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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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1046 Points

What an honest woman she is to talk so openly about the way she felt while she was going through the disease. I’m so glad that she’s ok and will be back to Potter, I couldn’t imagine the last movie without her; up in the Ravenclaw common room with the Carrows and fighting Voldemort – she is such a great character and Dame Maggie portrays her beautifully!

Posted by bec majec *roar* on October 06, 2009, 08:11 PM report to moderator
3740 Points

Wishing her the best, glad to hear that all is well!

Posted by Want to be a Weasley on October 06, 2009, 11:49 PM report to moderator
738 Points

A toast to Dame Maggie and her tenacity thru her treatment. May she recover her confidence and return to the theater, if she so desires. Can’t wait to see her in DH, bringing the suits of armor to life and leading the charge at Hogwarts!

Posted by bettb [ITC!] on October 07, 2009, 02:23 AM report to moderator
4481 Points

This is a great article. I feel that it captures exactly what Smith is thinking and feeling right now, instead of a bunch of fluff and bull. It gives us insight into who she really is, and that is awesome.

I agree with the little blurb posted by Sue et. al. Big applause and support!

Posted by Smitch on October 07, 2009, 03:31 AM report to moderator
272 Points

What a couragous, brave women! And she still continued with Harry Potter. I think anyone who battles through something as horrible as cancer is an unbelievingly strong person. I wish her the best and hope she remains cancer free! I hope it isnt the last we’ll see her in theatre though :(
She’s such a great Mcgonagal!

Posted by TheGriff [ROAR!] on October 07, 2009, 11:27 AM report to moderator
118 Points

Glad to hear she’s been given the “all clear”. She is the perfect McGonagall. I can’t imagine anyone else in the role.

Posted by iamminerva on October 07, 2009, 01:28 PM report to moderator
82 Points

so sad, but she seems like a really good person. i hope she is so much happier in years to come!

Posted by SharonE on October 07, 2009, 01:32 PM report to moderator
7847 Points

glad to hear Dame Maggie is recovering

Posted by ravenclawguy1972 ~Prongs~ ( J.O.R.) on October 07, 2009, 05:01 PM report to moderator
524 Points

Maggie you are one tough gal. my how well you pulled through doing your scenes you may retire with grace.

Posted by HGROSS44 on October 07, 2009, 05:53 PM report to moderator
41 Points

my best friends mom just died of breast cancer two weeks ago… so i’m glad to hear about people who survive it

Posted by hermioneg13 on October 07, 2009, 08:10 PM report to moderator
4007 Points

wow what a draining interview…she truly is wonderful

Posted by KC Nox on October 07, 2009, 09:31 PM report to moderator
1549 Points

lets pray for her and hope for the best. i wish she could finish filming hp and still continue to fight. we are always here miss maggie and we will support you to fight for the cancer.

sometimes cancer just hits people we dont expect it to hit.

Posted by vampressISap0tter *ROAR* on October 08, 2009, 01:57 AM report to moderator
40 Points

I’m so glad she is doing better!! May the stars watch over her and keep her healthy for years to come! <3

Posted by KatieP09 on October 08, 2009, 03:50 AM report to moderator
39 Points

Such a courageous fighter, an example to all of us who go through so much in our lives. I pray that she will complete the HP films, and have a many more productive years ahead!

Posted by LoyalGryffindor90 on October 08, 2009, 11:50 AM report to moderator
835 Points

What a lovely and courageous woman. I’m very happy and relieved to find out she has the all clear from her doctors. I hope she is cancer free and I hope she continues to get stronger and healthier.

Posted by Gryffindor Cutie on October 09, 2009, 05:23 PM report to moderator
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