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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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1730 Points

Lets hope all of our good wishes are enough magic to cast her way to complete her recovery and give her back some of her spunk and vigor! We’re all pulling for you Maggie!!!

Posted by SproutMdme (OoM4,GS,CW) on October 05, 2009, 07:49 PM report to moderator
310 Points

Now this is a woman people should be looking up to.

Posted by accioangela on October 05, 2009, 08:05 PM report to moderator
3134 Points

What a moving interview — she is so candid and brave.

I wish her all the best! To your health, Dame Maggie!

73 Points

What a gutsy lady! Dame Maggie, you make me proud to be a woman. All good wishes to you.

Posted by moongardener on October 05, 2009, 09:07 PM report to moderator
73 Points

What a gutsy lady! Dame Maggie, you make me proud to be a woman. All good wishes to you.

Posted by moongardener on October 05, 2009, 09:10 PM report to moderator
36743 Points

I wish her luck and good health

Posted by simos girl {WBM} ~Lemon~ on October 05, 2009, 09:48 PM report to moderator
1081 Points

I wasn’t even aware that she was sick!
shows just how much a look into the actor’s profiles.
Im so glad she ok, she’s such a wonderful actress!

Posted by Esmeralda.ROARღ on October 05, 2009, 10:43 PM report to moderator
240 Points

She sure is a true Gryffindor. :)
Dame Maggie is a wonderful actress and an inspiration to all of us.

Posted by Scribbled [WBM] on October 05, 2009, 11:34 PM report to moderator
2570 Points

YES a true Gryffindor, having that disease and still acting, and dominating it

Posted by madman1277 on October 06, 2009, 12:30 AM report to moderator
334 Points

What a woman to have as head of Gryffindor – couldn’t think of anyone better!

Posted by blue_dreamer on October 06, 2009, 01:30 AM report to moderator
8876 Points

It’s kind of a shock to read that someone as seemingly so untouchable can be affected to such an extent, like losing her confidence. She is just awesome … she’s so brave. It’s great that she’s doing better & I wish her luck & courage for the future.

Posted by Moose_Starr on October 06, 2009, 01:45 AM report to moderator
2482 Points

ALL my support to Maggie Smith, a wonderful woman.

Posted by ele0206 -ROAR- on October 06, 2009, 03:55 AM report to moderator
2417 Points

One of the redeeming aspects of all the movies is the splendid cast they assembled and to me, Dame Smith is at the top of the top – I’ve always loved her in her movies – any of them – and I think she is the perfect McGonagall !! Strive on Dame Smith – you have our love and support!

Posted by Hagrid 713 (ROAR) on October 06, 2009, 04:06 AM report to moderator
580 Points

good on her! keep it going maggie!

Posted by AbbieAstoria on October 06, 2009, 05:02 AM report to moderator
104 Points

I love her!!

Posted by pkriot on October 06, 2009, 05:12 AM report to moderator
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