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

Smith
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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168 Comments

Diagon_thumb
773 Points

i’m so glad she’s been given the all clear, hopefully the cancer will stay away now :) i don’t really know her from much expect HP but she is phenomonal as McGonagall, and i wish her all the best, regardless of what she does with acting now.

Posted by Sigourney♥ on October 06, 2009, 05:18 AM report to moderator
Tamy_129_thumb
2169 Points

Oh! Heavens she´s alright! I wouldn´t bare if after losing Richard Harris,we lost Dame Maggie.There is no Macgonagall without her. She is awesome.She is royalty.

Posted by Tamyris on October 06, 2009, 06:06 AM report to moderator
Safe_image_thumb
209 Points

awww I hope she get better.. I love her

Posted by Picazo on October 06, 2009, 07:54 AM report to moderator
Mac3_thumb
1925 Points

She is the best McGonagall ever!! how she stays well. she is a wonderful actress!

Posted by Parkinsonpansy on October 06, 2009, 08:56 AM report to moderator
Dscn0194_thumb
1921 Points

I adore Maggie Smith. Loved her in Gosford Park, and in David Copperfield—and of course in the HP movies; she is just as I imagined Prof McGonagall to be. Such a sad but brutally honest interview. I really hope she picks her spirits up and battles onward—for years.

Posted by izziewitch on October 06, 2009, 09:17 AM report to moderator
Iconator_f614c19ff23412c33629eb1c02a7b44b_thumb
83 Points

I’m glad that she’s feeling better, but no matter what happens she will always continue on in our hearts.

Posted by ❤ GoddessOfSlytherin ❤ on October 06, 2009, 10:18 AM report to moderator
Iconator_f614c19ff23412c33629eb1c02a7b44b_thumb
83 Points

I’m glad that she’s feeling better, but no matter what happens she will always continue on in our hearts.

Posted by ❤ GoddessOfSlytherin ❤ on October 06, 2009, 10:18 AM report to moderator
Slytherin_wearing_by_mazza_909_thumb
121 Points
I wish she could have come to the cancer clinic where I work. I’m appalled that she didn’t have anyone with her during treatments. At our clinic, chemotherapy is like a social event and all of the patients get to visit with each other and become fast friends. Chemotherapy regimens can be very difficult to tolerate for some patients and it certainly sounds like she had a rough time. I hope that she stays cancer free. She is truly a rare commodity as an actress.
Posted by Genine_Malfoy on October 06, 2009, 10:43 AM report to moderator
Green_hummers_thumb
4844 Points

She is a true Gryffindor and I know she is fighting this battle the way she plays Professor McGonagall with great bravery and gusto!! Will keep yo in my thoughts Dame Maggie Smith!! She is tough and will be around for many years!!!

Posted by Lady Grey OoM2,CW*ROAR* on October 06, 2009, 11:05 AM report to moderator
Green_hummers_thumb
4844 Points

She is a true Gryffindor and I know she is fighting this battle the way she plays Professor McGonagall with great bravery and gusto!! Will keep yo in my thoughts Dame Maggie Smith!! She is tough and will be around for many years!!!

Posted by Lady Grey OoM2,CW*ROAR* on October 06, 2009, 11:06 AM report to moderator
Hpphotoshop_thumb
4138 Points

I noticed she looked ill in HBP. She’s perfect for McGonagall!

Posted by Calum Wilson (RuneDream54) on October 06, 2009, 12:26 PM report to moderator
D474f2f9722352f367d45028747f7d7d_1562290_thumb
6690 Points

i’m going thru this with my dad right now,,,it sucks

Posted by levi-OH-sa, not levio-SA [neville♥myhero] on October 06, 2009, 01:09 PM report to moderator
Darkside_thumb
1081 Points

I wasn’t even aware that she was sick!
Shows just how much I check into the actor’s profiles!
Im so glad she’s ok!

Posted by Esmeralda.ROARღ on October 06, 2009, 02:47 PM report to moderator
Dh__flight_of_hedwig_by_clouded_ambition_thumb
1245 Points

My heart goes out to anyone battling cancer but now especially to the woman whom I’ve grown to cherish for her role as Professor McGonagall. Good luck, Dame Maggie; be happy and at peace all the days of your life!

Posted by dcsbelle [WBM] OOM3, CW on October 06, 2009, 03:00 PM report to moderator
Harry_thumb
829 Points

Well its so sad that she has to go through all of this

Posted by blackhair on October 06, 2009, 04:11 PM report to moderator
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