 Points

what and amazing story and interview shes such a wonderful person and actress and i hope we see a lot more of her

Posted by lilmisssnape on October 05, 2009, 03:51 PM report to moderator
1081 Points

I wasn’t even aware she HAD breast cancer!
D :
Shows how up to date I keep on the actor profiles!
I glad she’s making a recovery she IS Professer Minerva “Minnie” McGonagall to me.

Posted by Esmeralda.ROARღ on October 05, 2009, 03:58 PM report to moderator
306 Points

Wow, what fabulous interview. She’s a fantastic actress and should look at this as the end…..but who knows, I’d probably have the same outlook after a good many years of life. What a true role model to all those women who need a little pick-up and are dealing with the same issues!

Posted by stenojoz on October 05, 2009, 04:06 PM report to moderator
40 Points

Wow, what a brave woman. Here’s wishing her a long remission.

Posted by bellelena on October 05, 2009, 04:09 PM report to moderator
1189 Points

I’m so glad she is getting better. I thought she looked a little different in Half-Blood Prince, but I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was. This makes sense but I’m glad she is getting better. =] She’s a terrific actress.

Posted by HalfBloodPrincesss (Jenna Evans) on October 05, 2009, 04:22 PM report to moderator
1420 Points

wow the good that she is getting better with her cancer

Posted by alicia00 on October 05, 2009, 04:30 PM report to moderator
2801 Points

I’m so glad that she’s feeling better.

Posted by snowyowl77 on October 05, 2009, 04:31 PM report to moderator
123 Points

God speed and good luck~

Posted by superman82 on October 05, 2009, 04:34 PM report to moderator
23764 Points

What a courageous woman!! I hope she stays cancer free and can keep acting for many more years, She’s quite an inspiration!

Posted by PhoenixFlight [ITC!] on October 05, 2009, 05:19 PM report to moderator
879 Points

this is truly heartwrenching. What a terrible disease for anyone to have to suffer. And how terrible, to be at the stage where you think “it’s all over anyway”. I wish her a speedy return to health.

Posted by deadtree ♥WBM♥ on October 05, 2009, 05:21 PM report to moderator
217 Points

i admire her very much.

Posted by ravenclaw_girl42 on October 05, 2009, 05:36 PM report to moderator
197 Points

awww thats so sad :( i hope she gets well soon

Posted by nox avis on October 05, 2009, 05:48 PM report to moderator
84 Points

I am so pleased to hear that the illnes has be dealt with ! Recovery time can take some time but such a wonderful Actress and love-able person I pray only for the best for her !! She has inspired me to get much further on with life than anyone can imagine ! Thanks Maggie :)

Posted by Flittwick on October 05, 2009, 06:36 PM report to moderator
261 Points

Oh she’s such a good actress I hope she does continue to act.

Posted by kyramp on October 05, 2009, 07:14 PM report to moderator
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