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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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6552 Points

I am happy and relieved that Maggie Smith is in remission and I hope and pray that she can stay cancer free.

Posted by Figment on October 04, 2009, 08:55 PM report to moderator
53 Points

shes so strong and im so happy shes cancer free :)

Posted by blackloverxoxo on October 04, 2009, 08:55 PM report to moderator
2224 Points

Amazing woman!

Posted by on October 04, 2009, 09:14 PM report to moderator
216 Points

I adore her. She’s such an amazing actress and an amazing person. I hope she continues to do whatever she loves and whatever made her happy. She beat breast cancer, she can do anything. Now that’s the Head of Gryffindor, someone every Gryffindor, and everyone, can look up to and aspire to be. I hope she stays in good health and has a good time doing DH. I’ve been waiting to see McGonagall kick some butt. And I would love to see her on stage. If that’s what she wants to do, I hope she doesn’t let anything hold her back.

Cancer, don’t mess with Minerva.

Posted by Scarlet~Phoenix on October 04, 2009, 09:43 PM report to moderator
90 Points

A true Gryffindor if there ever was!
I couldn’t have said better myself. She is such an amazing actor and I don’t think anyone could bring McGonagall to life better than her! I hope she goes back to theater because I hope to see her on stage one day =)

Posted by Ruby Hagrid {WBM} on October 04, 2009, 10:10 PM report to moderator
31 Points

Yes, she could pull the sword out of the hat.

Posted by hpjustadad on October 04, 2009, 10:11 PM report to moderator
3048 Points

I applaud her for the courage with which she has struggled with and overcome the cancer that afflicted her. She serves as a model and inspiration for women coping with this same problem. May her health continue to prosper in the next many years of her life and may she continue to inspire us with her courage and perseverance.

Posted by Kirk on October 04, 2009, 11:02 PM report to moderator
130 Points

So many strong, amazing women endure the horrors of Breast Cancer, and it is so heart wrenching to see anyone battling it. Some people quite close to me are currently going through what Dame Maggie Smith is, and her ability to carry on – even if doubtful whether she can – is a true testament to her strong personality. Whether she feels she must act or not isn’t important now, just stay healthy.

Posted by Clabwag. on October 05, 2009, 12:12 AM report to moderator
889 Points

Here …Dame Maggie Smith, I know you don’t know me but I feel a need to give you a light “hug, two pats, and release”. You are doing a great job at “hanging in there”. I was so relieved to hear the you received the “all Clear”. I pray to Allah that the cancer does not come back. You are one of my favorite actors in the Harry Potter films. May Allah continue to bless you and keep you with peace of mind.

Posted by molly43 on October 05, 2009, 12:30 AM report to moderator
3187 Points

wow, what an honest interview. definitely applaud the openness. and i hope she feels better, and finds a way to keep acting!

Posted by harrygetsme on October 05, 2009, 01:05 AM report to moderator
43 Points

All clear, good to hear!

Posted by Broborn on October 05, 2009, 03:57 AM report to moderator
407 Points

Such great woman and wonderful actress .

Posted by flowerchild on October 05, 2009, 04:34 AM report to moderator
140 Points

My sister has a brain tumour and has continued teaching while under going treatment, i don’t know how she does it, not sure i would have the strength. I hope Dame Maggie stays in remission.

Posted by madcap magician {ROAR!} on October 05, 2009, 04:54 AM report to moderator
1535 Points

I hope she stays longer even after finishing the 7th film. She’s such a brilliant actress!

Posted by ginevrapotter07 on October 05, 2009, 05:13 AM report to moderator
36743 Points

I wish her luck and good health

Posted by simos girl {WBM} ~Lemon~ on October 05, 2009, 05:46 AM report to moderator
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